Domestic violence is a global issue that stretches far beyond classification by socio-economic, cultural, racial and class distinctions. Usually, no one group specifically resonates with this behaviour, yet cases are often linked to those inhabiting urban poor domains. There are many myths circulating about the relationship between domestic violence and urban poverty. Here we challenge some of the most widely believed and deep rooted misconceptions.
Myth #1: Those living in the city are more vulnerable to abuse
Truth: People in rural areas are actually more vulnerable to abuse
A study conducted in 2017 by UNICEF took into account instances of physical and verbal forms of domestic abuse for adolescents in urban and rural communities. Both showed a slight difference between the locations, but more cases had originated from rural areas rather than urban. Despite this small difference, there was no significant difference between domestic abuse in urban and rural domains.
Myth #2 Household income has no connection with domestic abuse
Truth: Low-income families are at greater risk of domestic abuse
Women’s Aid Organization (WAO), identified that while poverty does not directly cause domestic violence, poverty-related pressure can be identified as aggravators. In some instances, the economic stress faced by the main breadwinner is released onto the family members. Other instances showcase the fact that poverty itself could be the result of the occurrence of domestic violence.
The presence of poverty alone can act as a catalyst for violence. Stress due to financial circumstances is not always released in the best way. Not only that, instances of financial dependence of the victim to the abuser traps them in an abusive setting. With no other form of income and no safe haven to protect them, victims are forced to put up with the inflicted trauma in exchange for food and shelter.
Dr Aliza Ali, acting Chair of the Cluster Education and Social Sciences, says that poverty and stress are key factors in most child abuse cases.
Myth #3: It’s easy for a victim to leave their abuser. If they don’t leave means the abuse is tolerable.
Truth: Fear, lack of education and safe options, and the inability to survive economically prevent many victims from leaving abusive relationships.
Many believe that these forms of abuse are only short term problems. Especially in the case of poverty-related abuse, the victims that are unable to escape a harmful environment can cause poverty to be passed on to their children. Child survivors are inclusive of those that experience the abuse first hand, as well as those that witnessed it.
These children are mostly out of school for long periods, due to the violence at home, others face long term mental health problems. Ultimately, this results in lowered school performance and eventual withdrawal from education altogether. Without the correct qualifications, they too will be faced with the same struggle to obtain a high paying job, and find themselves stuck in the same income disparity as their parents. Whenever a child’s educational experience is in jeopardy, their future work prospects are also put at risk.
Amelia (14), Melissa (13), Kevin (10), and Michelle (9) are siblings that faced consistent physical torture by their father. Their mother, also a victim, was unable to escape the marriage, fearing that it would put her children on the streets. All kids exhibited new changes in behaviour and lowered performance in school. The eldest, who once had excelled in school, began drastically underperforming.
On the other hand, domestic abuse is a financial burden on its own. The act implicates hospital treatment and medication. Those trying to escape it have to pay for court proceedings, lawyers’ fees, imprisonment – not to mention the psychological and physical impact on those who experience it.
Myth #4 Domestic abuse is a private family matter – “Jangan masuk campur rumah tangga orang, akan selesai juga nanti”
Truth: Domestic violence is everyone’s business. Keeping domestic violence secret helps no one and it perpetuates the cycle of abuse.
Victims of domestic abuse need external help – even if they deny it. Intervention is vital in breaking the cycle of both abuse and poverty. Yet, it is so often overlooked. Although domestic violence can happen to anyone from any background – poverty and domestic violence are mutually reinforcing.
NGOs like WAO and the government must work together in raising awareness on the severity of the issue. Allocations of resources for domestic violence shelters and support services need to be made, as well as social services for individuals in need have to be adequately provided for.
Another survivor 40-year-old Siti was unable to escape a similar scenario resulting in their eldest daughter dropping out of school. With the help of WAO, Siti’s daughter resumed school and received a certificate from a vocational center. By providing her daughter basic skills and education, she will be able to earn an income and be independent.
All too often, when women disclose their abuse, no one listens to them. That is if they even come forward at all. Intervention is the only way to help victims of violence. Regardless if it’s simply raising awareness, or making a call, we never know how much these victims need it.
Know Your Rights!
The Domestic Violence Act is placed to protect spouses, former spouses, children, family members (adult sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, and any other relatives), and “incapacitated adults” who are living as members of the family from all of the above-mentioned forms of abuse. This act also covers “de facto spouses”, which means couples who have gone through a religious or customary marriage ceremony, but did not register the marriage.
To read more on Domestic Violence, visit the Women’s Aid Organisation.
Explore Our Sources:
- UNICEF. (2020). Situation Analysis of Women and Children in Malaysia. Link.
- Women Aid Organisation. (2019). Domestic Violence and Poverty. Link.
- Open University Malaysia. What Can We Do About Child Abuse. Link.