Encountering news about domestic violence against women has become a regular phenomenon for people in this country. We have become desensitized to cases of physical and sexual violence to such an extent, that the news of a woman filing a case against her husband for verbal abuse may sound eccentric to many.
However, there is a growing conversation on how some forms of domestic abuse are not as obvious as others, yet need to treated with the same significance. The Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act is a milestone in this regard, since it terms psychological abuse as a form of domestic violence. In 2016, the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) also published a report with ‘emotional violence’ as a separate category. Unsurprisingly, it suggests that over 80 percent of women fall victim to marital abuse, which includes physical, sexual, emotional and financial violence.
The silent abuse in marriages
Preferring to remain anonymous, a woman shared her story of 15 years of marital life dealing with continuous abuse from her husband.
“He finds everything I do problematic. From my sitting posture to my eating habits, I am constantly being taunted.”
According to the mother of two, it used to initially happen behind closed doors but now when their children are entering their teenage years, she repeatedly gets humiliated in front of them.
“My husband often tells my daughter that, ‘don’t be like your mother or you’ll be a failure in your life’. I cannot explain to you how distressed this sort of humiliation makes me, but I have no way out.”
For Ferdousi, marital life was perfect until she found out about her husband’s resentment about her having a life outside their marriage.
“First, I was asked to stop working. I resisted for a while but finally gave in. Then the ban on traveling started. At first he had a problem with me going out of the house with my friends. Now, I am not even allowed to go see my parents. When I resist, he emotionally blackmails me. He has also threatened to physically abuse me. I feel like I lead a double life – with all this unhappiness at home, I still have to keep smiling and put up a front in when with others.”
Her situation doesn’t deal with any physical torture or dowry, which is why Ferdousi doesn’t know how to describe such psychological mistreatment.
Sathi is also one of the many women facing similar situations.
It is essential to address any form of psychological and emotional abuse, which if left ignored may cause any women to lose their self respect, confidence and autonomy as a human being
“Everything was perfect when our marriage started, but very soon, he started cheating on me. When I threaten to leave him, he threatens to ‘expose my faults’ to my family, always reminds me that I’m not good enough and my sisters are prettier, he even threatens to kill himself. It’s really difficult to explain his hold on me – but I feel like I have no self-worth. Somehow, he taunts and humiliates me but still leaves me feeling like I haven’t done enough for ‘us’.”
According to the BBS report, 28.7 percent of respondents have been subject to emotional abuse by their spouses.
Experts concentrate on raising awareness
Referring to psychological and emotional abuse as a regular phenomenon in a woman’s life, Sabiha Jahan, Clinical Psychologist, Department of Clinical Psychology at University of Dhaka, said, “Women are more likely to suffer and experience a lot of emotional and psychological abuse throughout their life. Factors from societal context such as existing cultural norms and practices, patriarchal perspectives, lack of awareness among women about their rights, the violation of those rights, and the cultural perspective about divorces are stopping them from addressing these problems.”
“To minimize the effects of traumatic and abusive experiences, it is essential to address any form of psychological and emotional abuse, which if left ignored may cause any women to lose their self respect, confidence and autonomy as a human being,” she added.
Miti Sanjana, an advocate of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh and partner of Legal Counsel said, “Many of us are not even aware of the fact that psychological and emotional abuse by their spouses or family members is a punishable offence. Prior to the enactment of existing law, there was no specific offence relating to mental abuse or coercive behaviour.”
She added, “It is important to raise awareness since when people think of domestic violence, most of the time they refer to physical abuse rather than psychological. But domestic violence also includes mental torture, any oral abuse and threats to any individual, or interfering with an individual’s freedom.”
Citing the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act 2010 and Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Rule as a milestone, she said that the law itself is well-equipped and sufficient.
“The law is rehabilitation-focused and aims to prevent the aggrieved person from any sort of psychological violence in the future at the hands of the aggressor. Repetition of any offence allows the law to take punitive measures.”