Breaking the silence on domestic violence with Caroline Colaco and Olga Netto

Most of us are under the wrong impression that the women are most unsafe when they are travelling alone or late at night or in secluded places. However for many women the unsafest place is their home! The family and home which is often equated with sanctuary becomes a place that puts lives in danger and breeds some of the most drastic forms of violence committed against women and girls. In fact to take it further, some women have even shared that they prefer the outdoors than being in their own homes as they are terrified of the abuse that is rained on them day in and day out. Domestic violence (DV) is not just widely prevalent but also deeply entrenched in our country.

To understand what domestic violence entails; why it begins, who are the perpetrators, what can be done to prevent it and may other pertinent questions; criminal lawyer and social activist, Caroline Colaco and social worker, family therapist and counsellor, Olga Netto were invited to the Navhind Times Talk from the Heart show that aired live on Goa365 channel on Sunday, March 14.

With more than 50 years of experience between the two resource persons, many misconception and doubts regarding DV were cleared and various related questions were answered. “As per the law and the PWDV act, domestic violence refers to violence only against women by a man and his relatives in a domestic relationship and does not include harassment from neighbours, etcetera,” explained Coalco. She further elaborated on the Protection of Women against Domestic Violence (PWDV) and said, “This act was promulgated in 2005 as it was noticed that DV was extremely widespread but was and is still the most unseen and unheard of crime as it happens within the four walls of the house. DV was leading to a loss of working days, children missing out on school, mental health problems, etcetera and this law came into being to address these issues. It is a very pro-women and multi-prong act that gives protection, custody, maintenance and residence to the victims.

When we think of DV, we generally think in terms of physical violence however this is only one type of abuse and there are other equally devastating forms like verbal/emotional, sexual and economic violence. “There are a large number of women who suffer from verbal and emotional abuse and this can sometimes be even worse than the physical abuse that women have to face,” stated Colaco. She explained that when a woman is forced to watch pornography or made to do sexual acts which are against her will, it comes under sexual violence.

Whatever the violence, most women do not raise their voice against the atrocities hence suffer severely and for a long period. There are various reasons for this reticence that range from shame, fear, children’s safety or children being taken away and financial dependency to others. “We live in a patriarchal society where the man has a power over the women culturally. Women are considered the weaker sex and are expected to be submissive and keep quiet about everything. Also to add to this once a woman is married she is not always welcome back in her parents’ home,” explained Netto. “Some are brought up in such subjugated environments that even educated women like lawyers and doctors, put up with the violence. What will society say and think, is a question that stops them from raising their voice and ending the violence.

When women finally decide to take a step to end the violence, they invariably approach a lawyer but are most often unable to give details and facts initially. “This is because they have been and are so traumatised that they are barely coherent,” stated Netto, “In my years as a counsellor, I have realised that what a victim of DV firstly wants is someone to speak with and give an outlet to her emotions.“ Giving many examples she highlighted the mental and emotional state that the victims of domestic abuse find themselves in.

Sharing various options for victims from shelter homes to protection officers, Netto also gave numbers where help can be sought. Women, both Colaco and Netto said needed to be empowered, confident and understand that there is help and hope.

The talk was an eye-opener to the truth about domestic violence that we know exists but yet tend to ignore.