© Copyright 2019 The Rakshin Project By Sakshi
(DISCLAIMER: The purpose of these essays is not to provide solutions but to shed light on perspectives that go largely unnoticed and/or ignored. I encourage that you do not read to seek answers, but to understand the loop holes or gaps in arguments that try to legitimise violence against women, and to offer you reasonable and very serious explanations that can fill those gaps.)
In Part Two, I addressed the criticism that domestic violence cannot be regarded as terrorism as it requires perpetrators to have political motivations. I then illustrated that considering the private sphere is an inherently political space, and the fact that the private sphere is a source of power and serves as a blueprint of the public space for women and children, any acts of violence that are committed in said space has political ramifications, thereby concluding that perpetrators of violence against women and children do have political motivations and that is to maintain a power dynamic that keeps women excluded from the socio-political spheres.
But despite considering the motivations of the perpetrator, there is significant pushback to the idea that abusers intentionally cause harm, therefore it cannot be construed as “terrorism” as terrorism is commonly understood as a deliberate and intentional act to cause harm. The point of contention lies in the idea that violence against women and children cannot be a legitimate act of terrorism if the abuser did not intend to create terror as a form of achieving some type of premeditated goal. Essentially, the argument is that it cannot be regarded as terrorism if it was accidental or unintentional.
However, the current usage of the term “terrorism” is often restricted to cases of intentional and deliberate harm. What’s more is that there is a hesitancy to apply the concept of terrorism to domestic abusers because it is rarely believed that domestic abusers have an intention to terrorise. Yet, research after research shows that most men do not see intimidating, controlling or threatening behaviours as terrorising (this is made particularly worse considering these behaviours are romanticised in pop culture), and thus when asked about such behaviours, there is a belief amongst men that this behaviour stems from a place of love and protection of their partners, and that they would not actually do anything to cause harm to their partners. Conversely, this is again made further worse when victims of domestic violence defend their partner’s abusive acts — saying that they “deserved it” or they believe it to simply be a fact of life that abusing women is acceptable behaviour. Rarely is it ever brought up that men intentionally terrorise their partners but rather that they are simply operating from a perspective of outdated patriarchal ideas.
But if intent is really what necessitates terrorising behaviour, let’s consider another form of discrimination — racism. Common narratives insinuate that for an act to be considered racist is that it must involve racist intentions. However, the problem with this narrative is that it does not see the actions of individuals who participate in institutions, systems or practices that have racist outcomes or the fact that these are deeply entrenched practices which are perceived as “normal” as racist. Howard Winant states in his book In The Politics of Race that contemporary racism “has been largely — although not entirely, to be sure — detached from its perpetrators”. It means that racism, in its most pernicious form, seems to have no perpetrators — racism is near-invisible, almost as if it were a “commonsense” feature of everyday life.
Although our instincts tell us that those who commit unintentional acts of racism cannot be compared to those who do have clear intentions to be racist, we still have to accept that unintentional acts of racism are still racist in some way. This means that the arbitrary dichotomies that state that if it is intentional, then it is racist and if it is unintentional, it is not racist, is far too simplistic, but also allows those who commit these so-called unintentional acts of harm off the hook. Essentially, like racism, we must view acts of misogyny and sexism as falling along a broad spectrum that is inclusive of both — intentional and unintentional acts of harm or abuse.
What I am trying to establish here is not a solution to misogyny or any other forms of discrimination — as that is not the point of this essay — but to understand that intention or lack thereof, is still an important aspect to understand as it is relevant in assessing the character of the person who does the harmful act, and how they may react if they are called out or held accountable.
However, while most people assume that domestic violence is done in a moment of anger, therefore insinuating the unintentional nature of any violence, I will continue to present the case that domestic abuse is still an intentional form of harm committed by perpetrators. But the first step here is create a distinction between the intentions of an individual perpetrator and a series of systems and/or social practices in which an individual participates in.
Feminist researchers have theorised that, regardless of what the intentions of someone committing physical or sexual violence against women and children are (such as power, revenge or “sexual attraction”), the objective of such violence is to terrorise women and children into behaving “properly”. This is also compounded by the fact that psychological domination is another form of violence enacted against women and children wherein which whilst coercive tactics were seen to be unique to each person, they were also remarkably similar all across the spectrum of violence. Methods of establishing control over another person is based upon the systemic, repetitive infliction of psychological trauma, and the purpose of these methods is to make victims feel disempowered and disconnected.
Rape is a form of sexual terrorism — which is a form of threat of violence that is instilled against women in its most obvious form — and yet even men who claim to worry about women’s safety still accomplish to perniciously and unintentionally terrorise women. It is deeply ironic that men, who claim to be the protecters of women, are usually the first to assert that men are dangerous and that it is only men who can protect women from men who commit any acts of violence against women. But what this accomplishes is, first, women’s dependency on men for male protection, and secondly, that women must be hyper-vigilant or fearful of men wherever they go. The objective here, then, is to impose a sense of constant danger upon women, regardless of where they may be, at the prospect of being subjected to male violence. If the the perpetual threat of violence against women regardless of where they may be is not considered a form of terrorism — the act of instilling terror into women’s minds and bodies — then what is?
Back to the intentionality of men who terrorise women and children — it is quite fair to say that most men would believe that the need to warn women of how dangerous men are stems from a place of, in its least malicious way, concern for women. These men are, funnily enough, not wrong. Most perpetrators of violence against women and children tend to be men, so there is a kernel of truth to men’s concern about women’s safety. However, the point of contention lies not in the notion that men do not warn women enough, but in the fact that they still expect women to be hyper-vigilant of their surroundings when a more sustainable solution to preventing violence against women and children is for men to betray patriarchal rules of masculinity and prevent and stop men from being violent. When the concern for women’s safety is not rooted in the idea or act of wanting to eliminate men’s violence against women and children, the intentions of men who are worried about women’s safety rings hollow, and still ingrains a sense of fear and terror into women simply existing anywhere. And unintentionally or not, the impact of fear is ever-lasting.
The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports has given a directive to our NGO – Sakshi to design, customize and deliver Workshops on Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012 (POCSOA 2012) for the NSS Students of 40,000 Colleges across India. Workshops started in 2018.