Sexist violence, and how abuse hides behind “love”

It is around 10 a.m. in a court for Violence against Women in Madrid, Spain. The first rapid trial for mistreatment begins and the woman is asked if she wants to tell what has happened, but she refuses to do so. It is not strange that it happens, it is almost habitual. “Do you want to tell us what has happened?”, The judge asks, to which she responds: “I can’t, I love him.”

According to the latest data from the Observatory against Domestic and Gender Violence of the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) In Spain, corresponding to the second quarter of the year, the victims of sexist violence who refused to testify in Spain were 4,231, 33.89% more than a year ago.

However, despite the increase, in line with that experienced by the total number of victims, the ratio of women who availed themselves of the dispensation was very similar to that of a year ago: 10.53 victims per 100 cases compared to 10, 31 out of every hundred in the same period in 2020.

Why do they abandon the complaint?

In the long judicial process of a complaint arising from some type of sexist violence, it is not uncommon for victims to decide to abandon the case. This may be due to various factors related to physical and psychological well-being, or to social integration itself: fear of reprisals, shame, tendency to minimize abuse, fear of reactions from family and friends.

For some victims, the problem lies in the criminal justice system, as they doubt its effectiveness (according to a study by the US organization National Network Against Rape, Abuse and Incest (RAIN), out of every 1,000 rapes, only six rapists spend a day in jail).

But for other victims, the problem is not necessarily the abuse itself, but the abuser, and the relationship they might have with him.

Stockholm Syndrome and intimate partner violence

Psychology specialists have sought to question the paradoxical links between victim and aggressor, especially those that involve affective or emotional ties.

According Andres Montero, from Spanish Society of Psychology of Violence, there is a theory in the imbalance of power and the intermittency in the good-bad treatment, which generate in the abused woman the development of a traumatic bond that unites her with the aggressor through docility behaviors. The abuse creates and maintains a dependency dynamic in the couple due to its asymmetric effect on the balance of power, the traumatic bond being produced by the alternation of reinforcements and punishments.

Another theory to explain the paradoxical behavior of a victim of abuse, it would be the best known Stockholm syndrome, based on the idea that the syndrome is the product of a type of dissociative state that leads the victim to deny the violent part of the aggressor’s behavior while developing a bond with the side that perceives more positive, thus ignoring their own needs and becoming hypervigilant before those of his aggressor.

A study on the “Stockholm Syndrome in Mexican Women Victims of Intimate Partner Violence”, found that indeed, several women victims of intimate partner violence have symptoms of the syndrome: “Stockholm syndrome scores are closely related to the frequency and severity of violence, although it was found that this also depends on other factors, such as the type of partner relationship and violence experienced.

Beyond a simple change of mind, victims of sexist violence end up being involuntarily subjected to their own psychophysiological reactions. Shielded behind the word “love”, abuse ends up taking many forms. A fiction that, unfortunately, is not always under the control of justice.

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