Date of the last update: 30.05.2022
Domestic violence is a widespread problem, but its true extent remains difficult to estimate. One of the reason for this is that many people continue to live by the adage “dirty linen should be washed at home”, so a large number of cases go unreported and don’t find their way into police statistics. Another reason is that many people are not even aware that they’re experiencing violence as domestic violence takes several different forms, some of which are not easily recognisable. Finally, the victim’s family and community often remain passive in the face of the violence they witness.
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For starters, let’s define what domestic violence actually means. Violence in the house occurs when a family member takes advantage of his or her privileged position in order to humiliate, hurt or curtail the freedom of another family member. The abusers always enjoy some sort of advantage over their victims ‒ they may be the breadwinner in the household or someone physically or mentally stronger. Crucially, the abuser’s actions are intentional and cause suffering to the other person. In Poland, domestic violence mostly affects women and children. This is largely due to family patterns passed down from generation to generation and to the dominant patriarchal culture. Of course, this doesn’t mean that men and husbands are always the aggressors. Domestic violence can be perpetrated by an adult child against a parent, a wife against her husband, a son against his mother or an older sibling against a younger one.
The phrase “domestic violence” often conjures the image of a leather belt in the abuser’s hands or of physical violence, but in fact violence in the house does not always involve beating. It can also be nudging or pulling hair. Some abusers put others in danger by throwing objects. Violence can also involve violating the victim’s personal integrity. Physical violence does not always mean inflicting pain – it can also humiliate, objectify or cause fear.
Physical violence is often mentioned in the same breath as psychological violence which can be “hot” or “cold”. Hot violence, which often involves a raised voice, insults, obscenities and threats is easy to recognise. “Cold” violence, in contrast, can take the form of criticism, manipulation, ridicule and attempts to control or embarrass someone. The abuser may remain calm or even wear a smile on their face. Their actions trigger self-doubt, undermine self-esteem and make the other person feel psychologically dependent on them and unable to cut them off
Another type of domestic violence is sexual violence. In most cases, it involves sexual harassment or rape, but it can involve humiliating someone because of their gender, sexual orientation or needs. Derogatory or objectifying comments with sexual overtones can also be viewed as violence.
In recent years, there has been much talk about economic violence, which occurs when an abuser makes the other person financially dependent on him or her. A common example is when the person is prevented from having gainful employment or has their earnings or benefits taken from them. The abuser makes all financial decisions himself or herself without consulting the person affected. He or she may dole out small amounts of money to their victim and sometimes forces them to work off their debt. Some victims have to ask for money to buy essential hygiene products. And in some cases, abusers make decisions about joint property, sell jointly owned assets or spend all savings.
Domestic violence can also mean neglect, that is failure in one’s duties towards another person. Neglect can be material or emotional. Some parents show no interest in what their child eats or wears, whether their child goes to school and has all the books and supplies they need. They ignore their child, don’t care about how he or she feels, what emotional needs they have or where they are. Another form of neglect is a failure to provide treatment or medication to an elderly person.
Few people think of overprotection as violence but being overly protective is dysfunctional and can lead to restricting another person’s rights and freedoms. This form of violence most often afflicts children and adolescents, who are denied the chance to grow up, form their own opinions, choose a partner and career path, or to learn by trial and error how to live their lives.
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Domestic violence takes many forms. Some of them are easy to recognise, while other are difficult to prove. There are forms of violence that leave no marks on the body but do leave marks on the soul. People who have been through the experience of domestic violence often struggle with low self-esteem and have difficulty building a happy life. It is not uncommon that they become abusers themselves. It is crucial that community members remain alert to signs of domestic violence and take action when they notice them.
Tracz-Dral J., Uregulowania prawne dotyczące przemocy w rodzinie na tle wybranych rozwiązań legislacyjnych [Legislation on domestic violence in the context of a selection of legislative solutions], senat.gov.pl. https://www.senat.gov.pl/gfx/senat/pl/senatopracowania/68/plik/ot-570.pdf, accessed 9 February 2020.