Domestic violence is endemic in societies worldwide. The control exerted by the perpetrator over the victim and the deep emotional and sometimes family ties that unite them create a very complicated situation, often complicated further by alcohol or drug abuse. The children who grow up in such an environment also have higher chances of becoming either aggressors or victims themselves, perpetuating the abuse over generations. For the lucky ones who manage to break the cycle of violence, the psychological and physical scars are daily reminders for survivors of the hell they’ve escaped.
But who are those who are more vulnerable to domestic violence? By this, I don’t mean those who, by their character or life experience are more prone to be victimized, but those who are left almost with no resources to confront their aggressor. As domestic violence is taken more seriously by authorities and as NGOs providing psychological support, medical examinations, legal aid, and shelters proliferate across the Western world; many victims have now resourses at their disposal to break the cycle of abuse. But there are others, hidden in the shadows, who might not be able to do so.
Consider the case of migrants, for example. Migrant victims without documentation cannot complain to the police about their aggressor because they are at risk of being deported back to their home countries. In some cases, the aggressor is also their sole financial resource and familiar a face in a place where they don’t speak the language and are unaware of the law. Even for migrants with documentation, facing the police might be challenging and negative perceptions, and stereotypes against migrants could hinder a proper response from the authorities. For some victims, the case is even more difficult because they might not be aware that domestic violence is a crime. If they see that behavior as natural due to cultural context or because it wasn’t taken seriously in their home countries, they might feel that it is just the way things are and that it will never change. Empowering such a victim to come forward and admit that what is being done is wrong and hurtful could be very challenging.
And how about the elderly? There are many documented cases of domestic violence against older people, both male and female, who are no longer capable of defending themselves and who might have for primary caretaker the aggressor himself. They might be dependant on them for food, hygiene, and mobility and often feel guilty for placing such a burden on another person, excusing their aggressive behavior. Sometimes they have been victims of domestic violence their whole lives and already see it as natural. Or they might already suffer from dementia, which makes them particularly vulnerable and incapable of naming and confronting their aggressor. Domestic violence against older adults also has roots in family disputes and in case it’s the son or daughter the perpetrator of such violence, the elderly parent might feel guilty about denouncing him or her and feel somewhat responsible for the actions of his or her children. Since older adults also tend to suffer from isolation, the victim could feel impotent and unable to reach out for help. It’s a complicated web of emotions from which it might seem impossible to break free.
Another particularly vulnerable group are people with disabilities, either physical or mental. In both cases, the power of the caretaker over the victim is substantial. For people with physical disabilities, they might be dependent mostly on issues related to mobility and hygiene, but that’s enough for the aggressor to isolate the victim. For people with mental disabilities, the damage of domestic violence can be even worse, possibly worsening the condition. These cases are also harder for the victims to come forward and be believed because some might not even have the mental capacity to grasp what is happening to them.
When discussing domestic violence and its nefarious consequences, it’s essential to have these vulnerable groups in mind and implement support systems which allow them to come forward. We have made excellent progress by recognizing domestic violence as a crime that is increasingly condemned by society, but by leaving aside those in the shadows that are often isolated from the mainstream, we are allowing for a particular type of domestic violence to take place just under our noses.
In the U.S., thankfully, there are organisations out there fighting for the rights of these vulnerable victims. Casa de Esperanza, for example, is an organisation based in Minnesota that offers a bilingual hotline for latino victims of domestic violence. As for the elderly, there is already a National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse where they can reach out for help and be referred to local services. The National Domestic Violence hotline also has specific support for each of these populations and for migrant victims as well.
Donna Rogers is a blogger, CNA and a health writer. She has published several articles on domestic abuse issues as well as written an extensive guide on “How to Stop Domestic Abuse” on here blog.