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This paper attempts to explore domestic violence, which for along time has split families, caused deaths, hatred and discord in the society. Men have been noted as the perpetrators of this violence while women and children are their victims. As a result of disintegration of families, society has been affected hence the need to find a permanent solution to the problem. The first part of the paper gives a broader meaning of domestic violence. Section two identifies causes of domestic violence as a combination of factors that cut across cultural practices, economic and political systems. Lastly, criminal justice intervention in cases of domestic violence is discussed in the final part.
The Meaning of Domestic Violence
Human rights activists prefer to use a broader definition of the term 'domestic violence' as "structural violence" manifested in the form of poverty, inaccessibility of good healthcare and education. However, the definitive definition is given by the 1993 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women as, "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life" (I.D. 2).
It should be noted that domestic violence is not only restricted to women, girls and children, but also men (I.D. 3). So the definition given above should be taken as applying to men who get to suffer the same conditions in their families that are perpetrated by their spouses. But all the same, violence against women is rampant the world over cutting across every culture, class, ethnicity, age, education, and income. The family is universally considered a sacred niche where love, safety, shelter, and security abound. With domestic violence emanating from it, this blissful perception begins to wane and individuals start viewing family life differently, others even opt to remain single in their adulthood to minimize chances of getting entangled in the violence. No society would publicly support domestic violence, but the reality is that the cultures that they profess contain elements of these violations against women.
Causes of Domestic Violence
Many factors have been identified as causing domestic violence in families. Since no one such factor can be singled out as independently responsible for the vice, the inter-relatedness of the factors has been considered as the cause. Cultural factors to begin with, are the most salient because they condition the thinking of the victim and the abuser that leads to the perpetuation of domestic violence. Belief in the inherent superiority of males in the society diminishes the worthiness of the females reducing them to subordinate positions. In this position, there is a specification of roles that are inclined towards enslavement. They undertake most of the physically demanding domestic chores such as tending the garden, cooking for the husband and children regardless of whether she is tired, walking long distances to look for water, among others. Some cultures have gender-specific socializations whereby both men and women get different teachings on family life. At adolescent stage, some cultures force girls to undergo Female Genital Mutilation which posses a health risk to them. During this period they are taught to accept violence as a means to resolve family conflict (I.D. 3). The Indian culture of dowry for instance has led to the death of many women who are killed by their spouses for not meeting the demands for the same (I.D. 7).
Economic factors also play a crucial role in the perpetration of domestic violence. In most societies women lag behind men in terms of economic independence. This has a chain of causes for example, limited access to education and training for women have narrowed their chances of employment in both formal and informal sectors; discriminatory laws that govern inheritance; property rights including use of communal land and upkeep after either divorce or widowhood. When a person is financially dependent, s/he is pliable to the manipulations of the provider even if they are of violent nature. Financial instability is also manifested in a situation where both spouses are not financially stable. Either of the spouses may provoke the other into violence that definitely affects children. Due to poverty in the family, only male children will be educated with the little resources while female ones married off early to continue the cycle in their new families. Overwhelmed by stress, men may indulge in perennial alcoholism and women into prostitution, a combination that guarantees domestic violence in any family (Raphael 20).
Political factors contribute a great deal to the perpetuation of domestic violence in most societies. It begins with the under-representation of women in power politics, media, legal and even medical sectors. For this reason, domestic violence gets limited coverage in the mass media; lack legal backing as well as medical proof; and most regrettably lack of political backing to fight it. When domestic violence occurs in families and it is reported to the law-enforcement authorities, there is the restraining notion that family affairs are private and therefore are beyond the control of the state. Similarly, women lack organized political force to demand equal rights in the male chauvinistic society. This has been a huge setback that fuels violence in families and spills over to the larger society because perpetrators are left untouched. Men who are in power both at the national and local levels are not committed to the eradication of the vice, perhaps because of the fear of losing the status quo (Fischer et al. 70).
Domestic Violence and Criminal Justice Intervention
Criminal justice systems in most countries have received a lot of criticism concerning their response to cases of domestic violence. They are accused of traditionally failing to treat matters of domestic violence seriously. Perpetrators escape the grip of the law because there is laxity to enforce it. If the case happens to reach the courts, there appears to be irreconcilable dilemma in balancing victim's ambivalence over whether to proceed with responsibilities to uphold the criminal law and protect vulnerable persons. In addition, sentencing options have been ineffective in reducing repeat offending, that is, they hardly provide for the victim input; neither do they sufficiently comply with court orders (Holder 8).
The process of criminal justice intervention normally begins when the victim seeks help from the legal authorities. Abused women shed off their passivity and seek help. In the U.K. for instance, women make several separate contacts in finding a sympathetic and helpful response (Holder 8). Domestic violence being a crime, the police usually does the arrest to stop the violence and temporarily protect the victim. After the case has been initiated, the situation becomes complex because the victims (mostly women) seek to stop the prosecution for the reason best known to them. This tendency is rampant in the US than in any other place. During prosecution, the prosecutor represents the state or the community, not an attorney of victims of crime. His/her role is to screen cases to validate police arrests verifying that charges are consistent with criminal law and the evidence compiled (Holder 15).
Coordinated criminal justice interventions have been pursued by many countries to effectively respond to domestic violence. The 1994 Violence against Women Act was the gateway to the coordinated response in the criminal justice system. This means that the prosecutors, victims and/or offenders and the judge work together to justly give the ruling. In this way, victim's satisfaction is assured, his/her safety is guaranteed with deterrent measures towards repeat offending (Holder 23).
Domestic violence is a menace in the society that must be uprooted to restore harmony. Factors that combine to cause it range from retrogressive cultural practices, economic inequality and male-dominated political systems. Mostly it is women who are susceptible to the violence because the above factors work at their disadvantage. All avenues that can lead them to their liberation are often blocked - a conspiracy of men who want to dominate. However, with the global clamor for gender equality, courtesy of the 1995 Beijing Declaration, criminal justice systems have undergone modifications in order to eliminate the vice. After decades of criticism, victim's satisfaction, and safety from repeat offending has been guaranteed by the coordinated criminal justice system(s).