Issues and Challenges

Violence against Women — A Psychological Overview

Violence against women is a serious global social and mental health concern. Hostility, violence and abuse specifically aimed at women is found commonly in every society. Violence against women mainly disrupts ordinary life and spread fear, maximize chaos and panic amongst women. It aims to transform both emotions and behavior of women through widespread dissemination of fear and psychological distress. 

What is Violence against Women?
The term violence against women has been defined as the collection of sexual, psychological, and physical coercive acts used against women. Violence against women is a devastating human rights violation and a crime that is often left unreported due to embarrassment, stigma and silence that surrounds it. It manifests itself in physical, sexual and psychological forms encompassing a broad variety of categories: rape, intimate partner violence, battering, psychological abuse, harassment, forced marriages, human trafficking, sexual exploitation and acid attacks to name a few. Other harmful customary and orthodox practices, which are a source of violence are honor killings, forced under-aged marriages, marriage by abduction and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). 
The impact of violence against women ranges from immediate to long term multiple, physical, sexual and mental consequences for women, including death. It negatively affects women’s general wellbeing and prevents women from fully participating in society. This has negative consequences on women, their families, the community and nations at large. 
Available statistics from all over the world indicate that one out of every three women experiences violence in an intimate relationship at some point in their life. In Pakistan, unfortunately, violence against women is a complex issue. Women face violence on daily basis due to cultural and social norms that a society like ours has embraced as a life style. Statistics show 70-90% of Pakistani women are a victim of violence, especially domestic and the most common types include honor killing, marital rape, spousal abuse and acid attacks. 
Why are women prone to abuse and violence?
The fact is that women generally are more prone to fall victims to domestic abuse and violence because they are emotionally involved with their aggressors and are economically dependent on them. This violence by intimate partners occurs in all countries around the world, irrespective of the social, economic, religious or cultural norms. The cases that get reported show gender violence concentrated in individuals, whose aggressions go beyond the social level, symptomatic of one group's domination and another's subordination.
Psychological consequences of Violence against Women
Researches over the recent years have brought a great understanding about the impact of trauma women face after being victimized. Any type of violence, whether great in intensity or not, has adverse effects on women’s psychological health. Common mental health issues that most women are prone to fall to are depression, anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), suicidal ideation and mood disorders accompanied by shock, denial, disbelief, fear, confusion, and withdrawal. It is widely seen that assaulted women become dependent and malleable. They have difficulty undertaking long-range planning and often lack decision-making skills.
Although a single victimization leads to permanent emotional scars, ongoing and repetitive violence is highly detrimental to psychological adjustment. Women who have sustained sexual or physical assault have been found to disproportionately suffer from depression, thoughts of suicide, and suicide attempts. Psychological symptoms that are usually reported by victims of violence include lowered self-esteem, guilt, shame, anxiety, alcohol and drug abuse and PTSD. 
Besides the negative mental health consequences, violence against women also has indirect effects on the society. It undermines women’s sense of self-worth, sense of autonomy and their ability to think rationally and act independently. For many women, the psychological effects of domestic violence are far more debilitating than physical effects. The abused woman is always at a greater risk for developing serious mental illness in her life. 
Intervention Strategy  
To reduce the mental health consequences of violence against women, it is important to create awareness among societies about violence. Mental health professionals, practitioners and world health organizations should take pro-active measures to reduce the mental health consequences of violence against women.
Violence against women is a complex phenomenon thus, all strategies must aim to address the underlying cultural beliefs and social structures that perpetuate it. To be effective, all strategies should be made on a wide range of expertise and resources, both on governmental and non-governmental levels with maximum possible communal participation. Educating the masses about violence and its adverse effects on women’s physical and psychological health is imperative. Proper psychological counseling should be offered with curative and preventive interventions to combat violence against women.
Curative intervention deals with extending support services to the victimized women and counseling is advisable to help in regaining their self-esteem, and in assisting in medical, legal and mainstreaming efforts. Preventive intervention deals with creating an environment free of violence, for all. It mostly includes training of mental health professionals and practitioners to identify women living in violent homes and take necessary steps to assist them. HH

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