December 8th, 2010

The Silent Threat: Domestic violence

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Tania De Rozario contemplates the issues raised in AWARE’s recent Round Table discussion – violence against women in Singapore.

When Associate Professor Chan Wing Cheong announced that only 9.2% of women in Singapore had suffered physical or sexual violence over the course of their lifetimes, participants at AWARE’s third Round Table erupted into disbelief. The Round Table discussion, one in a series where interested parties gather to discuss social and policy issues, was held at the AWARE Centre on November 11th. Myself and, I suspect, many of those present know of enough victims of violence to find that statistic lower than expected.

The figure came from the United Nations’ International Violence Against Women Survey in 2009. Singapore is 1 of 12 countries to have taken part in the study. All-female interviewers spoke to 2006 women aged 18 to 69 in face-to-face interviews. The survey’s 190 questions made reference to 7 types of physical violence and 5 types of sexual violence. This is the first comprehensive attempt to establish the extent and patterns of violence against women in Singapore.

Why were the figures lower than what we expected? Possibly because many incidents go unmentioned as victims try to hide or cover up the abuse. For example, only 23% of the women who admitted to experiencing abuse filed official reports.

Violence against women is a tricky subject to survey. Amnesty International states that globally, it goes widely unreported due to factors that range from fear of retribution, concern for children and no access to redress. Coincidentally, all these points were brought up during the dialogue that followed. It became clear that both culture and public policy impacts greatly on women’s willingness to report acts of violence. As mentioned by Executive Director Corinna Lim, a stark peak in reports in Singapore the year the changes in the Women’s Charter was made to provide protection against domestic violence is a clear example of this. That was the year where there was a lot of publicity of the unacceptability of domestic violence and the protections available against domestic violence.

But in a culture where family matters are generally seen as private, and where rape within marriage is not recognised as a crime it is far from surprising that women are reluctant to come forward.

It is alarming is that the ratio of partner-victimisation (i.e. women who are abused by their partners) is much higher that non-partner-victimisation. These women are being hurt by the men who are supposed to love them.

The above issues were discussed at the round table, alongside many additional questions that need answering: Why does the court not release gender statistics of people filing for personal protection orders? Why are incidences of violence against women logged only by public hospitals and not private? Why is the phrase “family violence” never used when the issue is addressed in the media? Poignantly enough, these are questions that cannot be answered by survey respondents, but rather need to be addressed by policy makers, government bodies and institutions that set a precedent for what constitutes acceptable behaviour within our culture.

If there is anything important this survey brings to light, it is the fact that we need to understand why women aren’t reporting their experiences of violence, and urgently de-code and counter a culture that feeds and perpetuates this silence.

AWARE’s latest online video campaign, The Because I Love Her Project hopes to fight the silence – by involving men in the fight against violence against women.

If you are a man for whom violence is unthinkable and unacceptable, team up with a woman you love and pledge never to condone it. Visit The Because I Love Her Project for more.

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