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Exploration Wife Abuse In Thailand Social Work Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

The prevalence of wife abuse in Thailand, the types of incidents, is the same as is found in other places in the world except that for Thai women the frequency of incidents of physical violence against women by their intimate partners alone is 41% to 47% of women over 18 (Institute for Population and Social Research at Mahidol University & FFW). This is approximately 14 million victims and international research admits that domestic violence rates are under estimates. These figures have not changed since 2001 even though legislation change occurred in 2007. The findings of this research from abused wives, service providers and policy makers reiterates that domestic violence also includes forms of violence that do not currently appear in statistical reports (See Figure 6.1). Physical abuse is the most common kind of abuse, followed by psychological abuse. As found in many countries, wife abuse is the most common type of violence against women. Healey, Smith and O’Sullivan (1998, p. 2) viewed violence against women as “physical and psychological damage to victims, deaths, increased health care costs, prenatal injury to infants, increased homelessness of women and children…”.

Thai women typically encounter more than one kind of abuse. Of the women in this study ninety percent reported physical abuse and seventy five percent of them were psychological abused. Thai women and policy makers want abandonment included as a type as abuse. The duration of marriage and length of time women remain in abusive situations shows that thirty percent of them are in abusive relationships for more than ten years, and the longest period of time that women in this study experienced repeated abuse is more than thirty years. These findings indicate that abuse of women within marriage arrangements is not only common but in some cases routine. The abuse is often described in banal items that understate its severity and down play the effects on the woman. Quarrelling can mean assault with a deadly weapon.

This study also found that women actively attempt to stop the abuse using a variety of strategies. Their strategies include discussion with the husband, avoiding the situations that result in abuse, acquiescing to the husband’s demands, fighting back and, telling other significant people (often family members and friends) (Figure 6.5). The results from these strategies are mostly unsuccessful. The first and last episode of abuse for the women studied was not significantly different (Figure 6.2) and when wives discuss the abuse with the husband the outcomes are usually worse, that is increased estrangement of the wife, worse abuse or, no change, which in itself, causes great distress to the wife (Figure 6.3). Women finally seek help because they can no longer stand the abuse, for safety and shelter, because they have been ordered to leave and because they want the violence to stop (Figure 7.4). Delays in their leaving appear to reflect Thai social norms that married happiness is the responsibility of women. Women believe that in some way they deserve to be abused because the marriage is unhappy. Women know that individually they have no means to stop the abuse.

This research shows that some of the wives expect to tolerate abuse for a whole lifetime to conform to the Thai cultural belief of a good wife, the idea of the good woman, wife and mother is taught in early socialisation and reinforced in education. Also once a woman has a child, that child must have both a mother and father. This norm too is a major social barrier that hinders women’s ability to effectively cope with the abuse by seeking out domestic violence -services where they exist or getting help within their extended families and communities. The research also shows that wives depend on their husbands socially and economically because they do not have enough resources to leave their husbands or to live alone.

The witnesses of abuse, both in the home and outside, do not get involved because they believe that violence between couples is a personal matter. This is reinforced by the lack of protection for witnesses and that women must lay the charges. In normal criminal assault matters, police lay the charges. Many times the only witnesses are children. When witnesses tried to intervene (even parents and elders), the wives reported that the intervention was unsuccessful. Witnesses themselves experienced negative outcomes from the abuse (Figure 6.15). There is no protection for witnesses. The lack of protection reduces women’s options for a safe place to go locally especially where there are no domestic violence services or refuges.

Abused wives as a result, keep silent until they can no longer stand the abusive incidents and finally decide to report to service workers. This decision means removing children from their communities and schools. Policy makers recognised that abused wives for the most part do not want their husbands to be punished or imprisoned but for the abuse to stop. Incarceration brings humiliation for the family and loss of an income stream. Imprisoning the abusive husband punishes the children as does relocating the children when the mother cannot get help locally.

The silence surrounding this problem is still deafening. Even though numerous scholars and women’s organisations in Thailand specified wife abuse as a severe health problem, women possess little information and the awareness of people in the whole country is limited. Although wife abuse is perceived as a common problem worldwide, it must be acknowledged that when compared with western countries, where the push for gender equality has empowered women with greater freedom, Thailand’s record on wife abuse demonstrates that it is in epidemic proportions.

The Causes of Wife Abuse

There are mixed and inconsistent views about the causes of wife abuse in Thai families. Wives, services providers and policy makers provided multiple focal points for possible causes of violence. Individual characteristics of the wife and husband, socio-economic status, education, social values norms and mores were all mentioned as possible causes. A majority of the abused wives and the service workers in this research identify the causes of abuse as based in the husband’s personal characteristics. Some service providers also cite individual characteristics of the woman. The largest number of the policy makers considered that cultural factors were the most important. The findings provide evidence that wife abuse in Thai culture is about power of men and the subordinate roles of women. The service providers confirm that there are men who believe that their wives belong to them, have to take care of them and be responsible for all work in the house, and are also be always available for them to release their sexual needs. There are other behaviours and characteristics of some men like alcohol and drug use, sexual desires and demands, and economic factors.

These different foci are easy to explain and reconcile. The experiences of the wives and services providers are up-close and personal. They deal daily in individual behaviour and detail. The service providers can also see patterns but it is the policy makers who see the overall trends and issues that go beyond the individual.

Thai family life, culture and history were named as causes of wife abuse and they provide only a partial explanation since, not all Thai men abuse women. The women in this study, the service providers and the policy makers agreed that the way to promote Thai women’s freedom from domestic violence or being abused is not only by empowering them through education or financial independence, but also releasing them from the ancient cultural ties. First, Thai cultural traditions and beliefs hold the man to be the head of the household and that a good wife should have only one husband. There are sayings comparing women to water buffalo and men to the farmer and which reinforce the normalcy of domestic violence as merely the clashing of the tongue against the teeth. Second, there is a belief that women are weak and therefore the weakness of wives means that they cannot be on their own. Women who incorporate this belief make the decision to allow themselves to be under the control of their husbands. Roles of men and women have been assigned in different ways since ancient times. The male roles are breadwinner, the head of the household, the ruler and the protector (Suriyasarn 1993). The wives believe that they will be safe because their husbands can take care of them and the family members, so they abdicate their rights to their husbands. The cultural mores also inform the responses of family members, service providers and police. There is a process of normalisation of the violence rather than normalisation of equality and respect.

The participants in this study identified key institutions in Thai society that promulgate cultural beliefs that are harmful to women. These are Thai religion, media, family life, business, Thai culture and social agencies (Table 6.1). All of the respondents in this study, the service workers and the policy makers, perceived that Thai culture had the greatest harmful impact on wife abuse. They stated that Thai culture causes women’s social disadvantage and imprinting of inferiority, it supports disrespect of women and it causes negative gender attitudes. Only the Thai Government as an institution was seen to be a positive influence for women.

There are interesting features of Thai domestic violence that have been uncovered by this research for instance, the level of education of fifty percent of abused wives in this study and their husbands is relatively high. A majority of the wives are employees and have their own incomes, but the husbands still decided most of the important activities in family, including household expenditure. In addition, the service providers reported that in general the wives did not depend on their husbands because they had their own income. However, some of the wives were unemployed, and they had insufficient income because their husband was a poor financial manager.

The service providers described the wives as lacking self-confidence, obedient to their husbands and afraid to make their own decisions. These characteristics however, could be consequences of the abuse itself and not an original individual trait. It would be hard to sustain the notion that 41%-47% of all Thai women over 18 lack self-confidence as an individual characteristic. It would imply that lacking self-confidence is somehow a biologically determined variation in Thailand. There is no credible evidence to support such a conjecture.

Decision-making in households that centralise male power has a great chance contributing to wife abuse (Gelles & Cornell 1990). Unbalanced authority of decision-making seems to be a cause of the relationship problems between husband and wife. This too is one of the areas where the abused women, service providers and policy makers agreed. Early learning and socialization influence the continuation of the view that Thai women lack confidence and will obey.

In previous research on relationships between wives and husbands, women’s education and employment serve as frequently used proxy measures of women’s status. Education and women’s paid employment are considered to improve women’s ability to gain greater power in decision-making, and consequently, more control over reproductive decisions. Thus, some of the scholars believe that women who are better educated and who have paid work have more options that allow them to get out of an abusive relationship. In contrast, in Thailand being a woman with economic independence can make things worse. It would appear that the strength of the cultural belief in the superiority of men leads women who have their own jobs and income, who may be in high positions and have more income than their husbands so they have perceived power outside home, to be just as much if not more at risk of wife abuse. This finding means that strategies to counter wife abuse by educating young women and ensuring equal representation of women in all levels of employment will not be sufficient. Focusing only on women, building their strengths and capacities will not lead to the hoped for reduction in wife abuse.

The location of wife abuse incidents is another important point of discussion concerning prevalence of wife abuse. Many wives reported that most of the abusive situations occurred at home. The observation is that the abusers often choose to abuse their wives in private. Abuse incidents in the home also show the power of abusers over their wives in this private arena. It is abuse out-of-sight. In any other context it would be defined as cowardly bullying that the offender knows is wrong so only does it where there are no repercussions or credible witnesses.

The service workers reported that the women who came to the agencies were nervous, stressed, depressed, despondent or scared and suspicious. The workers not only reported the psychological and physical effects to the wives, but also on other members of the family, especially children. Previous studies (National Clearinghouse on Family Violence, Canada herein after NCFV-C 1996) identified that the cost of wife abuse to society and to the victims of battering is extremely large. Clearly it is not merely a private matter but has fiscal and infrastructure implications for the country. There are implications for Thailand’s future, education, health and civil society.

This study (like the findings of the NCFV-C 1996) identifies an urgent need to establish extensive public awareness on domestic violence, wife abuse and gender equality as a critical step in addressing this problem. The above is represented graphically in

Figure 8.1.

This figure graphically displays the multi-layered nature of wife abuse and the sources of possible causes.

Applied Theoretical Analysis

Theory as explicated in Chapter 2 of this study when applied to the results leads to a multiplicity of approaches to wife abuse in Thailand none of which is sufficient in itself to stem the epidemic. For instance, the views of the women themselves, the workers and even the policy makers demonstrate gaps in their knowledge and awareness and sometimes perpetuate myths about domestic violence and the capacity of women. They recognise that better knowledge and skills training are required for all who respond to wife abuse – especially police. Feminist Theory, Social Learning Theory and Ecological Theory can all, when applied, result in a call for the establishment of a broad public awareness on domestic violence, wife abuse and gender equality as a crucial step in addressing this problem. Accurate and up-to-date information is required at all levels; the community, the workers, the policy makers, and the legislators and the courts. Feminism would push for challenging concepts and constructs that perpetuate patriarchy and which demonise or pathologise individual women or men. Social Learning Theory would support early learning and for the new information to be taught in school including strategies for children on what to do if they are witnesses of domestic violence. Children in other places are successfully taught what to do in house fires with catchy phrases and practice activities. Many of these are broadcast as community services announcements. Ecological Theory would ensure that such attention is paid to learning for hospital, health, policing, and other workers and service providers. Educational and competency standards are needed for workers and response staff. In this way a consistent message and set of service principles and standards are demonstrated when a women seeks assistance.

In this section each theory in the multidimensional framework developed for this study will be systematically applied and the resultant programs for addressing and responding to wife abuse in Thailand will be identified. Each intervention strategy is based on the results of this study and therefore is responsive to Thailand unique qualities and culture.

Social Learning Theory

The effects to the child witness of abuse, explained by social learning theory are that the social environment during childhood experiences in the family of origin can affect a child’s understanding of the world and social interactions and may contribute to the perpetuating the violent behaviour and victim response throughout subsequent generations. The linkage between witnessing violence and learning to be violent is that children from violent homes are being taught that violence is effective way to gain power and control over others, or they are more likely to accept the excuses of violent people, and they have an increased risk of being aggressive themselves; to adults as well as peers (NCFV-C 1996). Governments do not normally invite the development of future citizens who think that violence is a legitimate way to resolve conflict or who are oppositional and defiant towards authorities. Hence, a broad based educational program which indicates that domestic violence is unacceptable, what to do about it, and what are alternative ways to effectively manage disputes and conflict needs to be part of a package directed at children and young people – including young men and women. Like Singapore, the Department of Education needs to check that not one book denigrating women are used in any education of young Thais (United Nations 2007).

As the result of witnessing abuse of their mother, children can experience sadness, withdraw, have low self-esteem and/or other emotional problems. Advocacy for the victims of wife abuse, should aim to assist children who are witnesses of their mothers being assaulted as the important target. A child protection process is necessary to adequately respond to child witnesses of domestic violence. Clearly, from the reports of the women, safe places are needed so they can take older children with them when they are escaping violence and not be forced to leave those children behind. Or that the offenders are removed from the house and the wives and children’s lives are not further disrupted. The offender’s return would be based on progress in court ordered rehabilitation. Not on the wife’s guarantee.

Exchange Theory

Family conflict is difficult to avoid, but the absence of conflict resolution skills may escalate and lead to violence. For instance the release of anger, the need to gain power and control over their wives and other family members, to reduce internal anxiety or for some other benefit can only persist, according to exchange theory, if the abusers believe they have a permit to behave in this way. This perspective suggests that family members need to behave in a way that reduces the reward of being violent. That is, that violence does not lead to the preferred outcome of the violent person. Currently wives obey when someone is violent thus reinforcing the violent behaviour. If they were able to act in ways that expose the violence and increase the social cost of the violence to the perpetrator then there would be no remit for violence in the household. However, the real scenario is that the violence escalates until the woman complies or is gravely injured and she is returned to the household with no social sanction against the abusive person – indeed the sanction is culturally against her. So exchange and control theory helps explain how the current system of hospital emergency care, women’s shelters and policing in the area of wife abuse effectively control the wife and indicate to her that she has no privilege to exercise her power, thereby reinforcing for the abusive husband, that he has a positive social sanction to continue his behaviour – that is to achieve his wants by the means of violence and threats of violence.

Appropriate intervention at the family level to teach family members to resolve conflicts non-violently is likely to be ineffective since these too are based on the assumption of equality in the relationship between the man and woman and equality before the law. The external systems currently fail to lay charges of assault on behalf of the women, fail to investigate on the basis of the injuries sustained and the report of the woman to a domestic violence service or hospital or police station, and fail to charge and prosecute cases of wife abuse. For them to be able to do so legislation, policy and procedures need to be written, taught and implemented. Until that happens the current response to wife abuse in Thailand actively reinforces the practice and actively places women and children at continued and increasing risk of harm. Figure 7.4 shows clearly that women want the abuse to stop and that policy makers are aware of this need. Now legislation is in place. The political process lacks focus. Funding the administration and application of this new legislation is needed. A whole of government approach is needed overseen by executive government (Prime Minister and Cabinet) to ensure domestic violence is seen as a crime and that woman and children no longer need to be victims.

Theories of Psychopathology

The other type of personal behaviour of the abusive husbands, as perceived by a majority of the abused wives of this research, is that they easily lose their temper. The wives provided details that their husbands are irritable, easily angered, and tend to make a fuss for no reason. The service providers also state that the stress experienced by the abusers perhaps from other parts of their lives, contributes to an increase in the risk of wife abuse. In addition, the wives reported that they are isolated and neglected. These forms of abuse many not translate to physical violence, they increase the wife’s anxiety around the husband and constitute other forms of abuse.

At the individual level, personality theory is frequently used to explain the characteristics of the abuser. The violent person, who has long standing and firmly entrenched violent reactions, is viewed as ill and in need of treatment. The trigger stressor related to marital violence may be unemployment, financial problems, and/or sexual difficulties. This perspective holds that being physically abusive is a symptom of an underlying psychological problem. The treatment aims to exposing and resolving the root cause and to provide the violent person with alternative behavioural options through “individual and group psychodynamic and cognitive-behavioural therapy” (Healey, Smith & O’Sullivan 1998, p. 21). As violent reactions and patterns are long standing and firmly entrenched and treatment must be intensive, individualised and medically based (Davis 1995; Cunningham, Jaffe, Baker, et al. 1998).

Substance abuse is seen by most people as a sub-set of psychopathology – of individual failing. Alcohol and drug use by husbands is classified by the policy makers as a personal factor in perpetrators was perceived as a stimulus for domestic violence and it was the greatest risk perceived by the abused wives. In the issue of conflict over substance abuse, drug and alcohol use is increasing in family conflict that indirectly increases wife abuse. There is an argument that not all men who are drunk beat their wives and not all men who beat their wives are drunk (Geffner & Rosenbaum 1990). Nevertheless, from this research, the evidence that the wives reported is that their husbands abused them when they are drunk. Alcohol use as it correlates with wife abuse and other types of domestic violence seems to continue to be a significant risk factor for physical aggression (Kantor & Kantor 1989; Murphy, Meyer & O’Leary 1994).

Feminist Theory

There is an argument against identifying wife abuse as evidence of underlying psychopathology or an illness. Frequently mentally illness is proved to be absent in wife abusers. People who are violent as a result of a mental illness do not limit their violence to their intimate partners or their wives, but the offenders of wife abuse attack only their wives. People whose aggression is triggered by alcohol equally do not only engage in aggressive behaviours with their wives. As Dutton (1994) states the result of feminist analysis of wife abuse has been acceptance of the powerful and complex role of social factors present in the context of violence. Abuse exists within a gendered society dominated by male power. From the feminist perspective, unless male power and gendered social relationships are addressed, no effective response to wife abuse will be achieved.

Family Systems Theory

Healey, Smith and O’Sullivan (1998) comprehensively summarise the application of Family Systems Theory to wife abuse. First, both wife abuse and domestic violence are the tangible outcome of a dysfunctional couple relationship or family system. Therefore, the cause the abuse lies within the structure and interpersonal dynamics of the family. Communication problems and poor conflict resolution within intimate relationships are seen to be critical features and intervention involves and teaching communication skills, appropriate assertiveness and conflict prevention and resolution strategies for the whole family. Controversy surrounds interventions based on family systems theory as it does not address inappropriate use of power by the abuser and as interventions, which fail to address power, are potentially dangerous. In counselling the abused wife is encouraged to discuss openly unresolved problem that result in later retaliation by the batterer. This concern is a valid one. As the results of this on wife abuse in the Thai context show, conversations with abusers usually result in worse long-terms outcomes for the woman and the children.

Ecological Theories

Stress and isolation are related to the abuser’s aggression. Telch and Lindquist (1984) pointed out that abusive men have significantly poorer communication skills. The aim of intervention is to build the capacity for secure attachments between abusers and their wives, and family. A cognitive behavioural approach is used to teaching offenders alternative ways of non-violent thinking and behaviour. Anger management techniques are the primary method for the abusers in short-term intervention to make them feel they can control themselves. To develop the abusers’ behaviours to be non-violent, social learning theorists view that changing behaviours and altering outcomes leads to changed thought processes. Irrational and negative thinking often undermines a person’s attempts to change behaviour and thus short-circuits their best intention. Numerous techniques have been developed for working both with abusive men as a group and within couples aiming to eliminate violence, teach new behaviours, and change dysfunctional thoughts that serve to maintain violence in the relationship. However, again these techniques have been generated and applied in societies and cultures where there is an acceptance that men and women are equal and the deeply embedded cultural understanding about women is different from the experience in Thailand.

If we accept that the husbands are not suffering from psychopathology but that husbands’ behaviours are as a result of some external stressors then there is also an epidemic of adult males in Thailand whose needs are not being addressed. One could interpret the claims of the wives that their husbands fail to pay attention to them, that they have affairs with other women or take on minor wives, or fail to take responsibility for children, and they act irresponsibly as escape hatches that adult men are using which are akin to self-medication of people in pain. They might also be symptoms of unmet social and psychological needs in these men that require investigation and development of targeted programs. To suggest otherwise, that is to accept that more than 47% of adult men in Thailand are active abusers of women (including non-physical forms of abuse) would be damning for Thai men and the Thai way of life. If men are behaving this way, it is not because they were born to abuse or because they are sick but because something is wrong for them. Men form a large proportion of the Thai population and are worthy of study and to have their psychological, social and emotions needs considered in any examination of patterns of intimate partner abuse.

Furthermore, in relation to the abusers’ use of power and control, this research found that the victims rarely report sexual abuse. According to the context of Thai society issues about sex are not openly discussed, particularly with unfamiliar people. That is why the victims or social workers do not normally identify sexual abuse as a form of abuse. Even though, the current details in the law have changed, and women’s rights are more respected. The activities, in practice, are still ignored. The public needs more information that is correct and up-to date. Services personnel need knowledge and skill to be able to raise and address sexual assault as a routine question to reduce reticence of women.

Personal factors are deeply associated with cultural factors. Most of the policy makers consider that cultural factors are the most important citing the patriarchal values of Thai society. Cultural factors affect entire families and part of the wife abuse problem is inherited social values in the form of family behaviour that is passed on through the socialisation process. The ecological approach, formulated by Bronfenbrenner (1977 cited in Huitt 2009, p. 4), indicates that “…human beings do not develop in isolation; they develop in a variety of contexts (environments in which the individual human being is in constant interaction) have a major role in human development and behaviour”. Thus the family factors in an ecological model of wife abuse refer to processes in the family such as “parenting skills, family environment, family stressors, and family interactions” (Little and Kaufman Kantor 2002, p. 133-145). For instance family stress associated with financial difficulties, poverty and unemployment may decrease a family’s capacity to function. Further Bronfenbrenner comments on how exo-systems, that is independent systems that exist outside the family (like schools, hospitals, legal systems) have effects on the way the family operates just in the same way as building a freeway through a rainforest can affect the rainforest ecology.

In the next section the consideration of theory and the findings of this research are drawn together to develop a way to consider wife abuse in the Thai context and to form the basis for developing program and essential skills for workers who are required to respond to incidents of wife abuse. The model is shown in Figure 8.2 below.

This figure graphically displays the application of the various theoretical frameworks and the multi-disciplinary approaches which include legislative changes, policy change about education, health services, quality of training, and educational delivery, funding of health and welfare services, community education and awareness programs.

Implications for Practice

The origins and effects of wife abuse as discussed above should be the subject of conversations among all the obvious stakeholders, other victims and other strong and active agencies and advocates. Definitions of terms need to be consistent to make sense for victims. The integrated multidimensional approach to intervention that acknowledges and incorporates the complexity of this problem is the preferred model. It needs to contain psychological, interpersonal, cultural social, policy and economic considerations (Healy, Smith & O’Sullivan 1998). Integrated case management therefore is necessary since no agency and no single worker can provide all the services needed.

With regards to the “multidimensional” approach the theories of domestic violence and wife abuse (reviewed in Chapter 2 of this research) engage the societal level, the family level, and the individual level. Each perspective partially explains the cause


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