Stand in the line at the shop while you wait to pay for your items and count how many women you see. Perhaps you have four ahead of you. Out of those four, there is at least one of those who may be experiencing domestic abuse or has experienced it in her lifetime so far (Gender Links, 2018).
Make a note next time you are in a public place how many women you can count and remember that one out of every four of those is also likely to be experiencing some forms of domestic violence or abuse. It doesn’t take long before you have more women than you can count who are being subjected to on-going abuse in their home.
Domestic violence is not a new concept; certainly not something new to the ears of Mauritians. It does not take long to hear of at least one or two cases that the media has picked up on to see that it’s not just a slight issue among Mauritians but a very common, on-going reality. And the scary thing is that those one or two stories that the media picks up on every week are just the very tip of the iceberg that we are seeing. Do we even realise just how many cases of abuse are going on that no one on the outside ever learns about? Do we even want to know?
Based on the Annual Report of the Judiciary (Mauritius, 2016), 7,758 cases of domestic violence were brought before a court between 2013 and 2016. Given how prevalent domestic violence is with one in every four women affected, it would mean that this number of reported cases is around just one-third of the actual incidents taking place on a monthly basis.
At what point did it become, dare I say, normal for women and men to be affected so immensely by domestic violence? Sometimes even to the point of death. You hear stories about women being stabbed to death by their spouse, sometimes even in front of their children. You hear about women killing their husbands, snapping after years of torment and abuse from them. You hear about families being torn apart because of such intense domestic violence. Lives are changed and ended in a split second with an action that cannot be reversed and children are orphaned in the blink of an eye.
And the thing is that every time we hear about (yet) another case, it shocks us but at the same time it actually doesn’t. To reach a state where that is just another event, which has made the news is both scary and eerie to say the least. Are we becoming so numb to people mistreating each other that we no longer see the value in respecting one’s basic human rights, or in the very least are no longer surprised that we are treating each other like this?
Domestic violence is not a myth. It happens every single day and just because you are or I am fortunate enough to not have to experience it, does not mean that it is not an on-going reality for way too many people in this country. But why are we not taking it seriously enough? And more importantly, why does it seem like authorities are doing so little about it to bring it to an end or at the very least, prevent it from happening as much as it does?
Why does it seem like it has become the proverbial white elephant in the room that everyone knows it is there, can see it, but acts like it does not exist?
However, there is no doubt that there are people working tirelessly to combat this apparent epidemic in failed human behaviour but it also seems like all the work they are doing is thwarted by the powers that be either because of a severe lack of understanding or just plain sheer ignorance.
“It’s not affecting me, so why should I care?”
But that’s the crux of the problem right there. Why should we care?
The question we should be asking of ourselves is, “Why Don’t We Care?”
Why are we normalising this atrocious behaviour and justifying it by finding ways for victims to have to jump through rings of fire to see any justice done?
Why is the system so badly managed that people are too scared to even come forward and report the violations they are experiencing?
According to a media report (Defi Media, 2016), 0.3% of people in Mauritius actually get to report cases like this. That’s less than 1%. It’s literally a handful. And if the authorities think that the situation requires no further attention because the figure is that low, then they are more delusional than we even realise.
So, why are there so few people willing to come forward? A number of reasons come to mind. Firstly, out of fear of even worse treatment once the authorities are no longer there to ‘protect’ them. Secondly, because there is so little trust that the authorities will actually be able to do something. And thirdly, because people simply do not care enough.
The Protection from Domestic Violence Act provides “that any person who has been the victim of an act of domestic violence and who reasonably believes that there is likely to commit any further act of domestic violence against him/her, may apply to the Court for a protection order restraining the respondent from engaging in any conduct which may constitute an act of domestic violence and ordering him to be of good behaviour towards the applicant.” (Mauritius Counsel, 2019)
So while there are means in place to ensure the protection of those experiencing abuse, the question is whether victims truly believe this can make a difference and if the law will do its job in protecting them.
Because what’s to say that once something like a protection order is issued, that the accused will respectfully remain within the constraints of the order?
Are we led to believe that the reason so many victims have such little confidence in the domestic protection act is because the perpetrators themselves know the consequences are not severe?
The question remains, how do we change things? Are we prepared to keep on ‘fixing’ something that is so clearly broken or take preventative measures against it so that it happens less and less until it can one day stop?
Shouldn’t we rather be teaching our young generations that this is NOT OKAY and behaviour like this is not how we function as a human being? Instead of just educating them on how to deal with this kind of behaviour and hoping they don’t land up on the receiving end of it one day?
We have a responsibility towards future generations to not repeat the same mistakes that past generations have. It’s not okay to silence victims and shame them into staying quiet, and it’s not okay for people to take bullying one another to such an extreme. Furthermore, it’s certainly not okay that society normalises this behaviour that is keeping the perpetrators safe from facing their actions. In other words, we are saying that if you are the bigger bully or have more power, money or influence, that you can get away with these kinds of actions.
How are we as humans advancing in every other aspect of our lives but failing to treat each other as fellow human beings?
So, while right now the time has come for tougher legislation that people take seriously, the future needs human beings that understand why this is not how we treat each other in order to break this vicious cycle. The youth have a chance to break this unhealthy thought pattern and the power lies in as many people taking a stand against this kind of behaviour as possible.
For those who know it’s a serious problem but show no interest in being part of the fight to stop it, would you still think the same if it was your life being beaten out of you?
By Krishna Athal
YUVA Executive Director