Lack of attention

Once again the peace and tranquillity of the Barbadian social landscape has been tarnished with the violent death of yet another female.

I know that they are those who always try to use denial by apportioning blame to the female’s conduct. Some may say that she is foreign and act as if nationality matters, others may say she must have done something to him while others may pretend that it will never happen to them.

No matter what is said or how many defence mechanisms people use in order to cope with the situation, if one woman is killed it is one too many. This is not to say that men should be killed instead, au contraire one should not juxtapose one against the other – any violence is appalling.

What I am saying is that over the last five years too many women have lost their lives due to domestic violence, the frequency of which, seems to be on the increase.

I do not have police statistics but I am sure that most of you will agree that the recent occurrences of domestic violence, specifically intimate partner violence, are far too many for this little island. What is most disturbing is the lack of attention to the seriousness of these situations.

Let me explain why it seems this way. If media reports are correct, the victim in this case had previously suffered physical abuse at the hands of her attacker. Given this situation, one could conclude that both the health officials and law enforcement officers failed to assess or correctly identify the lethality of the matter (McCloskey & Grigsby, 2005). The article this week is about intimate partner violence.

Several years ago, I viewed a news report on American television which showed a woman being assaulted by her spouse after several complaints were made to the authorities for him. During the attack, the woman was stabbed several times by her attacker and later died. In a subsequent television interview witnesses and friends revealed that she had sought protection from the police who seemed to fail to comply with her request.

I do not remember where in the US the attack occurred, but research by Goff, Shelton, Byrd and Parcel (as cited in McCloskey & Grigsby, 2005) suggests that about eight years ago professionals in the US lacked appropriate screening tools for IPV. Medical doctors, dentists and nurses were among the professionals mentioned in the research.

However, this situation was not limited to the US, about the same time, some researchers in Sweden, namely Edin and Hogberg (as cited in McCloskey & Grigsby,2005), suggested that professionals often failed to gauge the presence of sexual abuse victimisation in women. However, when interviewed, these professionals agreed that they lacked the skills and tools necessary for assessing and identifying IPV especially for lethality.

On the other hand, even though training and screening tools may be available, there is no guarantee that professionals will utilise them. Other factors may have to be considered in these cases. For instance, staffing and time constraints among other problems may exist. This has been confirmed by researchers Davis et al (2003) who found that despite training in standardised procedures concerning IPV, workers in a trauma care unit in California failed to identify cases and in a few instances under reported them. Quite frankly, in some circumstances it was believed that IPV was not identified because health care providers and other authorities did not ask relevant questions (Walker, 1994).

Let us now look at the gender issue; they are some who claim that men also suffer IPV. This is not disputed here. However, the literature revealed that women are disproportionately victims and men disproportionately the perpetrators.

For instance, several survey results have reported that instances of IPV against women in the state of Washington occurred 23.6 per cent more times than against men who reported 16.4 per cent cases. The same survey revealed that when compared to men, women were more likely to suffer more violently than men at the hand of perpetrators.

Furthermore, the national Violence Against Women Survey in the US (1995-1996) revealed that 25 per cent of women suffered physical assault and rape from intimate partners when compared to reported cases by men. Actually, this same report revealed that men did not suffer sexual violence whereas, in addition to sexual violence, women suffered incidences of emotional abuse and controlling behaviour from men.

Further, the report revealed that twice as many women (45 per cent) reported fear of serious injury or even death when compared to (20 per cent) men. There is even more evidence that suggested that men are more likely to be perpetrators. Research by Tjaden and Thoennes (2000a and 2000b) revealed that in same sex relationships 11 per cent of women cohabiting with women reported IPV when compared to 30.4 per cent when cohabiting with men. These statistics suggest that women overwhelmingly shoulder the negative consequences of IPV.

On the other hand, although these rates of IPV appear higher in females than in males, some have explained that this discrepancy is due to male stereotypical behaviour where males are seen as the strong and silent type that do not display emotions.

So how does this affect the psychological functioning of the victims? Well research has revealed that women live with and exhibited significantly more fear of their partners than men who report IPV (Cantos et al, 1994). Fear is not the only trauma associated with IPV, for instance, repeated physical injury to the brain often resulted in impaired cognitive deficits (Jackson et al, 2002).

Other reports have shown that the emotional impact of IPV in women may result in depression and high levels of anxiety. They may also display other symptoms like dissociative states (a kind of detachment from the surrounding environment), chronically pessimistic and avoidant behaviour and they may even resort to seclusion.

In many instances, the victim may deny, minimise or repress the memories. Some clinicians report that women may suffer from phobias, sleep disorders, sexual dysfunction and panic attacks to name a few.

Finally, research has shown that very often victims of IPV do not readily admit or want to disclose the violence in their relationship. This could be the result of fear, shame and or guilt. This is understandable, especially in a society such as ours where women often seem to be amused when another woman (not their friend) is suffering from some form of abuse.

Therefore, it may be difficult for officials to determine the presence of IPV. Whatever the case, officials responsible for protecting the innocent must recognise the complexity of IPV and its lethal implications and ensure that the justice system does not fail to protect victims.

* Daren Greaves is a Management & Organisational Psychology Consultant at Dwensa Incorporated. e-mail:, Phone: (246) 436-4215

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