Keys to the eradication of violence against women

Omnes-February 2, 2018-Reading time: 10 minutes

In the wake of the latest cases of violence against women in Spain and around the world, Palabra addresses today, from a psychological and psychiatric point of view, what this dramatic violence consists of, its roots, and the signs that give it away. One aggression is already too many, say the authors, who delve into relationships and how to act if someone suffers this violence.

TEXT - Inés Bárcenas, psychologist, María Martín-Vivar, psychologist, Ph.D. in Psychology, and Carlos Chiclana, psychiatrist, doctor of medicine.

More than 800 million women worldwide suffer violence just because they are women. Most of the aggressions are based on the erroneous belief in the superiority of men over women, which society so often encourages or hushes up.

Gender violence, based on different social attributions according to culture, in all its physical and psychological aspects, is a very serious problem that requires firm and constant intervention in education for equality, diversity and respect. A single aggression for the fact of being a woman would already be inconceivable. The reality is that millions of women live in fear.

Types of gender violence and abuse

According to WHO there are several types of violence that require different interventions. It seems that the word violence implies that there is physical harm that takes you to the emergency room, but this is not the case. There are many ways to treat people badly, and when this is exercised by the fact of being a woman and with the contempt it implies, it could be considered gender violence. The same would happen in the reverse case, if the woman treats the man badly just because he is a man.

The neuropsychologist Sonia Mestre describes various types of abuse in couple relationships, which can occur in both women and men. They range from degradation -reducing the value of the person- and objectification -converting another person into an object, devoid of desires, needs or choices-, to intimidation, overload of responsibilities, limitation and reduction of the possibility of satisfying the social, personal and labor needs of the abused person, to the distortion of the subjective reality, which is to transform the perception of the other. The last stage is physical violence, which consists of an aggression that does not have to cause serious injury: it can be slapping, pushing, scratching, hitting, throwing an object or the severe extreme of sexual violence.

Does it happen more now than before?

Fortunately, we are living in a social moment that raises awareness and makes visible sexual violence against women. This phenomenon constitutes a serious public health problem and has a profound impact on the mental and physical health of women and many others.

WHO estimates that one in three (35 %) women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a partner or third party at some point in their lives. Nearly one-third (30 %) of women who have been in a relationship have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner. Thirty-eight % of the world's murders of women are committed by their male partner.

In our country we are experiencing numerous demands and public debates, where a judicial system better prepared for these situations was requested. The relevance of these demands lies in the intention to give voice to a reality that has affected millions of women around the world for thousands of years. A phenomenon, in many cases silenced by the reluctance of the victims themselves to denounce, either out of fear, shame, feelings of guilt or anticipation that they will not receive the necessary support or credibility. We are thus going through a moment of awareness of the suffering that sexual violence triggers, opening important debates about the limits of consent and the power that some men exercise over some women.

Sociologists and psychologists warn that there is no characteristic profile that designates sexually violent people, and that only a minority percentage present a mental pathology. Abusers may come from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, and may be someone known to the victim such as a friend, a family member, an intimate partner, or a complete stranger. To understand the causes, prevent abuse and intervene explicitly when it has already occurred, we can act at 4 levels: two "micro-levels", individual and relationship within the couple, and two "macro-levels", group or community and the broader socio-environmental.

It's not just sex

The motive for these aggressions is not only sexual desire, but also the "power vacuum", insecurity and the need for control on the part of the man. Sexual violence is an act intended to degrade, dominate, humiliate, terrorize and control the woman. This imposition of power is employed by the aggressor to mitigate his own insecurity about his sexual suitability, compensating for feelings of powerlessness and frustration through the use of force or psychological coercion.

Sexual violence against women is present in every society on the planet, transcending boundaries of wealth, race, religion or culture. Deeply rooted in history, it is rooted in values and attitudes that promote and perpetuate the physical, political, economic and social domination of women. Within this social framework, the feminist movement has made solid contributions to the causes of sexual violence against women. Feminism is based on a theory of justice that promotes freedom and equal rights for all human beings, regardless of the sex with which they were born, female or male.

Educate, educate and educate. Then, re-educate

The current path leads us towards the revision of the "social imagery" about the female body and sexuality and the boundaries of consent. Depersonalization and the use of the female body as an object of consumption for the male still prevails, and is perpetuated in the media and social networks, becoming implicitly present in relationships.

The engine of change lies in education and awareness of the active role of women in their determination, their decision-making capacity, in the discovery of their individual power, their own value and their own existence.

The enemy is not man

Being a woman has nothing to do with imitating men or fighting against them. There is also the need to dissociate masculinity from attitudes such as domination, aggression or force as a weapon. As if these behaviors were the basis of their security or identity. We need mature judicial and political systems that take real awareness of the problem, make visible and give solidity to the testimonies of the victims, closing the siege to future aggressions.

In a deeper sense, we need to regain a sense of individual responsibility so that, in the face of each of these crimes, men and women will unite our voices to say no, not in my name, no to sexual violence, not in the name of our society. A mature society will take care to provide the means to re-educate all those who commit crimes of violence. Depending on the intensity and seriousness of the crime, they will require re-education to facilitate their reintegration into the general society, family or couple.

Pornography is an enemy in the fight against violence against women. According to statistics from some academic studies, more than 85 % of pornographic scenes contain physical violence, almost 95 % are directed against women and 80 % are performed by men.

What do we do with our daughterss and children?

Sex is genetically determined: you are either male or female. Gender identifies aspects related to psychosocial, relational and cultural attributions about sex; these are dynamic attributions that change according to time, place, culture, etc.

What proposals do the girls receive about the "roles" they are supposed to play in reality? What information do they receive? Songs, video clips, advertisements, youtubersseries, series, radio programs, social networks. In many of these contents, men have an attitude of strength and dominance over women. She, inferior or mistreated, does not reject, even normalizes through catchy lyrics abusive and violent behaviors.

The behavior of the family as a group that does not defend women will normalize many of these attitudes both in them (superiority, feeling of command, imposition of obedience, obligation of roles that are common only to women because they are women, etc.) and in them (submission, non-reaction to unjust impositions, development of erroneous beliefs about themselves, etc.).

An adolescent girl today must have access to a solid human formation in order to be able to choose with criteria and have clear ideas about respect for the person and for women, for herself. A vision created by adults, in movies, series, documentaries and television/radio programs, may not have a negative influence on adults, but in previous stages, childhood and adolescence, it is harmful. A well-trained adult will interpret it as a macho, old-fashioned and gender violence situation; a 12-year-old adolescent usually interprets that women are inferior to men and it is normal to observe violent behavior in him, or submission on the part of her.

The family as a reference

There are basic pillars such as the family and the school that are more influential than the environment in the evolutionary stages. If we observe, listen, pay attention, supervise access, accompany them in navigation, etc., we will teach them to be critical, to set limits, to say no, to reject violence, to know how to differentiate a detail of affection from manipulation, and an attempt at loving conquest from repeated harassment, to destroy gender prejudices, to understand male-female differences without detriment to male-female equality as persons and in their rights.

The family is the foundation of security for children and adolescents. The attitudes and values that children and adolescents have seen in their parents are an example and a model for the way they think, feel and act. If you want them to change, change yourself first. Boys and girls must see and have equal responsibility for daily chores and tasks at home. They must be able to say no and be respected, to be empowered from a young age to be able to be what they want professionally, without being pre-assigned a mandatory role.

It is necessary for them to know that they can choose from an early age, that they have the same rights as children, that they will be educated and demanded to achieve what they set out to do. This will imply the distribution of equal and equitable tasks at home practiced by the parents themselves, mutual respect between the couple and towards the children regardless of sex.

Teenage dating

In a survey conducted in Spain in 2015, more than 60 % of adolescents of both sexes considered that the boy should protect the girl; and 32 % thought it was normal to be jealous. Of vital importance is education in equality in affective relationships. Love is to love well. Jealousy is not a sign of love. It is necessary to break and fight against the myths of romantic love. Cinderella is no longer waiting for the prince. Twilight and Grey and his shadows are just some examples of romantic attraction turned into a toxic relationship.

The society of the coming years is being educated today. Girls and adolescents deserve effort and advances in social models. They do not deserve to have a ceiling because of their biology. The prevention of psychological, physical and verbal violence is gestated through education. Dignity, rights, power and responsibilities must be equal. From girls to adolescents. From adolescents to women. There are attitudes in dating relationships that some consider normal and that are not healthy.

When someone comes to us

When working in care work, it is relatively easy for someone to come to us - or for us to suspect it - because they are being assaulted. Most often the violence is perpetrated by someone close to them: partner, parent, sibling, other family member, caregiver, coach, teacher, friend, catechist. And it is frequent that it is intrafamilial. It may be useful to have printed information available so that the person can read what can be done, where to go, what is happening, etc., and thus feel more identified and be able to take the necessary steps to stop the damage.

Going to the parish, sacramental confession, a conversation with a catechist or a health-care worker or any other member of the parish community can be a first step where such a woman can ask for help.

Some signs that someone may be experiencing sexual violence are: brusque or fearful ways of relating to a partner; avoidance or verbal aggression; mental health problems; problems related to sexual behavior; recurrent health problems that are responded to with vague explanations; children telling what is happening at home, unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections.

In obvious cases it will be appropriate to recommend you to go to a health professional to make a report of injuries, collect forensic evidence and be able to exercise the complaint with greater weight. It is necessary to value that the denunciation is going to have repercussions in benefit of the denouncer.

If an aggressor asks for our help

If he/she asks us for help, if we are aware of these facts, we can act to facilitate the protection of those who are at risk; offer help in that sense or act through immediate denunciation and intervention of the security forces if it is the way to avoid aggressions. It is convenient that we consider that, in addition to complying with the laws/criminal laws of each country, he is also a person, he has the right to correct himself, heal the damage inflicted, ask for forgiveness, re-educate and rehabilitate himself; without forgetting that his recidivism will cause very serious damage, that we must protect ourselves and protect him from this situation.

If the facts for which you are responsible so require, we must tell you that you should self-incriminate. Depending on what she has done, she should do so immediately or organize to go to a lawyer in a planned manner. In dealing with couples, we can detect some warning signs and we can make the women we treat aware of them, making them aware of false beliefs that make them justify aggressions.

It can be of great help and interest to have training programs in prevention and action in cases of violence against women in all those institutions where people are assisted: dioceses, parishes, schools, etc. They should be provided with skills for identification, assessment and safety planning, communication skills, and skills for the care, documentation and referral of persons to specialized professionals.

It can also be very helpful to organize specific pastoral groups for women who have suffered violence. It will be beneficial for these to be "step groups" so that people can be empowered, become protagonists in their lives, develop personally and become autonomous, open-minded and independent thinkers.

Re-educate and change patterns

According to what the WHO explains, it has been studied that men who have a low educational level, who have been abused during childhood, exposed to domestic violence against their mothers and to the harmful use of alcohol, have lived in environments where violence was accepted and there were different norms for each sex, believe they have rights over women and are more prone to commit violent acts. At the same time, women who have a low level of education, who have been exposed to intimate partner violence against their mothers, have been abused during childhood, have lived in environments where violence, male privilege and the subordinate status of women were accepted, are at greater risk of being victims of intimate partner violence.

Sexual re-education is necessary in order to visualize, shorten, reduce and annul sexual aggressions in all areas and situations, originated by sexist violence and based on the erroneous belief of the superiority of men over women, which society so often encourages or keeps silent and therefore grants. It is also necessary not to respond to violence with violence, but to use the necessary and sufficient legal means to protect and heal the assaulted women and to prosecute and re-educate the aggressors.

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