Violence Against Women: Implications for our communities, our world and our future

It is near impossible to escape the commanding news headlines: The horrific details that are emerging about the years of violent captivity of three women in a home in Ohio; The fifteen year old Californian teenager who was allegedly sexually assaulted by three boys and then committed suicide last September.

antirape protestAnd, internationally, the tragic case of a 23 year old woman who was gang raped and beaten to death on a moving bus in New Delhi.

These stories that garner much media attention and tap into our worst nightmares—that a random person (s) could perpetrate a heinous crime against an innocent woman.  A woman who could easily be us, our sister, our friend or our daughter.

Whilst these cases are indeed horrific and deserve our full attention and the victims, our full support, it is important that we do not view violence against women as an outlier freak occurrence or random act of evil that, on occasion, captures the headlines.

For those of us who work as mental health professionals and bear witness to the stories our patients share with us on a daily basis it is apparent that violence against women is, sadly, all too common an occurrence.

The reality is that for millions and millions of women, all over the world, violence is an everyday part of their lives. Rape, battery and other forms of sexual and domestic violence are such a common part of the lives of women that they cannot be viewed as unusual or outside what one might consider an ordinary experience. Such acts are more likely to be perpetrated by someone known to the woman. An example of one of the most common forms of violence against women worldwide is intimate partner violence (IPV), i.e. physical, psychological or sexual abuse of women perpetrated by their intimate partners.

IPV and domestic violence figures among the top ten global causes of years of life lost due to premature mortality and disability. The consequences of IPV are far reaching, insidiously destructive and have a widespread negative socioeconomic impact.

Some of the physical consequences include chronic pain, unwanted pregnancies and contracting a Sexually Transmitted Disease (including HIV); Common psychological sequels include depression, suicidal ideation and posttraumatic stress disorder.

From a healthcare economics perspective: the widespread prevalence of such violence in our communities is linked to poorer health outcomes for these women and more frequent healthcare utilization when compared with non abused women.

I often wonder why we don’t see more of a societal push or a sustained community effort to “stand up to”; “eradicate” or have “zero tolerance” toward Violence against Women. Such efforts don’t appear to have the same zeal or consolidated community effort one might see for a fight breast cancer or prevent heart disease campaign.

I wonder if it has something to do with a collective amnesia we, as a society, are prone to developing when we think of IPV or violence against women.  To quote Judith Herman’s 1992 book, Trauma and Recovery:

“ The ordinary response to atrocities is to banish them from consciousness. Certain violations of the social contract are too terrible to utter aloud: this is the meaning of the word unspeakable. Atrocities, however, refuse to be buried.  Equally as powerful as the desire to deny atrocities is the conviction that denial does not work…..remembering and telling the truth about terrible events are prerequisites both for the restoration of the social order and for the healing of individual victims.”

The recent headlines highlight what is the tip of a massive problem. Violence against women is a serious human rights and public health problem that concerns all sectors of our society and should, therefore, concern all of us too.

13 thoughts on “Violence Against Women: Implications for our communities, our world and our future”

  1. Dear Dr. Jain: thank you for your piece about violence against women. I am a long-time male advocate (in Vermont) working in the domestic violence movement (IPV) as a crisis worker, prevention educator, and writer.

    I would like to suggest an answer to your question about why we don’t see “more of a societal push or sustained community effort” to end violence against women. This is really about a culture of men’s violence against women and, as such, is not easily accepted, recognized, swallowed or otherwise engaged by all the institutions that men control.
    As you say, the stories reflect a kind of outlier (exceptional) experience rather than the common, constant and pervasive violence by men against women that actually exists all over the world. If men continue to be outliers in this discussion as well as absent in working toward a solution, men’s violence against women will remain unaddressed to the extent it needs to be.
    There are so many example of how many opportunities are lost around this issue. Let me give you one from your own field of work. For years, part of my work has taken me into many schools to facilitate workshops and presentations with thousands of students about healthy and unhealthy relationships, consent, teen dating violence, IPV, cyber bullying, etc. I also have worked with students who have approached me and disclosed trauma and abuse. I often will coordinate with the school psychologist or some other counselor to provide support and services.
    I have been curious about how many mental health professionals have told me they have had little or no training around the dynamics of battering and IPV. I once took some time exploring the Association of School Psychologists website and was unable to find reference to domestic violence or IPV. In light of how many kids come to school who are directly experiencing IPV at home, this was quite shocking to me. Is this a purposeful lapse? Are these issues missing because of ignorance? I can’t believe well educated smart people would avoid this issue. So what is it? Why do so many institutions, teaching and otherwise, avoid in depth training around this issue for mental health professionals? Does it have something to do with who controls the message? Who controls the pedagogy?

    Don’t misconstrue my concerns, however. I do not agree with the idea some counselors put forward that IPV is caused by mental illness. I do not support couples counseling in an IPV context, for instance. But I do believe there need to be many more mental health professionals who understand the intricate details of power and control, th attitudes, behaviors and beliefs that are part and parcel of IPV.


  2. The One Billion Rising campaign states that one in three women will be beaten or raped in their lifetime. That sounds like a low estimate to me. It’s so much a part of culture…sigh. Can it be stopped and the tide reversed? I don’t know but I am pleased that people are taking a stand and deciding that, maybe in fact, it can.


  3. Well, probably the missing link is to begin speaking of male violence as a mental health condition: the focus of a medical intervention….I do remember years ago, in a case of a psychologist working at the Psychiatric Hospital, coming to work with obvious signals of physical attack on her face. The head nurse offered her a cup of coffee, showed her the box of certain medication, and asked her: what do we do here? “mental health treatments,” how do we do it? “we talk and give prescription medicines” OK, which medicine has no taste or specific smell? “this one xxx” Go home and use 30 drops each morning…
    She ended up medicating the husband giving him the drops in his breakfast coffee cup; he never knew it, and he never hit her again.
    That story forced me to ask: why is it that violent men are not forced to take medication to control their own aggression? Still no answer!


    1. I would oppose making domestic violence/intimate partner violence a mental health condition. It is a very, very rare case in all my experience that the violence perpetrated by a man against his partner has been marked by a diagnosis or even the signs of any kind of mental health condition. Intimate partner violence is about coercive control, a belief system the abuser employs to get his own needs and wants met, an intentional and repeated pattern of behaviors that seeks to exercise power and control over someone else’s life, in both small and big ways. If we drugged soldiers before they went into battle, there probably would be much less violence in war. If we drugged boxers before going into the ring, there would be fewer boxers with broken noses or worse. But doing that would not address the underlying fact that war and boxing are violent. The answer to your question is that giving men who batter drugs to stop their violence only treats (and really only as wishful thinking) the physical behavior, it does not address, in any way, the underlying attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs that are at the heart of intimate partner violence in the first place. What we need is more training for mental health professionals about the dynamics of IPV, not more prescriptions to treat something that is not a mental health condition.


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