Tribulations of battered spouses
Advert

Tribulations of battered spouses

On March 9, 1977, Francine Hughes murdered her husband while he slept in a drunken stupor, by setting his bed on fire. On the face of it, one might rightfully condemn her. It was certainly premeditated. She carefully took her children out of the house and put them in her car while she diligently poured gasoline all over her sleeping husband and ignited it. She did confess, she did admit to murdering her husband and yet she was found not guilty and acquitted by reason of temporary insanity. Why? The reason was simple – she had been a victim of domestic violence. After 14 years of endless abuse at the hand of her husband and beating her whenever she opposed him, even though she had divorced him, and after a severe beating on that fateful night, Francine Hughes could not take it anymore and she killed her husband.

In the United States, four women are murdered by their male partner every single day in incidents of domestic violence.

What is domestic violence? The most common image that comes to mind is the physical battering. However, domestic violence is not confined solely to the physical side but it also encompasses emotional, sexual and/or financial abuse. Emotional abuse can be inflicted by verbal abuse such as belittling or by using psychological methods. Financial abuse, on the other hand, may be inflicted by limiting the “salary” the husband gives to the stay-at-home wife.

What do all these types of abuse have in common? Fear. The perpetrators instil and cultivate fear in their victims and usually the victims are dependent solely on the perpetrator, having usually been isolated from their relatives. Domestic violence occurs when there is an intimate relationship; it is not confined solely to married couples but also to cohabiting ones and to ones who are simply in a dating relationship.

Does domestic violence affect only the victim who is, in most cases but not all, the wife? What about the children? Are they affected? Yes, they are and not only by the fact that they might get beaten as well by the perpetrator. They are affected because they try to protect their mother and usually fight off the perpetrator. This does not only leave emotional and traumatic scarring but also has criminal repercussions if they injure the perpetrator or even kill him. In the United States, 60 per cent of males aged between 15 and 20 imprisoned for homicide had in fact murdered their mother’s violent partner.

The Maltese Domestic Violence Act defines domestic violence as “any act of violence, even if only verbal, perpetrated by a household member upon another household member and includes any omission which causes physical or moral harm to the other”. However in Malta domestic violence applies only to: (a) people who have been married or are married or had their marriage dissolved or declared null; (b) people who live in the same household; (c) parents and their children; (d) people related by consanguinity up to the third degree, that is, for example grandparents or the grandparents’ nieces and nephews; (e) unmarried people who have a child in common; (f) pregnant women and; (g) other adults living in the same household or couples who are or have been engaged to be married. This legal definition of household member excludes couples who are merely dating and have not been formally or informally engaged to be married.

Since the victims are in a state of fear, they sometimes do not take any action, that is, they do not file a report at the police station and they usually do not get a medical certificate stating the injuries sustained. They are hesitant in taking legal action against the perpetrator because of fear of repercussions. Or, if they do take action and end up in court, they usually inform the court that they want to drop the charges either because they have forgiven their partner or because they have been reconciled. Sometimes this is true – but there are cases when it is not and it is the result of threats or of the sweet talk and temporary kindness of the perpetrator.

Whenever they leave their home to go and stay in a shelter, it is always a huge step towards escaping from their perpetrator and rebuilding and taking control of their life again. In domestic abuse the control is held by the perpetrator. Thus, when the victims do take action such as legal steps or going to a shelter or seeking psychological help, the power struggle shifts, and slowly, the victim regains control and the perpetrator loses it.

The author is a lawyer and a published author with a special interest in family law and child law.

annmarie.mangion@gmail.com

Comments not loading? We recommend using Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox with javascript turned on.
Comments powered by Disqus  
Advert
Advert