In 1979, Erin Pizzey’s book Scream Quietly Or The Neighbours Will Hear blew the lid off the ugly secret of domestic violence which was an unspeakable topic till then.
Earlier this month, we were reminded that the attitudes about men beating up their wives or partners is still very much the same the world over when UK-based domestic violence victim support groups ran graphic advertisements reminding the public that a loss for England in the Euro 2020 football tournament would see a spike in abuse against women by male fans of the losing side.
Domestic violence is an illness that affects people across communities and social classes. Indeed, in Bahrain, since most domestic servants are not with their families here, they are ironically saved from any violence in the relationship while, in the homes that they work in, their bosses slug it out. Many expat families too suffer from the grim knocks and bruises of the illness – for it is a mental aberration that needs challenging as well as treatment.
The situation in Bahrain is, in fact, more supportive than in many countries. The Supreme Council for Women runs awareness campaigns, NGOs such as Shamsaha are working to build a safety net for victims. Importantly, there are safe houses where the victim can put a distance between herself and the perpetrator – Dar Al Aman is run by the government social services directorate and the pioneering Aisha Yateem Family Counselling Centre, supported with compassion by the Yateem family, has refashioned Bahrain’s approach to this serious human rights issue.
Similarly, the kingdom has also adjusted its laws to take into account the psychological trauma faced by the victim of domestic abuse in seeking protection – in Bahrain, an affidavit from the survivor is adequate to move the courts rather than the victim facing her abusive partner again.
Bahrain is also one of the few countries to implement steps that recognise domestic abuse as a serious psychological illness and offer counselling and treatment for the perpetrator so that he may recognise his problem and take remedial steps to correct his behaviour.
What is urgently needed is a grassroots campaign to encourage people to recognise and reach out to victims. Often, just being there for the victim to talk to you is the vital first step towards healing.
The simplest act of support can empower a victim – I have heard volunteers act upon hotline phone calls and quickly arrange taxi rides for the victims to leave home for safe houses and Shamsaha even arranges kits with essentials to help them tide over because they often walk out with just the clothes on their back.
Just because a victim does not acknowledge her condition, we cannot turn a blind eye to those unexplained cuts and bruises.
As a society that values human rights and compassion, each one of us owes it to the shadowy victims of domestic abuse to help them reclaim their lives of security and love.