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  • Writer's pictureFamily Legal Clinic

Taking Domestic Violence Seriously

Updated: Feb 20, 2023

By Shafeea Riza

Cover Illustration by Shimanie Shareef

Violence by any measure, or in any shape or form, is unacceptable. Domestic violence is no lesser form of violence and is often the most pervasive form of violence in a society. Take for example, your domestic worker, who on a daily basis gets called by abusive names with reference to his nationality. Or your wife, whose intimate photos that you threaten to leak, in your anger, when she tells you that she is filing for a divorce. Or the hands that your mother raise in her frustrations at her children - including you. Or the relative, who abuses the trust placed on him to advance that hand to touch you, only that it leaves you feeling unsafe and violated.

To name a few, these are everyday forms of domestic violence that many go through. Broadly speaking, domestic violence is violence or any other abuse by one person against another in a domestic setting.

In 2012, Maldives joined several other countries which have a specific law or some form of legal provision on prevention of domestic violence. The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 2012 is a hallmark piece of legislation in that it sets out special procedures for redress and safeguards to protect survivors of domestic violence.

Recognising violence

Most often than not, between the sacred layers of love and trust that exist in domestic relationships (that rightly so should exist in such relationships), we fail to identify abusive or controlling behaviour that harms us. Awareness about what constitutes domestic violence is a key step in recognising violence.

Domestic violence can take many forms and under the 2012 Act, it includes, inter alia, inflicting physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse, harassing, threatening or stalking, inflicting financial abuse and/or property damage, impregnating your wife against a medical doctor’s advice, impregnating a woman who wants to leave an abusive marriage, restricting free movement of a person, in fact even detaining a person, forcing someone to do something that he or she would not do in his or her own free will and subjecting a child to see or hear any of the above acts.

Sometimes, a form of violence may happen in isolation, however mostly, they are interconnected and is safe to say, a person who experiences one form of domestic violence also suffers from another, such as emotional abuse.

Your friend, sister or perhaps even your daughter

“1 in 3” is a global figure, statistically derived to indicate that about 1 in 3 women experience some form of physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence in their lifetime. One may say it is just a figure and dismiss it at its face value, and understandably so, if one has not gone through such an experience. But if one considers to look beyond his or her own circumstances, the following statistics may reveal the imminence and prevalence of such forms of violence, even in as small a community as ours.

According to The Maldives Study on Women’s Health and Life Experiences, conducted in 2007 by the then Ministry of Gender and Family, every 1 in 5 women aged 15-49, who had ever been in a relationship, reported experiencing physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner. Approximately 1 in 8 women of the same age group reported that they had been sexually abused before the age of 15 - in other words, that they had suffered childhood sexual abuse.

The aggregate data from this study mirrored global statistics in this regard - that about 1 in 3 women aged 15-49 reported experiencing at least one form of physical or sexual violence, or both, during their lifetime.

To put it simply, consider your immediate circle of loved ones, amongst the “1 in 3” could be your friend, sister or perhaps even your daughter.

Male survivors

Even today, many hesitate to talk about domestic violence that is experienced by men. While some walk around the issue on tiptoes, as culturally it is difficult for men to speak about being abused, especially by a woman, others remain under a common misconception that only women suffer domestic violence.

According to statistics published by the Family Protection Authority, in the year 2016 itself, 83 cases of domestic violence were reported concerning men over the age of 18 and 87 cases were reported concerning men below the age of 18.

By no means this data is symbolic or reflects the actual depth of the problem. Whilst a comprehensive national study on male survivors is both necessary and timely, what we know for certain is that men do experience domestic violence in our society.

You can become an agent of change

As someone who has been working with survivors for some time now, I have observed that still today, many suffer domestic violence for long periods of time in silence. When asked, survivors would often say, they feel that they lack the support system of empathy and trust from their inner circle of family and friends to speak up about their experiences.

This year, we celebrate the sixth-year anniversary of the 2012 Act. Six years, which as some of you may agree, hardly amount to a blink of an eye in the lifetime of a nation. However, within these six years, the Maldives, including its state and government institutions and civil society organisations, has made remarkable progress in setting up and enhancing protection mechanisms on domestic violence.

As individuals, by merely becoming aware about the available protection mechanisms we can help someone who experiences domestic violence. If I were to choose any one step as the first, it would be this: if anybody speaks to you about experiencing domestic violence, take them seriously. Give them a listening ear, empathize with them and help them to report it to the Maldives Police Service (Family and Child Protection Department), Family Protection Authority or Ministry of Gender and Family. If a person resides in an island other than Male’, refer them to the family and children service centers based in every atoll or to the local police station. If the survivor fears for his or her own life, you can help them by reporting the case, even anonymously. If someone speaks of physical or sexual abuse, take them to see a doctor or at least encourage them to see one and get a medical check-up done. If someone speaks about emotional abuse or trauma, direct them to the free counselling service available from the Society for Health Education (SHE). Most importantly, if someone is in a life-threatening situation or at imminent risk of threat and harm, report it to police and ask him or her to file an emergency protection order with the Family Court or the respective Magistrate Court. In other situations, one can always file a protection order with the court. If someone needs legal advice, there is always the free legal help provided by the Family Legal Clinic.

All we need is a change in perspective

In order to realise a real social change in this regard, I believe the work starts with us. A helpful beginning step is to recognise domestic violence when it happens to us and even when it happens because of us or our actions. Take for example your domestic worker, whose one little mistake or slack gets him called by abusive names with reference to his nationality. There is an alternative course of action one could take, if one is willing to take responsibility for his or her own actions and identify it as a form of domestic violence. For instance, call your domestic worker by his name, he has a name.

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