Anyone can experience domestic violence, says Edith Sciberras. She debunks some myths about domestic violence and discusses the possible repercussions for the well-being of victims.

According to the Istanbul Convention, the term ‘domestic violence’ includes “all acts of physical, sexual, psychological or economic violence that occur within the family, domestic unit or between former or current spouses or partners, whether or not the perpetrator shares or has shared the same residence with the victim”.

There are various manifestations of violence including psychological violence, stalking, physical violence, sexual violence including rape, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, forced abortion, forced sterilisation and sexual harassment.

Anyone can experience domestic violence.

It happens in every community, young and old; wealthy or poor... all cultures; people in same-sex relationships; people with disabilities; those who are socially successful and those who are struggling. The majority of victims are women, although men can also be victims.

There are some common myths about the subject.

• It’s an unpredictable, private tragedy: this is not true. Domestic violence is never a one-off incident. It generally takes place in different forms and over a number of years.

Victims are not to blame because they stay

• It’s caused by substance abuse, stress, poverty, a failed marriage: not true. People use violence in the domestic setting because they believe they are entitled to use violence to get what they want

• The victim is to blame: not true. Victims are not to blame because they stay. They are often unable to leave due to isolation, fear, a lack of funds and housing. Also, leaving can make the violence worse.

• Violence and love go together: not true. Jealous, threatening, intimidating behaviour is not love.

• It’s not as serious as other assaults or murders: not true. Many victims suffer serious and life-threatening injuries.

Malta is no different to other countries when dealing with matters related to domestic violence. One of the most robust local studies was a prevalence study conducted by the Commission on Domestic Violence in February-March 2010.

Its findings revealed that 26.5 per cent (306) of 1,154 ever-partnered women have experienced one or more acts of emotional, physical or sexual violence by a current or former partner at some point in their lives. Moreover, of the 1,154 ever-partnered women, 16 per cent (182) experienced an act/s of physical or sexual violence or both.

So what are the consequences of violence?

• Acute injury: this can vary from minor abrasions to life-threatening trauma. The most severe consequence is death.

• Mental health problems, especially depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder and eating disorders.

• Alcohol/substance misuse.

• Reproductive health: women reporting abuse during pregnancy had higher rates of intrauterine growth retardation and pre-term labour than women not experiencing abuse, which can lead to low birth weight and other neonatal risks.

• Chronic physical health conditions e.g. disability, chronic neck/back pain, arthritis, chronic pelvic pain, sexually transmitted infections, stomach ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome.

• Impact on children: associated with internalising symptoms (e.g. anxiety, depression), externalising behaviour (e.g. aggression) and trauma (e.g. flashbacks).

• Fear and control.

Whether a personal experience or if it happens to someone you know, recognising the signs of power and control is important to seek help at an early stage.

For more information, visit the Commission on Domestic Violence website

Where to get help?

Supportline: 179
Appoġġ: 2295 9000
Police Emergency: Line 112
Accident and Emergency Department: 112
Primary Health Centres:
Mental Health Malta:
Legal Aid: 2567 4330
Victim Support Malta: 2122 8333
Social Work Unit Gozo: 2155 6630
Dar Merħba Bik: 2144 0035
Dar Emmaus: 2155 2390
Soar Support Group (SJAF): 2180 8981
Women’s Rights Foundation: 7970 8615
Rainbow Support Service (LGBTIQ): 2143 0009
Fondazzjoni Dar il-Ħena: 2788 8211
Programm Sebħ – Dar Qalb ta’ Ġesù: 2148 2504

Edith Sciberras is a doctor in medicine and surgery currently specialising in psychiatry.

Dr Sciberras’s main areas of interest are women’s mental health and gender-based violence and she participates actively in the NGO network meetings held by the Commission on Domestic Violence within the Ministry of European Affairs and Equality.

This article was submitted as part of the public awareness campaign Serraħ il-Menti, aimed at providing the public with information on mental health. For more details, send an e-mail to or visit

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