[WATCH] Lydia Abela: 'A good society cannot allow abusers to get away with domestic violence'

Prime Minister's wife Lydia Abela says domestic violence must be tackled as a society as Family Minister insists more emphasis needed to tackle intergenerational abuse

Prime Minister's wife Lydia Abela
Prime Minister's wife Lydia Abela

Domestic violence is not an individualistic issue or something that should be handled within the family; it should be tackled as a society, Lydia Abela told delegates at a national conference.

“Domestic violence is not an individualistic issue, it is a social issue, and has to be tackled as such. How can we claim to be a ‘good society’ if we allow people to abuse others and get away with it? If they are capable of hurting the people they love, and who love them, how do we know what they are capable of doing to others?” the Prime Minister's wife said.

Family Minister Michael Falzon said more emphasis needs to be placed on intergenerational abuse.

Intergenerational abuse is when a ill-treatment experienced during childhood is repeated as the person gets older within their own adult family.

Falzon spoke of a case of a 34-year-old woman who was on her tenth pregnancy – six of her children had been taken into care. “She got in the cycle of abuse and couldn’t get out of it,” the minister said.

He briefly mentioned prostitution, citing that there had to be more robust mechanisms for victims to be able to exit it.

Equality Minister Owen Bonnici said that as a society, people should come together and call out abuse whenever it is witnessed. “A person’s voice can be powerful; we know that during the COVID-19 pandemic, cases of domestic violence increased. Many times, this comes from people who are meant to care; we need to listen to victims and be as empathic as possible,” he said.

Current Miss Universe Malta Jade Cini spoke about her own experience with domestic violence, encouraging women to speak out and seek help. 

Current Miss Universe Malta Jade Cini
Current Miss Universe Malta Jade Cini

Children’s perception

Psychologist Clarissa Sammut Scerri said that children are aware of all that is going on in their homes, including all different forms of domestic violence.

Furthermore, children are distressed when they witness the physical and psychological abuse of their mothers, Sammut Scerri said, quoting multiple studies.

She also spoke on father-daughter dynamics when it comes to abuse. “Some women spoke about having memoirs of a good relationship with their father as young children, that changed as they grew… For some others, the relationship with their father was already complicated when they were young.”

'When I grew up, I used to challenge and confront him…I used to tell him, ‘are you going to beat me? Come on, beat me, come on, if you have the balls? But then I thought what do I do?' a victim statement read. 'There were moments when I wished him dead,' another victim statement read.

“Together with the dynamics of violence, fear and terror, the participants [in the study] also spoke about instances of wanting to reconnect with  their father,” Sammut Scerri said.

“The daughters yearned for their father’s love. In some cases, they wanted to please their mother who wanted them to keep their connection to him because they felt pressured by cultural beliefs.”

Turning to the mother-daughter relationship, Sammut Scerri said that mothers from domestic violence might try to make up for the violence their children experienced by being more sensitive and caring towards them.

Usually, where there is domestic abuse, there is also child abuse, Sammut Scerri added.

“Children feel that their mother did not do enough to protect them from their father’s violence and that they often felt like they had to be parents to their parents as well as to their siblings.”

“Children process their parents’ violence in varied and complex ways. Trying to force children to keep in contact with an offending parent may sometimes be harmful,” she said.

She added that there needed to be an investment in fathers. “This is necessary, not only to stop abuse of partners but also to address their relationship with their children. If they are not helped, they will just go and start new families with other people, and the cycle starts again.”

Domestic violence on the rise

Dr Anna Maria Vella
Dr Anna Maria Vella

Psychiatrist Anna Maria Vella revealed that in the past year, there had been an increase in domestic violence cases from 1,326 reports in 2019 to 1,645 reports in 2020,

Vella said that emotional abuse increased by 46% in 2020, and sexual offences decreased by 14%. However, she cautioned that this did not mean the latter had stopped.

Vella noted that last year, 67 reports of domestic violence were filed by men. “While this is a small number, it should not be overlooked – it is important men are given the space to talk about domestic violence.”

“More has to be done towards perpetrators. After each prison sentence and prohibition period, perpetrators will be on the lookout for new victims,” Vella said, calling for more help to be offered to perpetrators.