Selangor Journal

Recognising intimate partner abuse

By Nasuha Badrul Huzaini

IF you are a woman and have not had any experience with physical violence in your lifetime, consider yourself lucky, given the fact that one in three females in the world have been a victim of violence, mostly by their intimate partners.

Based on a 2021 research by the United Nations Inter-Agency Working Group on Violence Against Women, an estimated 736 million women (almost one in three) have been subject to intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence, or both at least once in their life.

This equates to 30 per cent of women globally, aged 15 and older.

What is more worrying is the fact that the rates of depression, anxiety disorders, unplanned pregnancies and HIV are higher in women who have experienced violence compared to those who have not, as well as many other health problems that continue even after the violence has ended.

In conjunction with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25 (yesterday), Selangor Journal reached out to Isabel Chung, the Research and Advocacy Officer of Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), to talk about domestic violence in the country.

According to Chung, a significant increase in domestic violence cases was recorded when the movement control order (MCO) was enforced in the country last year.

“A four-fold increase in hotline calls from April 2020 (MCO 1.0) was recorded compared to February 2020 (pre-MCO).

“These numbers have stagnated at an elevated level compared to pre-MCO.

In fact, Talian Kasih hotline had also seen a 57 per cent increase (or 1,893 calls) from women in distress up to March 26, 2020,” she said.

From what the WAO has compiled, among the major factors which lead to the rise of domestic violence cases in Malaysia, especially during the MCO, include power and control, isolation and uncertainties to get help.

“During times of crisis, greater levels of unemployment and financial distress may aggravate an abuser’s desire to exploit or maintain existing power imbalances in relationships as a mean to control a situation in an uncertain time.

“Apart from that, with almost no to very minimal contact with family, friends, and other support systems means there are fewer social avenues to seek help and support. Being confined with an abuser every day also makes accessing help — even in the form of calling helplines — more difficult because the abuser may be constantly monitoring domestic violence survivors,” Chung added.

Harmful narratives

In a recent study conducted by WAO involving 1,000 Malaysians, approximately 96 per cent of Malaysians recognise slapping, pushing and threatening behaviour as forms of domestic violence, while 84.4 per cent recognise controlling behaviour as a form of domestic violence.

However, Chung said the complexities of domestic violence are still not well-understood.

“For example, this same study found that 45 per cent of respondents believe that female victims who stay with their abusive partners are also responsible for the ongoing abuse.

“This indicates that while many Malaysians are able to recognise domestic violence, some Malaysians still believe that women are at least partly responsible for the abuse. This is simply not true as the responsibility of abuse falls solely on the perpetrator, and views such as this simply perpetuates the practice of victim-blaming and disregards the harrowing cycle of abuse that keeps survivors oppressed and perpetrators in positions of power,” she said.

Chung stressed that it is important to always believe the survivors, whenever and however they choose to speak up.

“We have to understand and acknowledge that domestic violence is still highly stigmatised in Malaysia — one that is still often perceived as a ‘family matter’ — and thus, speaking up about it is extremely difficult.

“When someone discloses violence to you, whether personally or on a public platform, we must believe them and offer support, such as by listening with empathy and care, offering a safe space both emotionally and physically, and/or accompanying a friend or family member to the hospital or police station.

“We have to be aware of harmful narratives about violence that emerge in everyday conversation — such as, that women are also at fault for staying in abusive relationships — speak against these myths, and avoid reinforcing these baseless ideas,” she added.

Knowledge is power

Meanwhile, Universiti Putra Malaysia senior counsellor Siti Fatimah Abdul Ghani said there are several reasons which make it hard for the victims to get away from the violence.

“Usually, the victims are advised to sweep things under the rug, they are told to settle the matter quietly as it would embarrass the family. All they should do is to pray and hope that things will get better in time and the abuser will soon realise their mistakes.

“As a professional counsellor, I would say, things rarely ever get better, simply because the abuser is never put in a position to learn a lesson. Sometimes, they do not even know that what they did was wrong. Subsequently, things will go from bad to worse, especially when the victim does not have enough courage to speak up,” she said.

Recognising the struggles faced by the victim, Siti Fatimah shared some advice for those who are currently trapped in a relationship with an abuser.

The first step, she said, is to empower oneself with knowledge.

“Read a lot, get more knowledge, so that when you get abused, either mentally or physically, you know what is happening. The next thing to do is get help.

Once you are aware that you need to get help, automatically you will know that what you’re going through is unjust,” she said.

Apart from that, the victim must also choose the right channel to report the violence to. For instance, if it is related to marriage, they can immediately file a report at any police station or the Department of Social Welfare (JKM) branches.

“They can also call the 24-hour Talian Kasih helpline at 15999 and most importantly, if they have sustained an injury from the violence, they must go to the hospital as soon as possible for proper treatment,” Siti Fatimah added.


This article first appeared in the Selangor Journal monthly November edition, published on November 1, 2021.

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