We have entered a new decade and yet major societal problems, such as domestic violence, continue to spread like a plague in our small island. Why is the situation not under control and will there ever be an end to domestic violence, which is causing more and more victims and deaths?
We all know that domestic violence cuts across all cultures, without a specific face or skin colour. Domestic violence, whether emotional, psychological or physical, affects all layers of social strata, ethnic groups and professional ranks. As many of us have started this New Year with more optimism and positivity, we have all been reminded that many of our compatriots are still living in the hell of domestic violence. One of the most recent cases sent shock waves throughout our tiny nation. The drama occurred in a family of four living at Henrietta. On the night of 2nd January, a 22-year-old father was shot thrice by the police, as he was about to give a second blow with a sword to his one-year-old son.
In 2018, 1,527 new cases of domestic violence were reported to the Ministry of Gender Equality, Child Development and Family Welfare. 84.6% of the cases registered concerned women. However, the number of new cases of domestic violence against women went from 1,483 in 2017 to 1,292 in 2018. On the other hand, the number of men victims of domestic violence increased from 220 to 235 during the same period.
According to Ambal Jeanne, director of SOS Femmes, cases of domestic violence are worsening. “The gravity of these cases is agonizing because the victims often end up in hospital or in some cases, even lead to death. Domestic violence can affect anyone. It is primarily destructive or aggressive behaviour in a relationship, where the abuser aims at exercising power and control over his/her partner. This violence manifests itself in physical, emotional, verbal violence, among others.”
She believes that women and victims must take threats they receive from their partners very seriously. “In many cases, the attackers carry out their threats because they do not want their spouses to receive help or leave them. They want to exert absolute control over the person. When the aggressor cannot exercise power, he/she becomes more aggressive and violent. Several other factors contribute to this violence, such as adultery, conflicts with family and in-laws, money and alcohol. A new factor is the synthetic drug, which is wreaking havoc among families and couples.”
Ambal Jeanne argues that one of the main solutions to fight domestic violence is education. “Education helps in shaping one’s behaviour. People learn to solve their problems in a non-violent way, they learn how to live with others, respecting and accepting others and their rights. Another solution is to offer therapies to the aggressors. This must be made legally mandatory because it will help these attackers in the long term to educate and re-educate themselves.”
Rajen Suntoo, sociologist : “Alcohol, drugs and gambling are the main causes of domestic violence”
In terms of the triggers of domestic violence, the sociologist maintains that jealousy is a major component. “People feel vulnerable when they see that their partners are moving ahead in life and ahead of them in terms of money and professional career. These people therefore feel inferior. A second cause is poverty and lack of money, which creates a lot of tension in a home and often leads to violence. Another trigger is the lack of quality time and communication between spouses and the family in general. Parents do not have time for intimate moments and there is also a lack of communication with the children. In addition, the in-laws and other family members meddle in the couple’s problems and can thus create more conflicts between the spouses.”
Rajen Suntoo also explains that alcohol, drugs and gambling are other major causes of domestic violence. “Violence linked to these societal scourges may lead to crime. People who are under the influence of these cannot contain themselves, they become aggressive and ultimately commit the irreparable.” Another cause, adds the sociologist, is technology. “Violence has become more present in our lives through technology, particularly across the internet, social networks, and so on. Young people, especially, are more exposed to violence. They therefore tend to reproduce what they see without thinking twice. Those who want to live a perfect love life get carried away in problematic relationships through social networks. Others are tempted by adultery. All of this leads to domestic violence because some people do not accept being neglected by their spouses and have to dominate in the relationship, no matter the price they have to pay.”
He believes that all institutions have a major role to play in order to curb this abysmal issue. “School, family, religion, among others, are the key players in the fight against domestic violence. Civic education, family support and learning moral values through religion and spirituality are more than ever important and can definitely help in the face of the upsurge in domestic violence,” underlines the sociologist.
Mélanie Vigier de Latour-Bérenger, psycho-sociologist : “It’s very hard for victims to talk about what they went through”
According to Mélanie Vigier de Latour-Bérenger, psycho-sociologist and member of Kolektif Drwa Zanfan Morisien (KDZm) and Kolektif Drwa Imin (KDI), domestic violence has existed in our Republic for ages but now, the difference is that many victims do not remain silent anymore. “More people talk about it, refuse to be mute victims and contact the media and the protection units: Police, family support bureau, and others, which is a good thing. Any form of violence is unacceptable!”
In most of the cases pertaining to violence on children and partners, underlined the psycho-sociologist, perpetrators are close to the victims. “This is the fact in more than 80% in cases of child sexual abuse. Sadly homes are often not the safest places. According to Goddard, in 2013, homes were scenes of crimes, especially about children.”
It is important to educate children and adults on major issues. We have to teach them about gender equality; that is no one is better than the other; domestic work is not solely a girl or woman’s role. Girls and boys, women and men have the same human rights."
Talking about violence against women, she highlighted that “in Europe, 1 woman out of 3 are victims of violence in a study of FRA (Agence des droits fondamentaux de l’Union européenne) in 2014, which included 28 countries, with 42,000 women interviewed. 43% of the women have been victims of violence perpetrated by their current or ex-partner.” She added that “the majority of victims of domestic violence in the world, including Mauritius, are women. In Mauritius, each year, there are about 2,300 new cases reported, amongst which 88% are women.”
The psycho-sociologist stated that Walker (1979), “who worked a lot on domestic violence, describes the process of domestic violence in three steps. The first is the tension stage where insults, swearwords occur, the victim being accused and considered responsible for every frustration from the perpetrators. In the second phase appears the physical violence. The third phase is the honeymoon stage where the perpetrator apologizes, promising he/she will not do it again, etc. Then, the process is repeated, intensifying the forms of violence and increasing the frequency.”
Mélanie Vigier de Latour-Bérenger explained that despite victims denouncing domestic violence nowadays, many still have difficulties to share their ordeal. “It’s very hard for victims to talk about what they went through for several reasons, namely not knowing whether acts of this kind belong to violence, not knowing whether it is normal, being told that it was okay to witness violence. Other factors include the fear of being killed, of losing children, shame, threats, feeling helpless, being financially dependent, because of social and familial pressure, among other reasons. It is hard for them to go to the police and ask for a Protection Order. It’s often after the stage 2 that the victims eventually talk about the violence they suffer from and go to the police and the information is displayed in the media. Unfortunately, complaints if made, are withdrawn in the honeymoon stage.”
We have laws such as the Protection from Domestic Violence Act to protect victims. It’s important to spread the information, talk about Protection Orders, empower girls and women to be financially independent."
She trusts that education is fundamental to curb the situation but that laws and rules are also very important. “We have laws such as the Protection from Domestic Violence Act to protect victims. It’s important to spread the information, talk about Protection Orders, empower girls and women to be financially independent. It’s important to continue the training of the officers of our protection institutions in order for them to be able to provide better help and accompaniment to the victims. On the other hand, it is important to educate children and adults on major issues. We have to teach them about gender equality; that is no one is better than the other; domestic work is not solely a girl or woman’s role. Girls and boys, women and men have the same human rights. It’s important not only to talk about it but also to be role models. We also have to teach them about what is violence and its consequences and offer them alternatives. It is key to teach them about the importance of developing empathy and about respecting oneself, others and the environment, that everyone deserves to be well treated. No form of violence is justified, never!”
Do you believe in educating or re-educating parents, as well as perpetrators of domestic violence instead of incarcerating them? “Research has shown that perpetrators have to benefit from an efficient therapy learning to control themselves, learning to talk about their thoughts and feelings instead of expressing them in violent actions, etc. In some cases, going to prison is important to re-settle the law, no one is above the law. But it’s not enough. Prison together with accompaniment in and after jail time is very important,” she explained.
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