“There are criminals who proclaim so plainly ‘I killed her because she was mine’, just like that, as if it were a matter of common sense and justice of all justice and private property rights, which makes the man the owner of the woman. But no one, not even the most macho of supermen, has the courage to confess ‘I killed her out of fear’, because in the end a woman’s fear of male violence is a mirror of a man’s fear of a woman without fear.

-Eduardo Galeano

There is a long history of generations and centuries through which inequality between men and women has been legitimized, always based on a myriad of arguments: theological, psychological, moral and even biological.

This way of thinking has enshrined multiple forms of aberrant treatment of women, treatment that is covert and nourished in the strictest privacy, yet today it is frankly impossible to continue to hide this reality.

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First approaches to gender-based violence

It is very common that talking about this subject confuses terms and mixes meanings, so first we should differentiate the dichotomy between violence and aggressiveness , to avoid offering value judgments and making certain stereotyped attributions.

Aggression and violence

We understand then as aggressiveness that innate and adaptive capacity of the human being that guarantees his own survival, while the concept of violence responds to a set of social values associated with aggressiveness, so that in this case we are facing a socially learned and unadaptive behaviour.

When a woman victim of gender violence requires professional intervention, a group of particularities must be taken into account so as not to fall into the trap of trivialising her experience, offering contributions that unintentionally make her feel guilty or that awaken in her a certain sense of incomprehension.

Characteristics of gender-based violence

  • The violent event is not the result of an isolated event, since occurs systematically .
  • They are usually invisible, that is to say, they appear in a private environment and it is the women themselves who hide in the panic of having to expose their reality.
  • Many times the aggressor offers an impeccable image to society , which unfortunately makes the situation difficult to believe or understand.
  • Victims feel that the circumstances they are experiencing are not so serious as to be made public, which makes it even more difficult to seek outside help.
  • All this gear is the result of a real inequality between men and women derived from the patriarchal code that still resonates in society today. This code is the same one that leads the aggressor to use control and condemnation mechanisms on women.

How does gender-based violence work?

Violence within a relationship does not appear overnight, it passes through a number of crossroads before the victim can identify the ordeal that will bring him/her to the link with his/her abuser. According to the American psychologist Leonor Walker, violence goes through a cycle composed of three phases .

When a woman enters the bowels of this circle is when she stops visualizing possible alternatives of escape and finds herself in the situation. A cognitive dissonance is generated between the enjoyment experienced in the relationship and the nameless discomfort she suffers, because contrary to what is usually thought, there is not only shouting, insults, threats and blows, there is also tenderness, affection and sweet details that make the woman bloom with the thought of having finally found the man of her life.

First phase: increased tension in the couple

In the first phase of the cycle, the nameless discomfort begins to come to life , an increase in tension is perceived between the two members , and shy signs of what will later be the aggression are established, such as shouting and small fights. The woman accepts these abuses as legitimately directed at her because she thinks she may be worthy of such aggression.

The person who has been assaulted tries to find endless excuses and reasons to understand what is happening, to the point of assuming that it is he himself who has provoked the aggressor’s anger because of his behaviour or attitude, and what most perpetuates the cycle, he tends to think that with time he will be able to change his partner’s behaviour, which is not the case at all.

This phase can last for days, weeks, months or even years before major incidents of aggression are triggered. From a man’s perspective, he is increasingly sensitive, everything bothers him, he gets irritated very easily, and he gets angry about objectively insignificant things.

Second phase: the rage is unleashed

In the second phase proposed by L. Walker an irrepressible discharge of the tensions that have been accumulating during the course of the previous phase is experienced. There is a lack of control over the totally destructive behaviour, the woman accepts that the anger of her aggressor is out of control but she cannot do anything to calm it down, it is in this phase when the physical aggression or the total psychological destruction arises.

Only the aggressor can put an end to this state. It lasts about 2 to 24 hours, during which time the woman is blamed for everything that happened. It should be noted that it is at this point that the woman is completely susceptible and open to professional help because of the great fear she feels about being abused again.

Third phase: repentance of the aggressor

In the third and last phase before starting the whole cycle again, a state of deep regret is experienced by the aggressor , who takes advantage of the victim’s vulnerability to offer him/her docile doses of love and attention, showing at all times a behaviour and attitude of affliction and internal remorse.

It is at this moment that the whole cycle of violence is perpetuated, the woman feels loved and happy again, which leads to placing herself in a position of full trust towards her aggressor. The duration of this stage denotes a brevity less than the first phase but greater than the second, so trying to offer help at this time will not provide any positive results, the woman is again deeply in love and subject to the will of his aggressor. As the cycle repeats itself, this third phase tends to be minimized until it finally disappears, when the Honeymoon comes to an end.

Some conclusions

The feeling that there is no way out

The repetition of these cycles is what often leads to an increase in violence, which translates into greater danger for women, who begin to think that there is no alternative or way out, thus plunging into the deepest surrender. The truth is that, sometimes, shocking or traumatic events leave the person who suffers them anchored in the day or time in which they occurred, thus activating a state of shock that can paralyze a whole life in a second .

Complaints that are eventually withdrawn

It is also the repeated succession of these cycles that makes many women tend to withdraw their complaints and many even wish to return to their aggressors to resume the relationship, a situation that most society never understands.

About Day against gender violence

We must not promote no to gender-based violence just one day a year, it must be a constant speaker to reach those ears that have lost all will to move forward, the first step must be to become aware of how this fabric that subtly envelops its victim is woven and evolves.

“More than thirty thousand women appear as victims of gender violence in the total of 32,023 complaints filed with judicial bodies. Applications for protection orders increased by more than 9 percent. The president of the Observatory, Ángeles Carmona, believes that the increase in complaints and convictions may reveal a greater social and institutional awareness of male violence”

(Communication from the Judiciary, 19 October 2015)