Many people are talking about the new series on Netflix – Maid – which is gut wrenching and difficult to watch. It lays bare the struggles of victims trying to escape domestic abuse. Sadly this series is the reality for many women and allows one to gain a better understanding of what domestic abuse can be about.

Domestic violence can be characterized by an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence, in the majority of cases by a partner or ex-partner (Women’s Aid 2021).

When one reflects on domestic violence (DV), the main thought automatically goes to physical violence. One may easily believe physical abuse is the main form of domestic violence, whereas there are other forms, arguably more dangerous ones, than that.

Perhaps one of the least talked about forms of DV is the emotional/psychological abuse and coercive control a victim is subjected to. Here we are referring to a pattern of intimidation, degradation, isolation and control with the use or threat of physical or sexual violence. Other forms of abuse include financial abuse, harassment, stalking and online abuse.

…Before they bite they bark, before they hit you they hit near you…. (Maid, Netflix 2021)

One may think that domestic abuse is a gendered crime which is deeply rooted in the societal inequality between men and women. It is a form of gender-based violence, violence “directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects disproportionately.” (CEDAW, 1992). It is true that women are more likely than men to experience multiple incidents of abuse, different types of domestic abuse (intimate partner violence, sexual assault, and stalking) and in particular sexual violence. Any woman can experience domestic abuse regardless of race, ethnic or religious group, sexual orientation, class, or disability, but some women who experience other forms of oppression and discrimination may face further barriers to disclosing abuse and finding help.

Locally, the Domestic Violence Services (DVS) within Aġenzija Appoġġ, Foundation for Social Welfare Services, are committed to the promotion of a society with zero tolerance to violence. The services offered include the Domestic Violence Unit which provides specialised professional services to victims of domestic violence, the risk assessors team who carry out a risk assessment following a report made at the specialized domestic violence police unit, an emergency shelter to DV victims offering shelter to women and their children and STOP! The Violence and Abuse Service which works with the perpetrators.

Every year, to raise awareness about services offered and the dangers of DV, Malta takes part in the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence which is an annual international campaign that kicks off on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and runs until December 10, Human Rights Day.

During these 16 days, various entities working within the DV field aim to raise awareness about gender-based violence through various media representations having one aim – to urge any person who is a victim of DV to seek help through either by calling the national helpline 179 or by calling Aġenzija Appoġġ directly on 2295 9000 and asking for the Domestic Violence Services. Alternatively, should one require urgent help and is need of police assistance one is to call 112. Nobody should be a victim of abuse, and nobody should feel threatened or intimidated by the people who are supposed to love them.

Yvonne Georgette Fiorini Lowell is Service Area Leader, Għabex shelter

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