Noble: No way to escape; how poverty handicaps domestic abuse victims

Poverty—insufficient income to live a basic decent life—does not cause domestic violence. However, poverty can lead to domestic violence or spousal abuse.

Domestic violence is not unique to women, although more women are victims. Spousal abuse, also known as intimate partner violence, is intended to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm, including physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviours from one intimate partner to another. (World Health Organisation, 2013).

A domestic abuse victim shields her face from a clenched fist.

But the victim is not only the spouse, as this behaviour can ricochet through generations. It is in society’s interest that we stem the tide of domestic abuse.

Poverty is a significant contributor to an abuser continuing to have control over his victim. It also worsens the impact of the abuse since the woman has no way of escaping. If she attempts to escape, she is more likely than not to have a severe drop in her ability to make ends meet. This inability will often cause her life to spiral out of control.

Being poor is a trap for women who are abused. It makes any attempt to escape longer and harder. Being poor prolongs the process of escape, and at the same time, it reduces the capacity to do so. Victims remain since they cannot afford to get away.

Illustration: Victims of domestic abuse.
(Copyright Abgross-co-za)

Impoverished women usually work long hours for low wages. This situation means they are robbed of an opportunity to help their children escape difficult circumstances and to have sufficient funds to buy food, pay rent and look after their needs.

Sometimes, they cannot rely on the support of friends since some would advise them to stay in the abusive relationship. At times, these women may even let the abuser know of their plans to leave.

Should the victim have a job, she may find that her abuser will attempt to sabotage her chances to remain there. The sabotage may be having a quarrel that continues all night, so she cannot be at her best the next day in her job. Or he may show up at the place of employment and create a disturbance that triggers her supervisor to sideline her.

In some cases, the abuser takes control of the family finances and will seek to destroy any means of the victim meeting friends or even going to work.

It is often suggested that women should leave the home. This option is not available when the abuser is threatening the woman and her children. We applaud when they do, but what happens after the event?

Graphic: Homelessness and domestic abuse.

When there is poverty, the women often do not have the educational background to seek a job that could sustain them and their children. Where will they go to live?

Most often, the home is in the name of the abuser. How do they move forward?

It is this lack of resources that pushes many of the abused women back into the same situation they have left. The unstable economic situation creates a dependency on the abuser and intensifies the pain and abuse she faces.

A victim of domestic violence.

Domestic violence is caused by the choice of the perpetrator to use the pattern of power and abuse to control the victim. Victims do not seek abuse; the perpetrator chooses to abuse. However, her poverty creates a sense of hopelessness in her.

She is unable to borrow any more money from friends. She cannot find a place to stay with her children, and friends cannot afford to keep them long-term. She cannot put a deposit on a house.

If she loses her job because of the tactics of the abuser, she is unable to find another one quickly. Should she find a home, it will be in a neighbourhood with poor standards or subject to overcrowding. Frequently, there is a higher crime rate, and violence is often present.

A child observes his surroundings.

Her children are observing the use of violence in the home and the neighbourhood. They may even have witnessed intergenerational events of violence. At times, they may be subject to maltreatment and sexual abuse.

Remember, an abuser chooses to be violent. He would prefer to destroy the home, the children and economic opportunity rather than give up control. There may be weapons of varying lethality in and around the home. All these factors contribute to the children believing that violence is an ordinary activity.

These children themselves may harbour negative emotions such as depression and anxiety. Such feelings may serve to accentuate the role of violence as a means of resolving issues. As a result, they may seek the company of violent friends as a means of protection or revenge.

Image: Domestic violence continues to persist within families across the globe.

These deviant friends will become their family and increase the potential for their future involvement in criminal activity. Society is then confronted with these young people who have suppressed their feelings of goodwill for others.

Death is not scary since their entire lives have been unhappy.

What ought we to do? We have to decide to put a floor to wages. These women must be able to earn a living wage without the need to depend on an abuser.

We must create viable childcare options to nurture the children while the mothers work. There is a need for crisis interventions that can liberate women when their relationships fall apart. Innovative housing solutions are required.

Photo: A female victim of domestic violence.

The abuser must be held accountable for his actions. There is a need to engage men in violence prevention and intervention efforts in significant ways, and we ought not to rely on arresting them.

There is an urgent need to break the cycle of domestic abuse.

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