Intimate Terror: Understanding
Domestic Violence as Torture
To punish disobedience and discipline liberty, family tradition perpetuates a culture of terror that humiliates women, teaches children to lie, and spreads the plague of fear. Human rights should begin at home.
-- Eduardo Galeano, The Book of Embraces ( 1989), 143
The abuse of women by their male partners is among the most common and dangerous forms of gender-based violence.1 Its victims exceed those of the most brutal dictatorships. As a result of the global mobilization of women, and international attention to certain ongoing atrocities, both official and private violence against women have begun to be recognized as a human rights concern. Nonetheless, intimate violence remains on the margin: it is still considered different, less severe, and less deserving of international condemnation and sanction than officially inflicted violence.2
There are essentially two major obstacles to the treatment of intimate violence as a human rights violation. One is the role of the public/private dichotomy in international law that my colleague and collaborator Celina Romany has so ably deconstructed in the preceding chapter. The second, which is the focus of this piece, is the fact thatz intimate violence -- with the exception of some of its more sensationalized and culture-specific examples -- tends not to be viewed as violence. Seen as "personal", "private," a "domestic" or a "family matter," its goals and consequences are obscured, and its use justified as chas-