Victims of Domestic Violence: the Underreported “Silent” Populations in the Community

Once again an extreme case of domestic violence is reported. This article reacts to a report “Founder of Muslim TV Station Is Guilty of Beheading Wife; New York Times February 8, 2011”, and appeals for enhancing community programs fostering self-report of domestic violence.

From Buffalo, N.Y., reports stated that the founder of a television station in New York was convicted of beheading his wife in 2009, the act had happened in the broadcast studio opened by the couple. Mr. Hassan, 46, bought two hunting knives less than an hour before the attack, parked his luxury vehicle out of view at the station and then hid inside. Surveillance video captured some of the attack inside a darkened hallway; during a 37-second frenzy that began when Mr. Hassan’s wife walked through the door, he stabbed her more than 40 times in the face, back and chest and decapitated her. A jury deliberated for one hour before rejecting his claim that the killing was justified because he was long abused by and afraid of his wife. Mr. Hassan, who acted as his own lawyer during the trial, will face up to 25 years to life in prison when he is sentenced.

Domestic violence is every bit as much a public health issue. Women are almost always the victims of this national epidemic. An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year, 85% of domestic violence victims are women. A witness to the incident was present in 50% of domestic violence cases; half of those witnesses were children. Furthermore, young children are more likely to be exposed to violence in the home than to violence in the street. The violence that occurs within the home is worse for children. They are more intensely affected and the consequences last longer. This form of violence has been hidden from the public eye. There has been little media attention to domestic violence unless it was a fatal or particularly horrific episode of abuse.  

When a woman is beaten or killed by a man, the result is a tragedy, not a statistic. Mr. Hassan, in a stereotyped manner of “blaming the victim,” ̶ complained of continuous harassment by his wife as an excuse for killing her. However, it could not be verified that the wife indeed harassed her husband and if she did the assertion that it would have been reason enough to kill her is absurd. Our societal response has been focused on punishing violent abusers after the violence has happened, or to hospitalizing those who have committed acts of violence after their illness has brought about someone else’s severe injury or mortality.

The situation of domestic violence could be exacerbated by social isolation. The abuser isolates the victim so that no family or support system is available to give the victim feedback on the acts of domestic violence. The victim’s life is limited by the “web” of values and actions of her husband or partner, this in turn leads to domination and control by the abuser.

There is high relapse rate of abusive behaviors by abusers, and the best secondary prevention is the treatment of violent men. However, domestic violence is underreported to police. Reasons for not reporting include attitudes about police intervention, fears of repercussions, and lacking of awareness and skills for reporting. Just listening to and learning from those reported cases is not enough, there is a substantial need for enhancing community programs fostering self-report of domestic violence.

~ William Huang