Wife abuse damages the children as well
Nguyen Thu Hien
HA NOI (VNS)— After 25 years of oppression, beatings and emotional abuse, Le Phuong Lam (not her real name) can at last return home to her house near Ha Noi's West Lake without living in fear.
|Men participate in a cooking completition to help them understand more about their spouses Chaging men's attitude is way to prevent domestic violence._photo Courtesy of CCIHP
Leaving court after gaining a divorce from her abusive husband, she can prepare dinner without fear of a punch if it isn't ready by exactly 7pm, while Lam and her children can then enjoy a peaceful meal free of physical and emotional abuse.
Except for a few marks, the traces of her last beating, Lam's face does not betray any pain or sadness. Her brown eyes are gentle and placid as she reaches for her wedding photo hung on the dining room. Underneath sits a series of small-sized photos showing the happy faces of her twin children. The house is furnished and neat as there is no longer a storm of violence crashing into the walls.
In a soft and calm voice, Lam recalls: "I agreed to marry him because of love. But our marriage turned out to be hell. Pain battered my body and heart as each day passed."
"He followed me everywhere: at home, my office or anywhere else to check whether I met or talked to other men. He forced me to change my phone number to disconnect with all of my friends and he would inspect all of my messages and calls. He was irrationally obsessed by the thought that I would love another man."
When he, as the director of a private advertising company, became busier he set time limits for her chores to ensure she had no time to do anything outside of his control.
"If anything lasted longer than his set duration, he would yell at me and hit me until I begged him to stop."
Nevertheless, battered Lam is not alone.
Research from the General Statistics Office (GSO) found that 58 per cent of the 5,000 surveyed women said they have experienced physical, psychological or sexual abuse in the home.
Nguyen Van Anh, director of the Centre for Studies and Applied Sciences in Gender, Family, Women and Adolescents (CSAGA) says it is usually assumed that a well-educated man with a permanent job and high societal position will not domestically abuse his wife.
But the truth is that domestic violence does not exclude anyone.
"Women are certainly the disadvantaged sex," Anh added.
Nevertheless, 87 per cent of these battered women have yet to seek assistance from relevant authorities or experts and nearly 50 per cent have never revealed their ordeal to anyone.
Lam says bruises on her face, neck and hands triggered both curiosity and compassion from others. But she told them nothing and made up accidents or crashes as an excuse.
"My self-respect and honour made me hide the reality of my terrible life from everybody. If they knew the truth, some would feel pity for me while others would make it the hot topic of their discussions. I did not like either outcome."
"I also didn't reveal anything to my parents because they were too old to be burdened with more worries."
More importantly, she didn't believe that anyone, even councillors could help her, because they would usually just give vague advice or use the cases for political means at meetings of the residential quarter, she says.
"All this only worsens the situation when men, as domestic abusers will feel betrayed and react with more violence."
Pham Kim Ngoc, president of the Gender and Community Development Network (Gencomnet) says while implementation of the law on domestic violence prevention and control has shown a lot of shortcomings, most local reconcilers have no professional skills and lack knowledge of the relevant laws.
"Reconcilers' common advice for women is to make concessions to their husbands for the sake of the family."
They do not acknowledge that a family without love and respect cannot protect women and children's rights and maintain a healthy environment for children's growth, she says.
Without useful assistance, Lam kept quietly suffering her husband's torture alone.
However, the GSO research also found that 89 per cent of domestic violence cases seriously affect the physical and psychological welfare of both women and children.
Pyschologist Le Anh Tam says battered women usually experience symptoms of sleeplessness, depression, anxiety and even dissociative states as a result of the abuse they have suffered. Many of them consider committing suicide.
Reproductive problems, such as miscarriages or injuries to the foetus, are also common for them, she says.
Lam herself suffers long-term headaches. She has also had three miscarriages "because of his tough beatings and demands to have sex two or three times a day".
After five years of marriage, she began to fear for the happiness of her children.
"When they were four or five years old and starting to memorise events, I pleaded with my husband just to hit me in our bedroom. But it was useless.
"The more he hit me, the more they cried out. Looking at their terrified eyes, I knew he was like a monster to them and this will haunt them forever."
What makes Lam even more concerned is the thought that her children could imitate their father's action.
Psychologist Tam also says children who witness domestic abuse have feelings of fear, anger and depression, as well as experiencing sleep disturbances. In terms of physical effects, they may suffer stomach aches, bedwetting and an inability to concentrate.
These children often come to believe that violence is an effective way to resolve conflicts and problems. They may replicate the violence they have witnessed, she says.
Lam recalls how when her boy was 16, he hit her husband to protect her. At first, she thought this was a natural reaction. Then, she found it concerning when he beat his friends at school. Even at home, whenever he became angry, he would shout at everyone and break things.
Her slender fingers weave themselves intricately. It seems she is trying hard to hide her feelings.
Experts suggest reconcilers remain a key resource but should be given skilled training and information updates about domestic violence to assist the abused.
Meanwhile, Tran Thanh Tam, the project officer of the Centre for Creative Initiative in Health and Population (CCIHP) puts forward the idea that men, as the abusers, should become the main focus to change their attitude towards their families and then adjust their behaviours to remove the risk of domestically abusing their wives.
She says local reconcilers who understand the situations of families in their area should be responsible for gathering domestic abusers into groups. They should gather once or twice a week to provide information about domestic violence and its consequences, as well as offering private consultancy on their psychology and activities without giving criticism.
They should also participate in games helping them acknowledge that they should engage in dialogues with their wives instead of resorting to violence. When they realise how to change their situation, the men will be equipped with the necessary skills, she says.
She says this model has been implemented in central Nghe An Province for three years with the result that only 30 per cent of the men who participated in such groups continued to abuse their wives. This number was higher than 70 per cent before they participated in the groups.
However, Lam can't wait for such help to change her husband because her 19-year-old boy has begun to cut himself as a way of releasing the stress caused by witnessing violence at home.
"Divorce is not something to celebrate. But it is a turning point to end the misery of myself and my children. It is a decision I should have made years ago."
She says she is looking for psychological treatment for her children. "I am afraid that their future family will suffer the same problems that our has."
Lam, leaning on the sofa, starts bursting into tears. Her fingers hold her face. It must have been a long time since she last cried out.
She says in a choked voice: "I should never have thought that I could suffer everything for my children. They are only happy when I am happy.
"To protect them, I have to protect myself from domestic abuse first, because what hurts the mother, hurts the children." — VNS