The Tribune - Spectrum

, May 19, 2002

The other side of silence
Rumina Sethi

You have to Scream with Your Mouth Shut: Violence in the Home
by Karina Colgan. Marino, Dublin. Pages 190. £ 7.99.

You have to Scream with Your Mouth Shut: Violence in the Home‘HE went to the cupboard, took out the hammer and came back to the table. Then he calmly asked me which two fingers I wanted broken. I thought that he was just trying to frighten me but soon I realised that he wasn't. He said that I had 10 seconds to decide and that if I didn't tell him he was going to break every one of my fingers. I tried to reason with him and then without any warning, he lifted the hammer and smashed it down on to the last two fingers of my left hand. I almost passed out with pain. He made me sit on the chair all night without moving, I had to urinate without moving off the chair. I felt so humiliated.'

This is only one of the stories in this collection which points to the horrific violence that takes place in the home. The stories have been told to draw attention to domestic violence even though Karina Colgan, the writer, acknowledges: 'A book will not stop the horrific crimes of domestic violence and the silent suffering of all those who are abused in the family home. My intention is to highlight these crimes and perhaps help to make people aware that a very real and frightening problem exists in our society.'

The voices which have been silenced in the home find an expression in this book. We do not know much of this world but the candid and honest, though heart-rending, accounts give us a chance to experience the pain of the victims. Karina Colgan's efforts at giving a voice to them as well as a sense of the available help, which is only a phone call away, are quite laudable. The horrendous crime of violence in the home is not a problem limited only to Ireland which this book focuses on; this is applicable to almost every country in the world.


In the United States, for instance, wife battering is the prime cause of injury to women. Astonishingly, over 4,000 women yearly get beaten to death. One in 10 Canadian women get battered by their partner. The Ahmedabad Action Group report says that an estimated 1,000 women are burned in the state of Gujarat alone every year. Every nine minutes a woman gets raped in Mexico. Every 10 days one woman is beaten to death in Sweden. It thus becomes quite clear that more than any other place in modern society, the home is probably the most frightening and dangerous as is obvious from these statistics on violence. As Anthony Giddens writes: 'A person of any age or of either sex is far more likely to be the subject of physical attack at home than on the street.'

Many countries around the world have instituted legal aid as women around the world can ill-afford to go through litigation and 'a barrage of legal jargon that is often hard to understand.' However, voluntary organisations and places of refuge do feel that legal aid systems around the world are completely inadequate. Women, often, in many countries have to wait for over half a year to be rescued. Systems are grossly under-funded. There is no way of clearing the backlog. Though people receive help from such social welfare institutions, it is clear that there are long queues at most of the legal aid centres. But for the knowledge of women who want to seek help, application forms are available at the legal aid centres. It should be clear that the voice of the people is what matters finally. The legal aid systems need to be revised and upgraded.

Some experts in this field are of the view that socio-economic factors such as crime, alcohol and deficient education are factors responsible for the lack of communication or articulation. It is for this reason, they believe, that violence is used instead of words. It follows that violence may be found only in the lower classes which is not always the case. One wonders if these are the real causes of violence and whether society is really to be blamed. There can be so many causes of violence: can we say that these people are genetically responsible for their own actions regardless of society? What about violent behaviour arising out of jealousy? Many times violence arises only because the opponent—women and children—is weaker. Why else don't these men beat up people on the street, or why do adults control their children through beating them?

Thus, it is important that a study be carried out to understand what really is wrong in the 'safe' confines of the home. It has been reported by John Lonergan, the governor of a prison in Ireland, that 'men are generally well behaved and cooperative when they are put into a prison and remain very anxious about their relationship with their partner. There is no question of their being violent here.' It therefore becomes important, as is often argued, that it is essential to remove these men from the family home so that they can realise the pain they have caused to their wives and their children.

A question commonly put to the battered women is: 'Why don't you simply leave him?' Again, the answers are complex: a woman continues to suffer endlessly largely because she has no self-worth left. Her state of mind is so shattered that she cannot make difficult decisions. Financial dependence on her partner aggravates this condition. Many women suffer for the sake of their children, not realising that the children would be better off in a more secure environment. Some hope the beatings will stop and others just want to avoid the stigma of being known as a 'battered wife'. A large number of women worry about being eventually found and beaten to death by the abandoned husband. Colgan urges women to not accept the depravity that they endure from their partners because their physical and emotional abuse along with the abuse of their children has wide-ranging consequences for society.

The innumerable hair-raising stories in this book make dreadful and disquieting reading and expose aspects of home life that are kept concealed for their entire life.