Intimate partner violence leaves lasting physical and psychological scars | Sunday Observer

Intimate partner violence leaves lasting physical and psychological scars

5 December, 2021

In 2019, the Department of Census and Statistics conducted the first national prevalence survey on violence against women covering all 25 districts in Sri Lanka. The survey revealed horrifying, long hidden truth : that Sri Lankan women are more than twice as likely to have experienced physical violence by a partner than by a non-partner. Since many of our readers don’t understand what exactly intimate Partner Violence means, The Sunday Observer contacted a senior psychiatrist with wide knowledge on the subject Dr Yasodha Rohanachandra to explain what it meant.

In reply she said, “ An intimate partner may include current and former male husbands, cohabiting partners, fiancés or, dating partners. Intimate Partner Violence can be defined as any behavior by an intimate partner that causes physical, sexual or psychological harm, including physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviors.””

As there were many aspects to such violence we asked her to specify them according to their respective categories. Here is how she listed them, “Physical violence may include pushing, shoving, pulling by the hair, slapping, hitting with the fist or an object, kicking, dragging, choking or burning on purpose. It also includes threatening to use a gun, knife or other weapon against her. Sexual violence by an intimate partner may include forcing to have sexual intercourse when she does not want to or force to engage in sexual behaviours that she was not comfortable with. Emotional violence may include insulting, belittling, humiliating, intimidating her or threatening to harm someone she loves.

Controlling behaviours may include preventing her from having contact with her friends and family, preventing her from using social media, checking on her whereabouts all the time, suspiciousness and getting angry when she speaks with another man.”

So what drove men to behave in this disruptive manner we asked.? In reply she said unemployment, low socio-economic status and younger age of the women and partner alcohol use, fighting with other men, and partners extramarital relationships were significantly associated with higher intimate partner violence.

Impact on women

Asked what adverse impacts intimate partner violence had on women partners especially in Sri Lanka she said, “In the survey done in Sri Lanka, it was revealed that 28.9 percent of women who experienced physical or sexual violence had been injured, most women who experienced injuries had been injured more than once and almost 18.7percent of women have been hurt enough to need health care. Women subjected to intimate partner violence is also at a higher risk of having an unplanned pregnancy, induced abortion and sexual dysfunction. The psychological effects of intimate partner violence are vast and include depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder and suicidal tendencies . Exposure to more than one type of violence by the partner (e.g. physical and sexual violence or physical and emotional violence) and repeated exposure to violence are predictors of higher psychological impact.” ,she warned.

Commenting to another question we posed as to what prevented women from stopping such abusive behaviour in the first place, she noted that, , ‘’’ Attitudes towards gender norms and violence towards women in Sri Lanka are such that, violence against women is normalized. For example, a survey on gender norms and attitude towards violence against women in Sri Lanka showed that almost half of women agreed that “a man should show he is the boss” and that “a good wife obeys her husband even if she disagrees”. Two in five women had also disagreed with sexual autonomy, supporting the statement that women are obliged to have sex with their husbands when she does not feel like it”’...

Impact on children

As she was a qualified Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at the Colombo south Teaching Hospital, we asked Dr Rohanachandra to explain how intimate partner violence could impact on children who are often innocent spectators. Her reply was , “Studies have shown that 22-46% of children who have witnessed violence between their parents suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Such children are also more likely to have behavioural problems at school, sleep disturbances, clinging, and fretful behaviours and poor academic performance. In addition, they are also more likely to behave aggressively themselves due to imitation of the aggression displayed by the parents. There is also evidence to suggest that children who witness intimate partner violence between their parents are more likely to engage in spousal abuse in future,” she warned.

On available services where help could be reached, she said there were many government and non-governmental organisations to support those suffering from intimate partner violence. Majority of the government hospitals have a “Mithuru Piyasa” which provides free counselling and psychological support for victims of such violence. The National Institute of Mental Health also has a gender-based violence prevention unit, which offers psychological, medical and legal support to victims as needed. In addition, supportive services can also be obtained through the Divisional Secretariat office of the area. Women in need is a non-governmental organisation which provides psychological, legal and emergency services, including emergency shelters for women suffering from intimate partner violence.