Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself from domestic violence

A lack of awareness of rights and protections offered by the law often leads to reluctance in reporting domestic violence. Here’s how to change this scenario.

Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself from domestic violence

Saturday July 27, 2019,

5 min Read

The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, passed in 2005 was the first legislative attempt to define domestic violence in broad terms. This moved the discussion away from a limited definition of domestic violence as physical violence to a definition, which included various aspects of violence - emotional, verbal, sexual, and economic. Data indicates that domestic violence is still prevalent to a large extent in our society.

Domestic violence

As per the National Family Health Survey, 30 percent of women have experienced physical violence since age 15, 33 percent of ever-married women have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional spousal violence. However, only 14 percent of women who have experienced physical or sexual violence by anyone have sought help to stop the violence. This last data point is particularly indicative of a lack of awareness of rights and protections by the law, leading to reluctance to report domestic violence.

Important Provisions in the Law

Who is a victim?

A woman should have been in a domestic relationship with the offender. A woman in a live-in-relationship can also file a case. She should have lived with the offender in a shared household. A shared household is the home (their own or rented) where the victim is living in or has lived in while being abused. Also, it’s important to know that this law provides protection even if the offender is also a woman.

Maintaining Privacy

In domestic violence cases, issues can involve personal information that the victim may not want the general public to know. She can ask the court to not allow the general public into the courtroom when her case is being heard. The court can also decide to do this on their own.

Immediate Protection

Given the harm caused to victims in the case of domestic violence even before the final decision is made, the victim can ask the court to pass a 'protection order' that commands the offender:

  • not to commit or help commit domestic violence
  • not to disturb the victim at her office, or in the case of a child, not to disturb them at school
  • not to contact the victim personally or through email, telephone or similar means
  • not to sell or give away their things, including victim’s stridhan (wedding gifts) without her permission

In addition, the law also has certain rights in relation to ensuring that the victim has a house to live in, custody of the children, as well as compensation for any lost income, hospital bills, and child maintenance.

How to use the law to protect yourself?

The first thing you need to know is the role of the Protection Officer (PO). It’s a special post created to serve as a liaison between victims and the system. They help victims connect with the courts, the police, and various support services. One need not wait until an act of domestic violence has been committed to contact the PO.

If there is a suspicion that an act of domestic violence might be committed, anyone can inform the PO. The State Government appoints POs in each district (as many as is required), though the real-life scenarios can be different in different districts. Under this law, you have to approach the PO to make a complaint.

The Protection Officer (PO) is to perform the following duties:

  • Assist a victim to file a complaint, if she wants to file a complaint
  • Provide her information on her rights as per the Act (Form IV)
  • Help her make an application to the magistrate for relief
  • Prepare a safety plan that will have measures to prevent further domestic violence with her inputs.
  • Provide her with legal aid through the State Legal Aid Services Authority
  • Assist her or any child in getting medical aid at the medical facility
  • Provide any transportation to the medical facility or shelter home

Similarly, the law has provisioned for a service provider. There are many organisations, which help women in trouble by providing legal, medical, or financial assistance. Such organisations are required to register themselves under the Act. Once registered, they are called 'service providers'.

There are certain state-designated hospitals and shelter homes, which have a duty to provide medical help and safe shelter to victims of domestic violence. The victim can approach these either by themselves or through the Protection Officer or the Service Provider.

Criminal Law Proceedings

Apart from proceedings under the Act, a victim can initiate criminal proceedings under the Indian Penal Code. The Act offers immediate protection to the woman from domestic violence. However, if a victim wants to see her offender in jail, she can file a case under the Indian Penal Code.

The PWDVA is an important legislation, which can help women protect themselves from domestic violence. Increasing awareness about this law, and how to use it is an important step in helping the law function as an actionable tool for women facing domestic violence. There is no guarantee that awareness of the law will lead to better reporting since that will still be influenced by a range of other social, personal and cultural factors. However, knowing the law can help in making informed decisions about how to proceed.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta)