The United Nations defines violence against women as “any act of gender based violence that results in physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.” Increasing cases of domestic violence is a major public health crisis and a violation of basic human rights, something that must be tackled by bringing the culprits face to face with the law. Domestic violence, in particular, carry the risk of going unnoticed thus giving leeway to those who engage in it with ease. The most common form of domestic violence, according to population-based survey reports by the UN is ‘intimate-partner violence’. Over a quarter of women between ages 15-49 who have been in relationships have been victims of physical/sexual domestic abuse at least once in their lifetime. According to another survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) 2018, 6% of the UK population between the same age range had been estimated to be victims of domestic violence with an average of 5495 cases per day. Unfortunately, for every 100 victims, only 3-4 of the perpetrators is convicted.
Figure: Data for domestic violence for adults aged 16-50, by type of abuse. Source: Crime Survey for England and Wales, Office for National Statistics, 2018.
So is this preventable? The answer is yes. A good starting point would be to identify the measures of domestic violence and implement relevant policies centered around those parameters to address not just the core issue, but the economic/social reasons for which it prevails. A second way would be for the government to bring in harsh laws for domestic violence and conduct fast
track enquiries so that the conviction rate builds up. Psychological pressures
and fear of imprisonment for life might succeed in inducting good behavior. Finally, the health and family welfare sectors have an important role to play in this. Provision of comprehensive health care to the victims would be a useful way for referring them to other support services they need, for example, government managed schemes or NGOs.
Indirect Measures of Domestic Violence
Usually, it is not possible to conduct research plus gather data from observing violence directly in a household. This ‘observability problem’ is primarily why indirect channels have to be used to identify domestic violence by assessing past histories of criminal activity, family backgrounds, socio-economic status etc., for policy implementation. 3 forms of indirect measures are police administrative records, hospital administrative records and survey data.
(a) Police reported violence (administrative data)
• Provides accurate recording after detailed investigations, victim statements and potential witness testimonies across long periods of time.
• Information files usually contains minute details of every household in every neighborhood, so makes the job of monitoring easier.
• Police will be aware of only those cases that are actually reported. As mentioned earlier, compelled silence makes a greater number of cases go unnoticed.
• Difficult to interpret increases/decreases or differences across populations.
• Data availability may vary occasionally with the variable of interest. • Police documenting might change with the official definition of domestic violence i.e., what constitutes as abuse and what doesn’t.
(b) Hospital reporting (administrative data)
• Consistency efficiently maintainable because of the health and well being support for the victims.
• Does not rely at all times on self-reporting by victims. Physical and mental examination of victims is a giveaway.
• Only captures relatively extreme measures of violence since the milder cases might not require hospital care or choose silence.
• Measure is also likely to reflect non-intimate partner violence. • Difficult to link with other data. Analysis must be done at the population level instead of random sampling.
(c) Survey evidence
Pros: Dependence on government verified and regularly updated data source websites like Crime Survey, Office for National Statistics, World Health Organization etc. These institutions can be asked direct and indirect questions on the nature, types and prevalence of violence, information that will guide civil servants in cases.
• Surveys rely on ‘truthful’ self-reporting, an aspect with marginal potential for error.
• There can be systematic bias in misreporting and participation, which will slant the analysis.
• Collecting population data and conducting research on the same is an expensive and time-consuming method.
Economics versus Sociology
Criminologists and sociologists have largely dominated research into the field of domestic violence, its causes, nature and prevention. So what do economists bring to the table? Relative to other disciplines in social sciences and public health, economists take scientific methodology very seriously. Ample time is spent on understanding what to estimate, how to estimate it, build theories on those estimations and finally, apply empirical formulas to test those theories. A primary way of synthesizing the 2 branches of economics and sociology is to relate the concept of ‘Male Backlash’ with the ‘Household Bargaining Model’ to judge gender gaps and subsequent differences in earnings as a cause for domestic abuse.
Theory of Male Backlash: This theory describes a situation whereby an increase in the wife’s earnings and consequent independence challenges the socially prescribed norm of male dominance in a household. Men therefore, use violence (not restricted to physical only, but mental and verbal too) as a means of “reasserting authority” over their wife. An increase in women’s wages relative to men that brings down the gender wage gap or keeps them at par with them on the pay scale leads to a consequential rise in exploitation.
This sociological theory, however, ignores some important trade-offs. – As the wife’s earnings rise, overall consumption capabilities of the household rise too.
– A husband’s ability to assert dominance over his wife is a function of the wife’s outside options as well. As abuse increases, the wife will start looking for extramarital affair options elsewhere.
So between consuming more goods and services and maintaining household authority, the misogynist man will choose the latter, an important factor of violence. Theory of Household Bargaining with violence: This economical theory explores the relationship between earnings and household violence. The
husband and wife each receive utility from increased individual and shared consumption. While the misogynist husband receives additional utility or ‘satisfaction’ from imposing exploitation, the wife receives disutility from it. Hence, the couple “bargains” over the level of consumption for each
(constrained by the household income) and the level of violence. In this model, both partners either choose to remain in the relationship or leave. The earnings of each are equal to the resources they will have if they break away. The dynamics of the household bargaining model can be explained simply as the following.
Uw (Cw, 1-V) and Uh (Ch, V)
Uw, Uh = utility derived by the wife and husband respectively Cw, Ch = consumption component for the wife and husband respectively V = household violence
I= household income
a = wife’s portion of household income
The partners either choose to stay or leave as mentioned earlier so therefore if one chose the latter, they would each take their respective contributions to the household income i.e., a and (1-a).
Assuming zero violence outside the relationship:
• If the wife’s total utility gained from elsewhere > household utility, she will leave; Uw (Cw, 1-V) < Uw (aI).
• The husband’s utility preferences in the same manner. If Uh (Ch, V) < Uh ((1-a)I), he will leave. Assuming a growth in the wife’s portion of household income i.e., a’ > a and no corresponding change in V or Cw, even then she is better off leaving. This model therefore, explains the improvement in the wife’s outside options once earning capacity increases. In this way, her ‘bargaining power’ within the
relationship also rises.
Systematic versus Triggered Violence
The nature of harm looked at until now is mostly termed as ‘systematic’ because it describes the relationship between dynamics in the economic environment and exploitation. However, violence can be “triggered” as well. A majority of such incidents happen due to one-time or on-off upsetting events such as a bad day at work, disturbing news or even one’s favorite sports team losing. Rather than a preference for the level of violence, this model looks at the perpetrators “losing control”.
Economists David Card and Gordon Dahl conducted a popular research using the National Football League (NFL) games to study the impact of unexpected upsetting events on family violence. Their methodology included “hypothesizing the risk of violence as affected by the gain-loss utility associated with game outcomes around a rationally expected reference point”.
The NFL games were chosen as an area of interest for 3 main reasons.
– NFL fans are highly supportive of their local teams.
– The existence of an established betting network provides information on the expected outcome of each match. This would be the ‘reference point’ for gain-loss utility.
– The outline of the NFL and availability of detailed game figures makes it convenient to identify more or less prominent matches and to guess the winning chances of a team midway.
– Upset losses by the home team led to a 10% increase in the number of police reports of male-on-female domestic violence, concentrated in a narrow time window around the end of the game.
– Losses when the game was expected to be a close match have no significant effect of violence.
– Upset wins have no noteworthy impact on the rate of abuse as well.
A recent study on triggered violence particularly based on Card’s example of sports outcomes was published citing alarming cases in England, UK. The UK’s National Centre for Domestic Violence initiated a campaign with the tagline “If England gets beaten, so will she” to educate the masses on how the repercussions of a loss in a match signals a ritual of brutality unleashed on women and children who bear the brunt of the team’s loss. According to data, cases registered for abuse increased by over 38% on days when England’s National team lost and over 26% if they drew. Furthermore, figures from England’s games in 2002, 2006 and 2010 during the World Cup showed that incidences of violence were 11% higher post matches. In disturbing situations such as these, as much as outcomes trigger the level of violence, the patriarchal attitude and the inherent belief of criminals that exploitation is the right way to compensate for a loss will remain whatsoever. If not sports, any other event will play part.
Violence and domestic violence, to be precise, does not see barriers of age, gender, wealth, caste etc. It can be found everywhere and victims can be male or female, young or old, rich or poor, politically affiliated or not. To bring about concrete changes in tackling it requires a long-term commitment that society and government would have to jointly intervene in. In the short-run, immediate relief and assistance to victims should be the agenda while in the long run, governments must introduce laws that foster human rights, equality and anti-prohibit punishment. Of course this humungous task is not a one-day job with only one approach to it. Sensitive issues like these that are recognized nationally and internationally as a basic human rights violation require careful and strategic planning and execution to it. There cannot be any loopholes in awareness and prevention campaigns and hence, it might be pertinent to involve those who can reach greater masses at a time. For example, the media, NGOs, activists, educationists and the likes of them. Crime prevention is for one, for all.
World Health Organization, 9th March 2021, Violence against women. Available from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/violence against-women
United Nations, 1993, Strategies for confronting domestic violence: a resource manual. Available from: https://www.unodc.org/pdf/youthnet/tools_strategy_english_domestic_violenc e.pdf
Office for National Statistics, 2018, Domestic Abuse in England and Wales. Available from: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/bullet ins/domesticabuseinenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2018
Aizer, A., (2010), The Gender Wage Gap and Domestic Violence, American Economic Review, 100, 1847-1859. Available from: https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/aer.100.4.1847
Card, D., and G. Dahl, 2011. Family Violence and Football: The effect of unexpected emotional cues on violent behavior. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 126, 103-143. Available from: https://davidcard.berkeley.edu/papers/card-dahl-family-violence.pdf
Essay: When football goes home, July 9th 2021, Feminist Giant. Available from: https://www.feministgiant.com/p/essay-when-football-goes-home