The recent news of unthinkable and gut-wrenching abuse of an IT professional in the US, by her Silicon Valley CEO husband, has prompted me to write on the issue of domestic abuse, both verbal and physical, which is far more prevalent around us than we may like to assume. Neha Rastogi, is a clearly brilliant and successful young woman, while her abusive husband leads an IT start-up in Silicon Valley. They seem to be the perfect Silicon Valley couple. But what has emerged in the tapes that Rastogi has produced in courts is far from it and brings to light chilling details of abuse over the decade-long marriage.
Not surprisingly, some of the most educated, sophisticated, well placed, economically independent and empowered women suffer in it for years, albeit silently. What makes these women continue to be in dysfunctional relationships? Why do they choose to be the victim? Do they really have no other choice?
Career women are often seen as strong, opinionated, ambitious and arrogant by society in general and the spouse in particular (barring few exceptions). Often when strong women come out with facts and incidents of domestic abuse, they are not taken seriously, often being ridiculed and seen as a trouble maker in the equation. The most common counseling that stakeholders and society come up with is that she must realize that making the marriage successful is the onus of the woman, and her being career oriented does not change a thing. If there are issues in the marriage, it is most likely an outcome of her being too independent or ambitious. In all this they completely miss the point of abuse, leaving the hapless woman wondering, if it was easier to cope with an abusive partner or convince people that matter to her that she is in a difficult situation.
There is almost always a pattern to it, irrespective of culture, race or ethnicity. Women spend years in abusive relationships without even knowing that they are in one. This is because they aren’t aware what qualifies as abuse. Our patriarchal society leads us to accept the violent and abusive behavior of our husbands, brothers, and fathers as normal. The thresholds of our tolerance of abuse and violence are raised dangerously high and we are okay with such behaviors as long as they are within such threshold.
Years later when reality strikes and patience begins to crumble, they resort to denial, often trying to convince themselves that “it is normal”, “it’s ok, I may be over thinking”, “It’s not an everyday phenomenon, I may be imagining things”. Some slip into depression, some become reclusive and some sway between suicidal thoughts and interim recovery, but almost all refuse to acknowledge that she is a victim of domestic abuse. Denial also gives comfort to their integrity and sense of being, and they live in a make belief world of gender parity, equality, and empowerment.
Couples disagree. That’s normal. Some couples fight over disagreements. That’s also normal. Some go a step further and shout, yell and abuse each other. That’s normal too. So what’s beyond normal? What are the boundaries of normalcy? What is the threshold of abuse? What qualifies of abuse?
Most women (and also their parents, relatives, and other stakeholders) often pass off abusive bouts as a “spur-of-the-moment” episodes, and there is nothing wrong in it. The problem begins when the abuse becomes chronic and in many cases non-provoked. Soon, the abusive language and actions assume mammoth intensity leading to much more damage than ever imagined.
It is imperative to understand that violence and abuse have only one definition. We often assess the degree of violence (or even the mere presence of it) by evident physical injuries, the grave the better, psychological symptoms such as depression or suicide. There can be no greater cruelty than this! The fact is that any act, physical or verbal that erodes the dignity, sanity, and sensibility of a person qualify as violence and abuse. There cannot be perceptive degrees to it. Relative degrees cannot justify a violent and/or abusive act, and none of the spouses is empowered to decide on the right degree for the other. Period.
So, what’s abuse and how do distinguish it?
Unlike physical abuse, verbal abuse is difficult to identify and far more difficult is the acceptance of the fact that you are a victim of abuse. Unfortunately, it is also the most common type of abuse in marriages in general. Over a period of time, constant exposure to verbal abuse can be more lethal than physical abuse because the victim dies in bits, every day. The sense of being is crushed, mangled and killed brutally by words that have no real meaning but only reflect inadequacies of another person. Yet, words are powerful, and their impact can be profound.
Hence it is very important to identify and acknowledge if the relationship is abusive and toxic. Acknowledgment is the first step to a solution.
It is very critical to know that domestic abuse can take many forms, viz:
- Physical Abuse (most commonly acknowledged, because of evident physical proof)
- Verbal Abuse: Name calling, Slangs, Coercion, Threats, & Blame (difficult to establish)
- Sexual Abuse (mostly a taboo topic and often brushed under the carpet)
- Emotional Abuse & Intimidation (difficult to establish)
- Isolation (a classic tool that gradually shows its lethal impact)
- Financial/Economic Abuse (seen as a couple thing and common decision, though it may not be so)
Most abusers (in most abusive marriages, it’s the men who are abusive, but there are always some exceptions), have a pattern to themselves. Their abusive behaviour, in most cases, has its roots in, either have an imbalanced childhood (could be loss of a parent at a very young age, could be a bully at school, could be sexual abuse in early childhood), social discrimination (poverty, race, colour, caste etc.), or feelings of inadequacies about self.
The reason could be many, however, the woman cannot be expected to be penalized all her life for a reason that has nothing to do with her. So, stop looking for reasons that lead to his violent behavior and justifying it.
Next time you come across a battered woman dealing with an abusive partner, don’t judge on the basis of her economic or professional standing. Women in abusive relationships need help. At times it could mean persistent cajoling almost on the border of interference, to make them accept that they are indeed a victim of abuse. Once they realize and accept this, they will themselves want to seek help. As friends and well-wishers let’s not leave them alone to deal with it because it is something personal.