Understanding Gender Based Violence: Culture, Boiling Frog & Stockholm syndrome

After reading the full research paper on Domestic violence in Kenya by Tom Gesora Ondicho, one is able to have an insight of the harsh reality of the toxic environment in relationships that both men and women go through and how they are violated both sexually, mentally and physically. What stood out the most was culture as being the root cause of gender-based physical and sexual violence in households. The other reasons that were highlighted in the research paper included:

  • Financial dependency on their spouses
  • Sympathy and Need for their spouses as they see them as the father of their children and husband not considering that the violent environment will affect them as much as it will affect their children.
  • Lack of family support
  • Family pressure, in that, it is better to stay in abusive relationships for the sake of the children
  • Traditional beliefs & adverse social consequences of separation and divorce
  • Unfulfilled promises of reform
  • Social background and feelings of guilt

The question not addressed is how do women get themselves into these situations and why is it always too late when they want to leave the relationship? Why do they stay even after being battered? To understand this, I should explain the two syndromes that best explain these:

  • The Boiling Frog Syndrome
  • Stockholm Syndrome
The Boiling frog Syndrome

You should be wondering how a frog, or rather a boiling frog, could explain the situation of gender based violence. What is the first instinct when one puts a frog in hot water? The frog escapes the moment it touches the water but what happens when one places the frog in cold water and gradually heats it up? The frog tends to stay as it has the ability to shift its temperature to adapt to the increasing temperature resulting in its eventual demise from the excessively high temperature and being too late to escape. Sounds familiar?

In relationships, both men and women tend to stay in abusive toxic relationships as they believe that they can adapt to the change. They believe people in their close circles, this could be their neighbors family or friends , when they tell them that it is culturally right for a man to beat his wife as punishment for her “incorrect” behavior. That beating a woman is a sign that your husband loves you and even that women can’t deny their male partners sex.

These beliefs have hindered the ending of gender and sexually based violence in households as women can’t turn to their families for help as their own family members scold them and tell them to go back to their husband and give themselves to them completely. This has led to their isolation, lack of family support and family pressure, as discussed by Tom Gesora Ondicho.

These women often turn to authority but the authority itself has failed them as police officers fail to conduct prompt investigations and react quickly, even with the launch of POLICARE, as officers ask for evidence and payment as precondition to justice. This makes women die slowly in the hands of their partners as they have no one to turn to and in the spirit of searching for peace, they keep quiet about any abuses and justify their violation as something they deserved or cover for their partners saying that their injuries are self-inflicted by accident e.g. falling down a stairway.

The moment an abused person starts covering for their partner as well as justifying their violent acts, they become victims of the Stockholm Syndrome.

The Stockholm Syndrome

When a robber comes into a bank, all who are in there will be frightened and at the glimpse of an opportunity would apprehend the robbers or run away, it’s the classic flight or fight nature of all living organisms, that wasn’t the case in a certain bank in Stockholm, Sweden. The robbery was a six-day stand-off between the robbers and police officers. In this time, the employees started becoming sympathetic towards the bank robbers. This sympathy was so deep that at the release of the employees, who were held hostage, some of the bank employees refused to testify against the bank robbers in court and even went further to raise money for their defense.

A criminologist and psychiatrist investigating the event developed the term, “Stockholm Syndrome

The Stockholm syndrome can be defined as a coping mechanism to a captive or abusive situation. People develop positive sympathetic feelings towards their captors/abusers over time. This syndrome is closely linked to a psychological condition known as Battered Woman Syndrome.

After a woman suffers persistent intimate partner violence: whether psychological, physical or sexual, they start exhibiting signs and symptoms of the battered woman syndrome. The symptoms are similar to those of one suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress

The symptoms are as follows:

  • The person fears for their life
  • The person’s performance at work or other important daily life activities is affected as they might decline in productivity.
  • The person can be manipulated through threats of violence, unwanted sex, degradation, isolation and more.
  • The person has a dislike towards their bodies and experience somatic health issues
  • The person suffers from sexual intimacy issues where they want the hurt and degradation if not they feel they haven’t been loved.

Stockholm Syndrome as well as the Boiling Frog Syndrome are not recognized as psychological conditions thus lacking a standard treatment. The treatment advised usually involves psychiatric and psychological counselling, psychotherapy and/or medication. This will help the victims to learn healthier ways to cope with their trauma. The “talk therapy” helps victims to understand their situation, understand how sympathetic behavior towards their captors was a survival skill as well as learn how they can move forward with their lives.

Call to action

Women experience these syndromes but they are not aware as they are focused on the social and cultural norms in addition to being driven by fear. This tends to make them ignorant or hostile to foreign help as it’s their relationship proving that they are and can also be a threat to themselves. The misinformation and upholding of cultural norms in the name of being cultured yet, they lack substantial reason as to why they are the way they are, makes the fight against gender based violence an uphill battle.

As we commemorate this year’s 16 Days of Activism, let’s join the call to action and unite against the violence that our women and girls face even if that means stepping in for them when they are their own threat. These beliefs need to be debunked and effective help offered to both the captors and the captives as that is the only way to untangle the web of violence against women seeing them as the weaker gender.

To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is man’s injustice to woman. If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man’s superior

– Mahatma Gandhi.

We have to take care of them, we have to protect them together and this is only possible when we all unite against the violence.

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