Tag Archives: sexual abuse

Why Men are Angry and Women Abused

What was startling about the two domestic violence (DV) videos that aired recently on TV and on social media was not just their disturbing subject matter featuring battered women, but the frequency with which such content appears on the news during this pandemic.

On TV recently, a PSA created by a DV support group shows a woman raising her folded fist on a video call with a friend, silently signaling an appeal for help without raising the suspicions of a man behind her in the room.

And in a real life incident in the UK reported by the BBC, an injured woman used a silent code (55) on a 999 emergency call to alert authorities of an attack where she was unable to speak.

Both videos reflect the rise in DV incidents this year in the aftermath of COVID lockdowns, which have forced vulnerable women into dangerous proximity with abusive partners.  As more people stay at home due to the pandemic, the risk of domestic violence (sexual, verbal and physical abuse) is increasing say experts.

In a recent report, The New England Journal of Medicine described domestic violence or intimate partner violence (IPV) as a ‘pandemic within a pandemic’. According to their research, many IPV victims are trapped with their abusers by stay-at-home orders intended to protect the public from the spread of infection by COVID19.  As a result, across the US, states are reporting a spike in domestic violence cases during the pandemic, creating a national public health crisis.

An NIH study says that “In Portland there was a 22% increase in arrests related to domestic violence, Jefferson County Alabama experiencing a 27% increase in domestic violence calls during March 2020 compared to March 2019, and New York City experiencing a 10% increase in domestic violence calls during March 2020 compared to March 2019.”

The National Domestic Violence Hotline tracked a significant surge in calls from victims between March through May, reporting a 9% increase in total calls received, with 6210 callers citing COVID 19 as the reason for an escalation in abuse. Another study in May reported a 10.2 percent increase in domestic violence calls to the police for service.

But though domestic-violence hotlines expected more demand for services as shelter-in-place mandates were enforced, DV organizations say that in some parts of the country, “the number of calls dropped by more than 50%” as victims fear drawing attention to themselves in their households. Experts believe that the lockdown has prevented victims from safely connecting with services during isolation, not that IPV rates have dropped during the hidden pandemic.

So how do DV victims navigate out of dangerous situations when trapped at home, and send out an SOS without saying a word?

Nowadays, as most interactions with other people occur online, support groups are devising strategies for survivors to ask for help that do not leave a digital trace. In the videos that aired, DV victims employ tactics that demonstrate hand signals and options that are safe to use. Certainly, increased public messaging and media coverage are one way to take IPV out of the shadows and show victims how to reach out and ask for help without being afraid.

But why has COVID19 exacerbated the DV crisis and what does it say about the culture we live in?

At a briefing hoisted by EMS on December 4th, health advocates shed light on various factors that have contributed to the DV crisis during the pandemic, and the DV questions that need to be asked.

Dr. Ravi Chandra

“One in three women and one in ten men experience domestic abuse in their lifetime,” stated Bay Area psychiatrist Dr. Ravi Chandra. He explained that the anger and abuse that drives DV and other forms of violent behavior, derives from a culture of abusive power that’s reflected in our society. We live in a world said Chandra, where the racial trauma of George Floyd’s murder and the BLM movement for example, have an underlying aggravating cause that’s rooted in strains of a ‘narcissistic, self-centered, tribalistic personality and culture.’ These characteristics manifest for example, in political leaders or some members of law enforcement who wield ‘power, suffer from ‘self-centered delusion’, and employ ‘subordination, silencing and scapegoating’ to inflict trauma and retain power.

“Abusive power is given far too much license and is yet hidden in the shadows,” stated Chandra. The individualistic, antagonistic, aggressive, self-centered masculine power that Chandra describes is exemplified for instance, in the police officer who knelt on a dying George Floyd, while the legal recourse that shields police officers, is indicative of the entitled ‘wink and a nod’ directed towards law enforcement, when they use influence and the justice system to protect abusive officers with impunity.

These incidents are “a metaphor for the abusive household,” said Chandra, in which family members ‘look the other way’ rather than deal with the inappropriate behavior and assault that IPV victims endure from a parent, spouse or caregiver. We are all affected by a society which values money and power, especially masculine power, as more important than a relationship, said Chandra, adding that when compassion and common humanity become subordinated and under assault, it becomes difficult for DV victims ‘incarcerated’ in a household’ to fight their way out.

“COVID underscores risk factors for domestic violence,” noted Chandra. The pandemic has exposed the effects of living in an abusive household and the psychological experience of victims subjected to devaluing, bullying, threats, intimidation, coercion, gaslighting, dehumanization, calls for violence and more. Isolation encourages opportunities for psychological aggression and control, added Chandra. Furthermore, financial  stressors – frustrations over job loss, and income insecurity are risk factors that have contributed to the rise in DV cases.

Chandra also warned that DV victims have suffered setbacks during the Trump Presidency. In 2019, the Department of Justice (DOJ) narrowed the definition of domestic violence to only physical  aggression, ruling out psychological aggression. And, the administration has not reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act which has been partially credited for a 60% drop in violence against IPV victims between 1996-2010.

While women’s rights should be upheld, Chandra urged that men be given space to ‘come to terms’ with their own histories of childhood trauma and abuse. “Racism has disempowered and devalued BIPOC men in America,” Chandra stated, and this is an added psychological stress that needs examination.

Chandra suggested the need to deconstruct racism as well as masculine entitlement to power, to better understand how male vulnerability and ‘a friendship crisis among men’ makes them more isolated than women, and unable to comprehend how mutual relationships work. Domestic violence stems from this disconnection he explained.

For now though, it will take more than hand signals and heart searching for victims to unravel and emerge from the twisted knot of domestic violence. But help is at hand from advocates via the sources listed below.

As Chandra hopes, “As a psychiatrist and humanist, I hope that we can all work to create an equitable society where all have access to the all – important human journeys of identity, belonging and wellness.”

Meera Kymal is the contributing editor at India Currents

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available to assist victims of intimate partner violence 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by calling or texting (800) 799-SAFE (7233).


Links to SCC District Attorney’s Office Victim Service Unit brochures in multiple languages: https://www.sccgov.org/sites/da/publications/DistrictAttorneyBrochures/Pages/default.aspx

Family Justice Center Location in San Jose, SCC: https://www.sccgov.org/sites/da/VictimServices/FamilyJusticeCenter/Pages/FJC-SJ.aspx

Family Justice Center Location in Morgan Hill, SCC: https://www.sccgov.org/sites/da/VictimServices/FamilyJusticeCenter/Pages/FJC-MH.aspx




MacArthur Genius, sujatha baliga, and Restorative Justice

 In September, 2019 sujatha baliga won the MacArthur “Genius Award” for her work in Restorative Justice. The MacArthur fellowship is awarded to individuals who have shown “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” 

It’s an honor that sujatha, a survivor of sexual abuse, could not have imagined as a child growing up in rural Pennsylvania.

Today sujatha dedicates her time to implementing restorative justice alternatives,  across communities, working with crime survivors and those who have harmed others.  

Her mission – what she describes as her “heart’s interest” – is to heal conflict and harm without the courts and without reliance on the criminal legal system. sujatha’s unique take on alternative restorative justice has its roots in indigenous cultures. It’s a system that works better she says, “because there are no sides and it increases the dignity and humanity of everyone involved in conflict.”

Developing her perspective on conflict resolution took a long while, given sujatha’s own struggles with her history as a victim of sexual abuse.  

She talks about the anger she felt towards her father, her abuser, the shame she hid, and her fear of telling anyone the truth through high school and college.

“We were the only Indian family around. I couldn’t tell white people, because I didn’t want to be separated from my family and my father to go to jail.” 

Eventually, sujatha confessed her terrible secret to her older sister who immediately believed her. It saved her, says sujatha. Speaking out publicly made her effectively ‘unmarriageable’ in the Indian marriage market; in her experience, Indian men and their families did not want to deal with a sullied woman. “I felt like damaged goods,” she remembers.

Predictably, the Indian community treated the disclosure harshly, as it tends to when taboo subjects like sexual abuse are raised.

“It is imperative that we reduce the amount of gossip and competitiveness and using other people’s sorrows and horrors in a way of feeling better than others, is really something that we need to let go as a community.  I have definitely been on the receiving end of people.”  

She says poignantly, “I didn’t need layers of shame to help me end up being the the person who got a MacArthur. It impeded my brilliance.”

After college she became a victim advocate while applying to law school and spent time working in shelters in Mumbai, but the experience triggered her own unresolved issues with sexual abuse. Then, during a backpacking trip around India, a chance audience with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala changed her trajectory in life and set her on a path towards forgiving her father and starting to heal.

The search for healing and forgiveness in her own life eventually led to sujatha’s trailblazing work in Restorative Justice today. 

How Restorative Justice works

 “Restorative justice puts the needs of the victim at the center of the process,” says sujatha, now an attorney and  Director of the Restorative Justice Project at Impact /Justice, a national research center in Oakland advancing new ideas and solutions for justice reform.

“Instead of asking what law was broken, who broke it and how should they be punished – we ask who is harmed, what do they need and whose obligation is it to meet those needs? It invites us to a paradigm shift about these three questions.”

sujatha spent years in therapy, grappling with complex questions in her own struggle for answers. Anger towards her father had motivated her to want to study law, become a prosecutor and lock other criminals in cages. 

“But,” she says, “I knew in my gut that wasn’t the solution, because it was not the solution I had sought when I was a child. I did not want my father in a cage. Why then would I go down a road that I did not believe was the solution for myself? It was patronizing to decide for other people something I would have never decided for myself.” 

Before embracing restorative justice, sujatha worked as a Public Defender for many years, but she contends that “In all my years in court, I never saw anything as healing or as productive as restorative justice processes.” 

Why restorative justice works, says sujatha, is because it gives new voices to victims, to offenders, and to community representatives, and as a facilitator,  she counts on the wisdom of family and community to solve the harm themselves. 

“Our process starts with who has been harmed, but then it is about family and community wrapping around the person who has caused the harm in order for them to be directly accountable to their crime survivor’s self-identified needs.” 

“I am not interested in rights; I am not interested in diagnosis.  We aren’t fixing anyone,” explains sujatha.

The restorative justice facilitator creates the container of the process for people to come to their own solutions, through face-to-face dialog and consensus-based participatory decision making.   

What Forgiveness Means

Despite her own journey to find forgiveness, sujatha is emphatic that restorative justice neither requires forgiveness for participation nor has it as an expected outcome. 

“I have worked on cases where people just want answers to questions and would like their stuff back or to know what their child’s last words were.” 

But forgiveness has played a big role in sujatha’s own life.  She recognizes that her father was a complex man – he had an incredible sense of humor but was depressed and “deeply dissatisfied with his life – why we left India, he missed his family, we were super isolated.”

She reflects that “…when I think about my father, I am because he was – both the things that have been challenging about me and the positive things.” 

sujatha suspects her father himself was probably abused. “The vast majority of people I have met who have caused sexual harm, have also experienced sexual harm or some other horrific abuse in their past. That is not an excuse, but its data, it is information that can help us figure out how to end this global pandemic of sexual abuse.” 

Her mother, says sujatha, was “enraged” when she learned about the abuse. “She has a different forgiveness journey. Forgiving someone for something they did to their child is a much more difficult thing.”

But sujatha is relieved her secret came out in the open. “…a big part of what allows child sexual abuse to continue is the nature of the secrecy and shame and silence. If we can’t talk about what is happening, it can’t be seen, it can’t be known, it can’t be stopped.”

She implores communities to create safe spaces where we can tell each other what is really happening in our lives. People must support organizations that help victims of intimate partner violence and sexual violence –  “donate your time and money and educate yourself.” 

sujatha is grateful that she is building a career based on Ubuntu; a Nguni Bantu term often translated as “I am because we are” or “ A person is a person through other people”.  It’s a concept about the interconnectedness of the universe that is basic to Vedic and Buddhist philosophies and exemplified in the story of Indra’s Net. 

“We fall prey to individualism in the US, but  South Asian culture has always prioritized the interdependent way of humanity.”

At its heart, restorative justice uses this concept to bring the community together.

sujatha baliga does not capitalize her name, both for aesthetics as well for the notion of equality or interdependence of all life. “We as humans consider ourselves to have dominion over animals or think we are the most important species on the planet. If we understand all things as equal, we would be more likely to not mistreat the environment.”

Changemakers: Individuals making a difference in all walks of life

Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality and public education.

The article was edited by contributing editor Meera Kymal.