Breaking the silence
by Gina Mission

Inocencio, Ursua, Pineda, Flor and Piad: Battling domestic violence.
Photo by Gina Mission

he meal is too hot or too cold, too salty or not salty enough for his taste, and so he gives her a black eye, drags her across the floor, or punches her in the torso. Domestic violence, like an omniscient enemy, occurs at the slightest provocation, or even when there seems to be none at all.

___Dr. Theodore Dalrymple, in his September 18, 1998 article in the New Statesman, Why women are tortured by jealous men, suggests that one reason domestic violence happens could be jealousy of the morbid type. "The jealous man demands that a freshly cooked meal be ready for him the moment he arrives home, though he either does not say when he is coming home, or is hours later or earlier than expected. He lays down conditions that his lover cannot possibly meet, precisely that he may have a pretext to be violent," Dalrymple explains.

___Doing this, Dalrymple continues, serves several advantages to the jealous man: the more trivial the occasion of this violence, the better, for the more fearful she becomes. And the more fearful she is, the less she can think for herself, the more he becomes the total focus of her being. The worse he behaves, and the more she declares her love for him, the more wonderful he considers himself.

___But again, this is just one aspect of the bigger picture. Domestic violence, aside from the intimate partner relationship scenario, also happens in parent-child, employer-employee, teacher-student, elder-younger sibling, among other types of relationships. And unless the victims finally break the silence and go out in the open to tell their stories or seek assistance, nothing much can be done about it. Expectedly, the violence continues.

___Outside initiatives to curb its occurrence, however, are increasing. In the Philippines alone, more than a hundred women's groups are actively involved in different endeavors to minimize if not totally eliminate domestic violence: from providing assistance to victims, to engaging and lobbying the Congress into passing legislative measures against it, to raising awareness and popularizing the issue, to establishing women's desks in police headquarters, to holding roundtable discussions, public fora, seminars, or conferences on domestic violence. This year saw an even more ambitious endeavor: an international video conference on domestic violence.

___In the first-ever international video conference on domestic violence, panelists from the Philippines and the United States discussed the many facets of the issue. Organized by the Manila-based ABS-CBN Bantay Bata Foundation 163, in cooperation with Washington's Worldnet International, the conference, which was held at the studios of ABS-CBN, lasted an hour and gathered together advocates of victims of domestic violence.

___Four Philippine panelists, Evalyn Ursua, executive director of the Women's Legal Bureau, Pampanga councilor and IMA Foundation representative Susan Pineda, Carmen Flor of Soroptimist International, Police General Rex Piad, and Bantay Bata spokesperson Kata Inocencio, asked questions of Washington's lone panelist, Juley A. Fulcher, on the American experience of domestic violence, trends, and the types of assistance available to victims.

___Fulcher is the public policy director for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, where she works on drafting and lobbying for federal legislation that will promote the interests of battered women and their children, as well as initiatives to reduce societal violence and oppression.

___Fulcher revealed that over the years, as women’s groups continue to intensify their campaign against domestic violence, and the US government legislates policies protecting victims and allots millions of dollars for assistance and rehabilitation programs, official statistics on the prevalence of domestic violence have been increasing. Without citing official figures, Ursua agreed that that the same trend has been observed in the Philippines.

___"Maybe it’s because the women's movement has provided a venue where women and children, victims of domestic violence, can get out of a violent relationship," explained Fulcher.

___The same reason was echoed by Ursua, who said that despite the restoration of capital punishment in the Philippines, and the passage of many legislative measures protecting those who are vulnerable to and are victims of domestic violence, the number of reported cases is increasing. "All those campaigns, awareness-raising, etc., have paid off. Those victims who previously settled for silence are now becoming brave and are coming out with their stories," Ursua said.

___Still, the panelists looked forward to the day when the prevalence rate of domestic violence declines - not because the victims have again been resigned to silence, but because its perpetrators have realized that it is wrong.

___Finally, they hope for the time when the woman in Dalrymple’s article no longer has to stay up late at night waiting for her partner to get home, and tremble while watching him taste the food she prepared. In the words of Juley Fulcher, "The silence has to be broken."

CyberDyaryo | 1999.04.15