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Verbal And Emotional Abuse: An overlooked dynamic in times of the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has spread to most of the countries and territories of the world by now and has caused a number of the strictest lockdowns in the affected nations. With our entire attention on this pandemic and the extra ordinary global public health emergency it has caused, there are some vital issues that are slipping through the cracks. In a survey conducted, results show that 15% of the people are not even familiar with the terms verbal abuse and emotional abuse while 35% of people are not aware of the risk and the symptoms it possesses.

Thus, Verbal abuse and emotional abuse might just become one among these issues that would slip through the cracks if immediate attention and awareness isn't established about it. The objective of this research is to spread awareness regarding the rise in verbally and emotionally abused victims.

The method of inquiry was through in-depth survey passed down to adults who have been a part of or known a person who has been a part of verbal abuse and emotional abuse. Variety of external factors was identified by the interviewees except the non-abusing parent. Family members, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, Friends, teachers and other professionals provided support to the interviewees. The implications of those findings for intervention are discussed.

Verbal abuse is a kind of interpersonal violence that's used to exert power, or show dominance and control over victims. It's manipulative and unpredictable in nature and is often obvious and demonstrated with anger outbursts and expressed with feigned concern that sends mixed meanings to victims. Verbal abuse is typically meant to hurt and unnerve the victim verbally which can at a later stage be followed by domestic abuse or emotional abuse.

Many children, men, ladies, or for the fact even LGBTQ people suffer from verbal abuse on daily basis, which is not any less destructive than domestic abuse. Unfortunately, verbal and emotional abuse is usually minimized or overlooked, even by the person experiencing it.

Emotional abuse also known as the silent killer, is usually when a person resorts to forcefully subject or expose another person to a behaviour which can cause a psychological trauma, including anxiety, chronic depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder or in other words a pattern of behaviour where one person deliberately and repeatedly subjects another to nonphysical acts that are misleading to behavioural and affective functioning and overall mental well-being.

It's deliberate in nature and a way to portray dominance over the victim. Generally verbal abuse like yelling, teasing, blaming or shaming can be followed by emotional abuse including Isolation, intimidation, daunting and controlling behaviour by the abuser. Emotional abuse is under-researched, unrecognised and unreported despite being the foremost prevalent sort of child and adolescent abuse and like other forms of abuse, emotional abuse is as important and can be even more damaging for the victims.

With ever increasing cases of abuse in lockdown, what makes complex trauma such a lot more damaging than other sorts of trauma is the incontrovertible fact that nobody ever validates the experience as traumatic or difficult. Neurobiologically, emotional and verbal abuse elicits an equivalent trauma response within the brain as physical events, but the social response to psychological abuse is probably going to be drastically different.

As a society, we prioritise physical health over mental well-being, despite the very fact that they're inextricably linked. The violation of our physical boundaries (sexual abuse, physical abuse) is taken into account and considered more problematic than violation of our emotions. The scars of verbal abuse and emotional abuse are very real and that they run deep but since they're tangible, it leaves no scars and thus there are not any strict social taboos against the abusers who shame, ridicule, scream at their partners, children or loved one's making them feel worthless and unloved.

Research shows that childhood trauma arising from verbal and emotional abuse can cause long term consequences and are as bad, if not worse than those experienced by victims of physical and/or sexual assault. The aim of verbal and emotional abuse is to scrap away your feelings of self-worth and independence; leaving you feeling worthless or powerless or that without your abusive partner, you've got nothing.

Cycle Of Abuse:

Like other abuse, verbal abuse and emotional abuse also occur step by step.
  • Tension -Building phase:
    Stress is an outcome of daily life pressures namely conflict over children, marital affairs or sexual tension, misunderstandings between partners, or other family conflicts which later results to illness, legal or financial problems, unemployment, or catastrophic events, rape etc. In this period of lockdown, the abuser feels ignored, threatened, annoyed, frustrated or powerless to act as the alpha and as an attempt to reduce the strain and to maintain the power the abuser is provoked and has the urge to abuse.
     
  • Abuse:
    The abuser lashes out with aggressive, belittling, or hurtful words. Usually, the abuse is a power play to remind the victim "who is the boss."
     
  • Guilt:
    After abusing, the abuser can feel guilty, but not over their actions. The abuser gets more worried about the possibility of getting caught and facing consequences for the abusive behaviour.
     
  • Excuses:
    The abuser rationalizes what he or she has done with the fear of losing the victim and thus, the person may come up with a string of excuses or blame the victim for the abusive behaviour or anything to avoid taking responsibility.
     
  • Normal behaviour:
    The abuser does everything he can to regain control and keep the victim within the relationship. So as to not lose the victim, the abuser may act as if nothing has happened, or may resort on showing charm. This is called as honeymoon phase and the aim of this phase is to give the victim hope that the abuser has really changed this time.
     
  • Fantasy and planning:
    The abuser begin to dream about abusing the victim again and thus spends a lot of time finding loopholes in the victim's work so that the abuser can make the victim pay and plots a plan for turning the fantasy of abuse into reality.
     
  • Set-up:
    The above phase, is just a way of creating a situation where the abuser can justify the actions of abusing the victim

The World Health Organization (WHO) said that the danger of intimate partner violence is probably going to rise, as distancing measures are put in place and other people are encouraged to remain at home or hostels locked with their abusers. In India, the data provided by the National Commission of women (NCW) in mid-April suggested that there's almost 100% increase in violence and abuse during the lockdown.

In 25 days between March 23 and April 16, the NCW received 587 complaints in total. This is often almost double the amount of complaints (396) received during the previous 25 days, from February 27 to March 22. The reason for the sudden rise in times of a lockdown is because of the quarantine guidelines related to Covid-19. The other contributory factors regarding the uprising issue of the abuse is stress and associated risk factors such as unemployment, frustration, reduced income, limited resources, alcohol abuse and limited social support are likely to be further compounded.

The issue of verbal and emotional abuse is not only restricted to India but is perpetrated all over the world as a follow up to the lockdown mandate. The women and children who live under such abuse have no escape from their abusers during quarantine. Incidents of abuse are escalating around the world during the COVID-19 lockdown. A report pointed out cases have increased exponentially across the world at an alarming pace in countries like United Kingdom (UK) and United States (US) among others. and steeped across jurisdictions from Brazil to Germany and Italy to China.

Recently, five seniors of a medical college in Bengaluru were arrested for alleged abusing of a fresher belonging to a Dalit background. They were sent to judicial custody on the idea of a complaint lodged by the victim at the local police headquarters. According to the complaint, the five final-year students entered the 19-year-old's room at the school hostel on the night of December 24.

They verbally abused him, after which one among the accused slapped him. later on, the abusers took him to the terrace of the hostel and continued to abuse him. Police stated that the accused, hailing from north India, were drunk. The accusers are charged under various sections of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act and the Karnataka Education Act-1983. a number of these are non-bailable sections.

Risks Factors:[1]
In this period of lockdown, the cases of abuse and violence have rose up to triple the amount of the abuse round the year. Our Survey shows that 65% of women, 20% of children. 9% of men and 7% of queer people are exposed to verbal abuse and emotional abuse. 57.7% of the people think that risk factors for being verbally and emotionally abused during the times of pandemic can be an outcome of frustration and annoyance on the abuser's part because of the lockdown period while other people think that the risk of losing job or recession in occupational sector, might hurt the ego of the abuser causing the abuser mental stress, fear of losing dominance, aggression, anger and thus resorting to verbal abuse as a means to project his anger. Self- obsession, dominance, desire to show superiority, insecurity, substance abuse, anger management issues, power and control issues, sexual tension, jealousy, fear of feeling left out, low self-esteem are some of the risk factors for being an abuser.

Symptoms:
Verbal abuse and emotional abuse are not considered to have a great impact on people letting it slip away. Generally, people that are in abusive relationships are scared of their partners, have very low self-esteem, and are withdrawn, depressed, or anxious. Adults who were emotionally abused as children are more likely to possess difficulty establishing relationships, misinterpret social cues. behaviours, and knowledge psychological state problems.

Verbal abusers decide to make their victims feel humiliated by making fun of them publicly, demeaning or disregarding victims' needs, belittling their accomplishments, bringing attention to victims' mistakes, or using manipulative tactics (sulk, withdraw, rebuff, communication, facial expressions, play victim) to punish victims or force them to comply.

People that are in abusive relationships also conform to whatever their partners want, let their partners know their every move, are contacted frequently by their partners once they are out with them, discuss their partners' jealousy and temper, have imposed restrictions regarding contact with family and friends, have restricted access to transportation and money, experience very low self-worth, and are withdrawn, depressed, anxious, or suicidal.

Childhood maltreatment is shown to possess future effects on a child; this may include executive function. Executive functions main function is to help command and control from within the brain; a vital role is played by executive function in a study that was conducted by Becerra-Garcia in 2014. The purpose of the study was to understand “the influence of childhood abuse on adulthood executive functioning in offenders.

Not only were they trying to understand this influence on executive functioning but also trying to determine “whether executive performance is affected differentially by different abusive events.”

They were able to conclude that offenders who had a history of abuse, whether it had been verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual, all seem to portray poor cognitive flexibilities and that “the emotionally abused participants face deceits in executive control and set-switching abilities.” Since these participants showed lack of executive controls, a possibility stands that homicidal tendencies and ideations to creep into the minds of the individuals can be formed among the ones who were emotionally abused or maltreated during their childhood.

During an identical study, researchers sought to figure out if children who were exposed to mal-treatment, neglection, or were verbally and emotionally abused during their childhood, would they be more crime prone later in life?

Within the study they found that:
the impulsive trait of urgency may play a significant role in linking emotional abuse to crime in young adulthood.”

By finding this connection, they could understand that children with emotional abuse in their history have a tendency to commit criminal offenses because of certain distresses. These distresses could be psychological but also that:
“childhood neglect is claimed to neurological deficits. Several studies have indicated that maltreatment is claimed to alter brain development in regions that are involved in cognitive functioning. This altering brain development also connects with Becerra-Garcia's study that shows which crimes are most likely to be committed because the victims of emotional maltreatment grow old without having the power to plan out various outcomes, in different situations, in their brain.

By not having the guidance or the power to make and understand their decisions. what exactly is true and false, is not potentially known by them. An example of this could be a child that has a father who screams in their face every single day over the tiniest issues.

This child is consistently living in fear that they are going to be screamed at or slapped across the face and this later successively grows into that fear-stricken child who then develops an urge to do exactly those same actions to their children. Thus, leading to a never-ending cycle of abuse and violence.

Coping Up From The Abuse:

Being abused isn't something that should ever be taken lightly, and there are aspects of abuse which will be incredibly difficult to get over. A victim who has been in abusive relationship most certainly needs help. Contacting an enforcement official or psychological state professional is a way but there are somethings that the victim can cope up alone or with the help of the community for recovering from abuse.

This is considered as coping skills. Coping skills don't necessarily solve the issues of abuse, but they make it possible for victims of abuse to move on with life and find value in what their lives need to offer. Acknowledging the abuse is the first and foremost step to deal with the abuse. Make yourself a priority, establish boundaries, stop blaming yourself, realize you cannot fix the abuser, avoid engaging, build a Support Network, work on an Exit Plan are some of the options to cope up. The following pie chart comprises of the responses collected through a survey regarding the coping methods from the abuse. [2]

Legal Remedies:
Legal interventions are thought by many to play an important role with regard to abuse but a less reliable option that people choose and one main reason is that the legal interventions, which include both the criminal and civil justice systems, are mainly focused on: identifying cases to bring abusers, procedural and evidentiary problems during criminal prosecutions, forming of arrest policies, civil orders regarding security, and admissibility of evidence rather than the availability of direct services to victims.

However, evaluations of the effectiveness of legal interventions suffer from problems almost like those within the areas of social service and health care: small study samples, ethical and legal issue with respect to implementation of experimental designs and reporting's of discovered abuse, rigid confidentiality statutes, coincidental effects caused by the research project , and thus the complications of independent variables in multiple and overlapping interventions.

In the survey conducted, the responses observed state that only 20% of people would actually resort to legal measures. However, under Indian legal system, verbal and mental abuse is unlawful under the India penal code (IPC) Act, Dowry prohibition act, and IT act.
  • Section 509 in The Indian Penal Code:
    Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a lady. Whoever, meaning to insult the modesty of any woman, utters any word, makes any sound or gesture, or exhibits any object, intending that such word or sound shall be heard, or that such gesture or object shall be seen, by such woman, or intrudes upon the privacy of such woman, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which can reach one year, or with fine, or with both.
     
  • Section 294 of the Indian Penal Code:
    Fine or imprisonment for obscene acts or words uttered in any public place.
     
  • Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code:
    Deals with matrimonial Cruelty in India and is recognized as a cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable offence
     
  • Section 66 An of the IT Act:
    Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, electronic form etc.

Suggested Measures:
  • Build strong advocacy and awareness about increased abuse against women and children during COVID-19.
  • Proactively challenge sexism and harmful masculinity displays, accentuated under COVID-19 circumstances with targeted messages for such men so as to encourage healthy ways of dealing with stressful situations.
  • Provide information, including through public service announcements, to survivors of violence, for instance, on service referrals, or the way to safely continue employment, using accessible formats for various groups.
  • Engage with media outlets to raise the visibility of increased abuse against queer people demonstrating how the danger factors that drive abuse are exacerbated within the context of COVID-19.
  • Allocate additional resources and include evidence-based measures to deal with abuse against men, women, children and others in COVID-19 national response plans.
  • Engage with media outlets to raise the visibility of increased abuse against queer people demonstrating how the danger factors that drive abuse are exacerbated within the context of COVID-19.
  • Strengthen services for victims who experience abuse during COVID-19.
  • Strengthen services, including shelters, through capacity rapid assessments, and through design of risk assessments, safety planning and case management, adapted to the crisis context, to make sure survivors' access to support.
  • Expand the capacity of shelters, including re-purposing other spaces, like empty hotels, or education institutions, to accommodate the victims as per quarantine needs.
  • Sensitize and communicate with the private sector using available global guidance on the way to prevent and answer violence against men, including male employees who work from home during COVID-19 and knowledge violence.
  • Ensure psycho-social support for queers, men, ladies and children who experienced abuse and frontline health and social support.
  • Strengthen helplines, including protection from sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA), online counselling and technology-based solutions like SMS, online tools, and social support networks. Build capacity of key services to stop impunity and improve quality of response.
  • Raise awareness to police and judiciary about the rise of abuse against women during COVID-19 and supply training on the way to respond, protect and refer victims and survivors to appropriate services.
  • Train responders on psycho-social support, including doctors, enforcement and court officials, emergency shelter and counselling staff still operating during the crisis.
  • Provide training for education and child services for safety and referral information for youngsters who could also be experiencing abuse reception or who could also be susceptible to online predators.
  • Ensure support from women's rights organizations, especially people who provide essential services to hard-to-reach, remote and vulnerable populations.
  • Ensure women's organizations and women's community organizations participate within the decision-making processes with respect to needs and concern, prevention and responses to abuse against women and girls.
  • Consider the role of women's organizations in recovery plans and formulate long-term solutions to address the rise of abuse and violence against women and girls during COVID-19.
  • Ensure sex-disaggregated data is collected to know the impact of COVID-19 on abuse against men and women and inform the response.
  • Collect data regarding the requirements and capacity of services in order with the increased demand of abuse within the context of COVID-19.
  • Ensure any data collection efforts doesn't place the victims at greater risk of abuse and distress.
  • Make sure that local and regional authorities make public spaces safe for victims throughout different stages of the pandemic.

Conclusion:
Without any interference, frequency and severity of abuse usually increase over time. Abuse resulting from family dysfunction may strengthen from access to significant community services like nurse and social worker home visits to provide assistance to alter behaviour or to put a stop to abuse in high-risk families. Abuse resulting from mental disease, drug abuse, or physical disabilities may enjoy social services and professional psychological state interventions.

Separating victims and their abusers is a very important step for ensuring victims' well-being. Leaving the environment becomes mandatory if there is any indication that abuse is intensifying or violence may follow. Counselling for both abusers and victims of abuse can provide a medium for discussion and mitigating solutions to cease the cycle of violence. Splitting from an abusive relationship can be difficult and dangerous and therefore, having a place to go for protection, help, and support is important. Generally, such places are with family or friends but at times they are the ones who play the role of abusers, thus local shelters or other organizations that provide assistance for safely should be sought leaving behind the abusive relationship.

End-Notes:
  1. https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1mYJ_wQJYhDFLLpVeFfRYU6Mc0dmFN0grY4DcpQXcJvg/edit#responses
  2. https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1mYJ_wQJYhDFLLpVeFfRYU6Mc0dmFN0grY4DcpQXcJvg/edit#responses

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