For the past many months my house help had been struggling with domestic violence, including physical abuse. Sadly, I had no inkling, till it grew to the extent that I had to intervene and help her register a case with the police. I was surprised, and ashamed, that I had been unable to see the signs of abuse of a Helper who had been looking after my house so that I could work in peace.
During this process of helping her I learnt that it was common in her community to suffer emotional and physical abuse at the hands of husbands, and in some cases the sons. But, these women largely chose to suffer in silence mainly due to the lack of awareness, social support and self-confidence.
I think there would be many more like me who would like to help their Helpers who were victims of domestic abuse, but might not know how to help. That is why this small write up about some tips to help women who suffer domestic violence:
- Know the signs: The abuse could be physical, which is easy to detect. But, it could also be emotional and/or verbal abuse, which makes the victim either extra aggressive or extra silent. Any change in behaviour should therefore ring the alarm bell.
Similarly, there could be financial abuse, where the victim does not get money to take care of her needs, and in fact might have her own salary also taken away by the abuser.
Be on a lookout.
- Educate your Helpers: Tell the Helpers that they should find out about the local help in their communities. These could include MahilaMandals, local NGOs, as well as women’s cell in the local police station. They should also stay networked with their neighbours who can help them in need.
There is also “The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (DV Act) 2005”, for women undergoing domestic violence. The law in itself is woman-friendly. Some facts you can tell them is:
- The Act looks at domestic violence as a civil offence, and makes it easy for women to give evidence, obtain compensation and even punishment or penalty.
- It can also be applied to brothers, uncles, aunts, cousins, parents-in-law, brothers-in-law or sisters-in-law or others in the immediate family who trouble or attack a woman or girl verbally, sexually, emotionally, economically, psychologically, or physically.
- The victim cannot be evicted from her home.
- Ring the Bell: Tell them of this simple yet effective way to help each other during domestic violence. Women should just ring the bell if they notice a violent situation in neighbourhood. They could use the old neighbourly approach of asking to borrow some sugar or salt as an excuse to intervene. The ringing of the bell would break the cycle of the violence at least at that time. This is something which they can all discuss and agree upon for use at any time in their own groups.
- Help them with technology: If your Helper has a smart phone, help her download a free safety app for women, which they can use if they are in danger. This is especially helpful when the domestic violence is physical.
- Listen and be the back-up.Sometimes just by listening to a victim you can give them the confidence to report the matter. Your listening can make them believe that people will not judge them for the violence inflicted on them. In the absence of this confidence victims can feel isolated or belittled, or even guilty. Help them get out of this guilt. Let them know that you will be willing to support them in case they want to go to the authorities
- Make the calls: If the situation is beyond simple intervention, call the police or your local support services, or an NGO, which you can easily find on the Internet. You can do so even when you want to remain anonymous. Also, help the victim find the assistance she needs, whether it is legal information, local domestic violence programmes, or finding a safe place through a battered women’s shelter
Document everything: Document any signs of abuse that you witness. This can be in the form of dates, notes, pictures and other similar things. This documentation can help if and when the victim decides to go to the authorities.