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Responding to violence against women: Evidence from analysis of case records

Dissemination Seminar on "Responding to violence against women: Evidence from analysis of case records", was conducted on 28th March 2022 from 10 am to 2 pm, at Hotel Bawa International, Mumbai

CEHAT, with support from the American Jewish World Service (AJWS), embarked on a project aiming to collaborate with civil society organizations and networks and develop a research agenda to identify key concerns of young women and adolescents reporting violence. We identified three partner organisations across India working in the area of violence against women (VAW)- Stree Mukti Sangathana (SMS) in Maharashtra, Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiatives (AALI) Trust in Uttar Pradesh and Jan Sahas in Madhya Pradesh- and charted a research roadmap based on their objectives, expertise and interventions.

On March 28, 2022, CEHAT organised a seminar in Mumbai, providing a platform for dissemination of findings of these research projects. Nearly 50 researchers and practitioners from organizations working in the field of gender-based violence were in attendance. After brief introductions, Sangeeta Rege (Coordinator, CEHAT) explained how case records of grassroots level organisations can be a valuable source of data, providing insights about how to effectively respond to violence against women. Rigorous analysis of such service records could lead us to findings which can be used for advocacy and policy-change. Following this, each of the partner organisations presented their work and research findings to the audience. Every presentation was followed by a discussion which was moderated by Dr. Padma Bhate-Deosthali (Senior Advisor, CEHAT).

SMS presented their study examining joint sessions as an intervention strategy in cases of domestic violence. They analysed 239 cases from service records of one Family Counselling Centre in 2018- 19. It was found that most women reporting to the centre (93%) favoured a joint session and expected them to aid their need of questioning their partners about non-provision of financial support, abusive behaviour, addiction and extramarital affairs. Out of 90 cases for which joint session was conducted, 62 percent reported reconciliation on women's terms. Interventions ranged from drawing comparisons of husband and workplace violence, addressing gender role expectations by encouraging husbands to take on household responsibilities, helping husbands realise the impact of alcohol on health and wellbeing, and making referrals to de-addiction centres where required. In cases where partners refused to accept the mediation, counsellors assisted women in taking legal action against the husband. It was concluded that limitations of joint sessions, information about alternative options and safety plans in case of violence escalation should be communicated to the survivors.

AALI Trust studied access to support services by survivors of gender-based violence based on records from their community-based case workers program. The study was based on analysis of 399 cases responded by caseworkers in 11 districts of Uttar Pradesh in 2020-21. Findings revealed that a large chunk of cases were referred to caseworkers through the community, followed by other local organisations, women’s self-help groups and social workers. It was encouraging to see that 46 percent of the survivors sought help within the first 5 years of abuse with 15.5 percent seeking help after one incident. Analysis also highlighted that while 30 percent survivors did not seek any support before establishing contact with the case-workers, majority sought some form of formal (from law enforcement, local administration, ASHA/ANMs, helplines) or informal (from family and panchayats) support before. There was an overwhelming reliance on forced mediation in responding to cases of violence across all social support systems. Additionally, barriers to access also included lack of legal expertise, refusal to register FIR, incongruent role compliance by local administrators, thus causing delay in relief. The study details secondary victimisation of survivors, which further impedes help-seeking and legitimises the normalisation of violence against women.

Jan Sahas Foundation, under their KBK programme, provide comprehensive care and support to adolescent survivors of sexual violence. Their study analysed data from 136 cases of pregnancies in unmarried adolescent girl survivors from 2015 to 2021. Findings revealed that majority of the survivors held marginalised caste identities, thus facing additional barriers in their quest for justice. Many survivors were subjected to the unscientific and legally banned two-finger test. While half of the cases underwent childbirth, adverse outcomes like neonatal deaths were common. Almost one in every three cases underwent an abortion. In 20 percent cases, a compromise was reached between survivor and abuser- which were either in the form of monetary compensation or compromised marriages. It was highlighted that factors like delay in utilization of abortion services due to social stigma, uninformed health professionals, legal red-tape and lack of awareness about sexual and reproductive health must be combatted to ensure safe girlhood.

CEHAT analysed their service records from 2008 to 2017, to derive insights about the problem of marital rape. There were two pathways to disclosure of marital rape: speaking to counsellors while seeking support for domestic violence (counselling records) or reporting marital rape to the hospital (medicolegal forms). Health complaints ranged from physical assault reported by 46%, attempted suicide by 28%, reproductive health complaints by 25% and attempted homicide by 1%. Mental health consequences of sexual violence were seen in 98% of survivors and manifested as fear, nervousness, suicidal ideation or attempt. Of the 48 percent women who reported to the police first, many reported waiting for a long time at the police station causing loss of medical evidence and delay in accessing medical care. While the study hospitals followed protocols of documentation and examinations procedure without any debate, this may be attributed to a long-standing work of CEHAT in these institutes and may not be reflective of the situation in other health facilities. The study spoke of how marital rape violates a woman’s fundamental right to healthy life and dignity, and should not to be condoned just because an intimate partner perpetrates it.

Finally, Dr. Padma Bhate-Deosthali spoke about the criticality of each of the studies and how they provide unique insights about expectations of survivors, hurdles to access support and reasons for delayed healthcare service utilisation. Findings from these studies can help generate evidence in improving systemic response to violence against women. The session concluded with applause and congratulations for all the research teams and a group photograph.  

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