Driven by the slogan, the personal is political, second-wave feminists drew attention among other things to physical, psychological, and sexual violence happening behind closed doors, within the home, such as domestic violence or marital rape.
Because domestic violence takes place within the private context of the victim as well as is influenced by various socio-economic, cultural, and political factors, survivors often find themselves in intricate situations where it remains difficult to name it as abuse, denounce it, leave the home, and have it prosecuted. Dramatic effects may intensify when victims and perpetrators have to share the same space more often than usual as has been the case since the COVID-19 epidemic and the ‘shadow pandemic.’
Regarding this type of crime, the perpetrators are disproportionately men, while the victims are primarily women. In the German context, for instance, women constitute 98.4% of victims of rape, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence. Given that many women engage in unpaid domestic work at home, they are often financially dependent upon their abuser, which curtails their agency and ability to leave the violent environment. In addition, many survivors even if they do come forward, tend not to be taken seriously, disbelieved, their experiences discredited, and are in any case far too poorly informed about the support programmes available in their respective countries. This means that even if for instance they accept the burden that represents engaging in criminal proceedings given the re-experiencing of the trauma, many simply do not know where they can find help and support.
Even if the statistics show that men are far more likely to be perpetrators than victims, it is too easy to declare domestic violence to solely be a women’s issue. Male victims of domestic violence also feel the discriminatory effects of patriarchy and toxic masculinity. Hard reconciliation of vulnerability and masculinity, and understanding domestic violence as abuse is hard for male victims and often prevents them from coming forward. Domestic violence against men is still ingrained in societal taboo, which in turn leads to men being burdened by feelings of shame and often refraining from making use of official support programmes. This also prevents us from having reliable data on the extent of the issue for men.
Other characteristics and factors that increase the risk of becoming a victim of domestic violence are high and extreme levels of poverty, increased age (depending on the care work of the potential perpetrators), pregnancy, alcohol and drug use, and mental health problems. It is also noted that LGBTQIA+Lesbian (L), Gay (G), Bisexual (B), Trans (T), Queer (Q), Intersex (I), Asexual (A), + denotes an umbrella term used by 'marginalized sexual and gender diverse people whose gender, gender expression, or sexual identity do not conform to cis-gender or hetero-dominant gender identity'. This acronym is intersectional by virtue of its nature as well as non-exhaustive and inclusive (as denoted by the +). Over the years, the + has been understood as encompassing Questioning (Q), Two-spirit (TS), or Pansexual (P). In other words, this term represents fluid (non-conforming) notions of gender identity and sexual orientation supposedly transgressing the binary constructs of our society (male v. female and heterosexual v. homosexual).close people, immigrants, people of colour, people with disabilities, and homeless people often do not have equal access to formal assistance services due to their unique circumstances and the experiences of discrimination they face as a result. For example, LGBTQI+ people risk unintentional outing – by the abuser or in the course of the prosecution.
People of colour sometimes refrain from seeking help outside their own community due to concerns that the community would face unwanted scrutiny or racist discrimination. For instance, many report domestic violence to be more prominent among African-American communities in the United States, which leads many to portray them as inherently violent. However, if one controls socio-economic factors when assessing domestic violence, the effects of racial and ethnic differences in the rate of domestic violence largely disappear. Hence, the higher rate among African-Americans, rather than stemming from racial and ethnic differences, may be explained by the high and extreme levels of poverty faced by many Black communities, which is a direct result of structural and systemic racism and racial segregation.
Domestic violence remains an acute societal problem with traumatic psychological, physical, and psychosexual consequences for survivors. There is an urgent need for an expansion and improvement of the support programmes and shelters for victims, for targeted education campaigns about these initiatives, and for a tackling of the perfidious effects of patriarchy. For as long as seeking help in dangerous situations is fraught with fear and disbelief, victims will continue to remain silent, and even the best support infrastructures are of no use if they do not know who to help. Seeking help and support in dangerous situations mustn’t be a hurdle.