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Maternal Newborn Nursing

9.5 Social and Cultural Practices of Violence Against Women

Maternal Newborn Nursing9.5 Social and Cultural Practices of Violence Against Women

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Describe social violence and the populations affected
  • Define the different types of hate crimes
  • Identify the inequality in child and forced marriages

Violence against women can be directed against women in general, or it can be focused on a group of women or an individual. Violence against women can be perpetrated as social violence, hate crimes, acid attacks, forced child marriages, and more. Social violence includes violence against groups such as members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Hate crimes include violence based on race, religion, gender, and so forth. Acid attacks, honor killings, and female genital mutilation are types of hate crimes. Child and forced marriages are types of gender-inequality crimes. Nurses should be knowledgeable of these practices and empower their patients through education.

Social Violence

Also known as community violence, social violence refers to the intentional use of force or power to harm individuals or groups within a community (CDC, 2022c). This can take many forms, including gang violence, hate crimes, and mass shootings. Those who are at risk of social violence may include persons who belong to marginalized communities, such as racial or ethnic minorities, the LGBTQIA+ community, or those who are homeless or living in poverty (CDC, 2022c). Incels, who have extreme misogynistic views, are perpetrators of social violence by inciting violence against women.

Identifying social violence can be challenging because it often occurs suddenly and unpredictably. Some signs that social violence may be imminent include threats or acts of violence, the presence of weapons or other dangerous objects, or social media posts or other communications that indicate an intent to harm. Nurses play a crucial role in identifying signs of violence or abuse while patients are under their care. Beyond reporting the abuse, nurses may not be able to help a particular patient. But nurses can help society by implementing comprehensive violence prevention programs, providing training and education to health-care workers regarding signs of violence and abuse, improving communications between staff and patients when abuse is suspected, and ensuring that appropriate support is available to those who have experienced violence. Nurses can provide support and resources to those who have been impacted by social violence, including counseling, mental health care, and other forms of support to help them heal from the trauma of violence.

Hate Crimes

A hate crime is a criminal offense motivated by prejudice or bias against an individual or group based on their perceived race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or other characteristic (Levin & Nolan, 2019). For example, LGBTQIA+ persons are nine times more likely to be victims of violent hate crimes than non-LGBTQIA+ persons and are more likely to have a white assailant (88 percent vs. 54 percent) (UCLA School of Law, Williams Institute, 2022). Hate crimes can take many forms, including physical assault, verbal harassment, property damage, or even murder (U.S. Department of Justice, 2024). Anyone who belongs to a group that is historically marginalized or discriminated against can be at risk of being the target of a hate crime.

Acid Attacks

An acid attack is premeditated attacks in which acid is thrown like a weapon on someone, usually a woman, to torment, hurt, burn, and disfigure them. Acid attacks are hate crimes and are sometimes known as acid violence. Sulfuric acid is the most common acid used in these crimes. Acid attacks are not meant to kill; instead, they are meant to permanently scar the victim and leave a lifelong reminder of the violence. When acid is thrown on the body, it causes the skin to melt. If the acid is not washed off quickly, it can dissolve bone and cause disfigurement, hair loss, blindness, and hearing loss (Goswami & Handa, 2020). Globally, acid attacks are most commonly found in India, Pakistan, Norway, Malaysia, the Gambia, South Africa, Jamaica, and Egypt, although they can occur anywhere (Goswami & Handa, 2020). Documented causes of acid attacks include a male-dominated society, domestic violence, peer jealousy, vengeance by rejected and rebuffed lovers, and safeguarding the honor of the family (Goswami & Handa, 2020). To combat acid attacks, various measures are being implemented globally, including stricter regulations on the sale and purchase of acid, increased public awareness campaigns, and enhanced legal penalties for perpetrators. Survivors, like Natalia Ponce de León of Colombia (Figure 9.3), have campaigned for stricter legal penalties.

First Lady Melania Trump poses with Natalia Ponce de Leon of Colombia.
Figure 9.3 Acid Attack Natalia Ponce de León (right) of Colombia received the 2017 International Women of Courage Award. As the survivor of an acid attack, Ponce de León campaigned for stricter laws to punish perpetrators of acid attacks. (credit: “First Lady Melania Trump Poses for a Photo With International Women of Courage Awardee Natalia Ponce de Leon of Colombia” by U.S. Department of State/flickr, Public Domain)

Honor Killings

An honor killing, the killing of a family member, usually a woman, who has brought “shame” on the family, has been practiced for hundreds of years and is most commonly seen in North Africa and the Middle East, with the highest number of honor killings in Pakistan (AlQahtani et al., 2022). In medieval Europe, the male head of a household had the right to kill an unmarried daughter who was sexually active or a wife found cheating on her husband (Government of Canada, 2021). Today, men continue to practice honor killings for the same reasons; however, the woman does not need to actually commit a transgression. The mere suspicion of “improper” behavior brings shame to the family, causing the family member to kill the woman to eliminate the source of shame (Government of Canada, 2021). Other behaviors for which honor killings are committed include getting pregnant outside marriage, being a rape survivor, refusing an arranged marriage, wanting a divorce, and attending college against the male head of the household’s will (AlQahtani et al., 2022). Causes of honor killings include deep-rooted patriarchal dominance, desire to maintain social status, poor education, and a sense that violence against women can be justified (AlQahtani et al., 2022).

Female Genital Mutilation

Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female circumcision, is the act of removing part or all of the external female genitalia for nonmedical reasons, and it is a form of violence against women (WHO, 2024; Williams-Breault, 2018). FGM is usually performed between birth and adolescence and generally occurs in western, eastern, and northeastern areas of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia (WHO, 2024). Approximately 200 million women alive today have experienced FGM (WHO, 2024). Historically, this practice was seen as a cultural rite; however, the WHO (2024) notes that FGM is an international violation of human rights and is a brutal form of discrimination against the female gender. Acute complications of FGM include severe pain, hemorrhage, fever, infections, urinary problems, shock, and death (Williams-Breault , 2018). Long-term complications can include vaginal infections, urinary infections, pain with intercourse, difficulty with childbirth, scar tissue, depression, anxiety, and PTSD (Williams-Breault, 2018). Nurses may encounter more patients who have had FGM due to the immigration of people from areas where it is common. Nurses can provide compassionate care and education on urinary and vaginal health to prevent infections.

Child Marriages and Forced Marriages

Child marriage is the marriage of a person under 18 years of age to an adult. Child marriage is the result of gender inequality where girls are seen as property or as not having a voice. Married girls under 18 are at high risk for domestic violence, poor economic and health outcomes, and pregnancy during adolescence (UNICEF, 2023). Factors enabling child marriage include poverty, lack of education, limited access to health care, and a culture where families marry off their daughters to reduce economic burden or to secure their daughter’s future (UNICEF, 2023). In the United States, many child marriages occur in religiously conservative areas as a result of a young person becoming pregnant and the parents insisting they are married to not bring shame on the family (Padilla, 2023). Most states have minimum age limits for marriage (10 states: 17 years; 23 states: 16 years; 2 states: 15 years; 5 states: no minimum age); however, most states make exceptions to the minimum age limit with parental consent (Padilla, 2023).

Forced marriage is similar to child marriage because many forced marriages occur in girls under 18. Forced marriage can occur at any age, however, and includes the lack of consent of one or both persons (U.S. Department of State, 2024). In 2021, 22 million people in the world were living in a forced marriage, an increase of 6.6 million people between 2016 and 2021 (International Labour Organization, 2022). In many forced marriages, younger girls are made to marry older men. Girls are not allowed to stay in school, are often isolated, and lose their freedom (Save the Children, n.d.). With forced marriage comes forced pregnancy. Girls giving birth at very young ages have more complications due to their immature bodies and lack of knowledge or education. Girls in forced marriages also experience more poverty and domestic violence, with approximately 84 percent of victims of forced marriage being physically abused (Lindner, 2023).


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