Intimate Partner Violence: Mind Our Own Business?

05/08/2020 09:05 AM
Opinions on topical issues from thought leaders, columnists and editors.
By :
Adlene Aris

Domestic abuse, or also known as intimate partner violence (IPV), is a taboo in Malaysian society. It is an unpleasant topic of discussion among us. Why? Merely because we live in a high context society. We are collectivistic, value interpersonal relationships, and have members of society that form stable, and close relationships with each other.

Due to this, women are often told to save face to avoid humiliation and embarrassment to the family, instead of choosing their mental well-being first when it comes to deciding whether to stay or to leave a toxic marriage. And if women choose the latter, they are labelled selfish for not putting the family’s interest first.

According to the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), domestic abuse is a pattern of violence, abuse, or intimidation used to control or maintain power over a partner who is or has been in an intimate relationship. Fundamentally, domestic abuse is about power and control. There are various forms of domestic abuse, including physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, social, and financial abuse. Abusers often use more than one form of abuse to invoke fear or coerce a partner into behaving in ways they don’t want to.

WAO reported 26,551 cases of domestic violence from 2014 until 2018 in Malaysia (https://wao.org.my/domestic-violence-statistics/). The highest number was in 2016 with 5,796 cases and it gradually decreased to 5,421 cases. However, I believe the number is even greater but not reported by the victims due to various factors such as fear and shame.

As mentioned previously, abuse is not only committed through physical abuse but also involves emotional and psychological abuse, which may also include blackmail, cheating, verbal abuse, and so on. Lately, numerous stories of famous people caught cheating on their wives have made it into the news. Emotional and psychological abuse is difficult to prove, but the effects are undeniably just as serious. It could lead to depression, anxiety, self-harm, and in worst cases – suicide.

Netizens: To mind or not to mind our own business?

In Asian countries where women are culturally seen and expected to be obedient and submissive, countless domestic abuse cases are either ignored or swept under the carpet because a woman must obey the husband and because leaving the marriage (divorce) is frowned upon by society. In a typical Asian cultural setting, women are told to be patient, strong, and pray that the husband changes for the better.

With increased awareness of how grave this issue is, many activists and advocates have come forward in defence of these abused women. The trouble is getting the IPV victims to take action.

At present, when reading through comments and confessions of IPV survivors on social media (either anonymously or using their real names) it is evident that abused women are becoming more open, vocal, and involved about sharing their stories and, at the same time, helping current IPV victims. They also shared through experience that the abuser’s family will usually talk them into staying in the marriage, asking them to think of the children first. Most of these survivors finally left the marriage with their children in mind. They did not want their children growing up in a toxic family - with their parents constantly fighting and where the mother is most commonly the one being frequently abused.

Netizens show interest in stories of famous people

Apart from abused women sharing their stories and first-hand experience of IPV, netizens from all walks of life have also shown an interest in the stories of famous people. Although many showed positive moral support, several netizens were also concerned if the abuse would happen again in the future, as abuse is not something that happens overnight.

Are we too forgiving? Should we take this is a sign that we have become a society that normalises domestic abuse? And should we be minding our business?

Here is my take on this issue: as responsible citizens (and netizens) we have to start taking a serious interest in the abuse that happens around us. This case has helped open more room for discussion about IPV. We need to step in and educate society, especially women, educating them that they should not suffer in silence for fear of being ashamed and blamed for the abuse.

Women need to be told that they have the right to their happiness and sanity, and should not tolerate any kind of violence against them. The change will not happen instantly, but we can break the cycle of this mentality through public education because violence in any form is not okay and should not be tolerated.


Adlene Aris is a lecturer in the Faculty of Applied Communication of Multimedia University, Cyberjaya

(The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of BERNAMA)