Research Shows How Testimony Therapy Helped These 24 Survivors Of Domestic Violence

Posted by Shirin Khan in Gender-Based Violence, Society
January 10, 2018

By Lenin Raghuvanshi and Shirin Shabana Khan:

Domestic violence is a pervasive social issue characterized by the perpetration of physical, sexual, and/or psychological harm by a current or former intimate partner. The NCRB report reveals that in 2015, cruelty by husbands and relatives accounted for 34% of cases. This figure has risen 6% over the last four years, from 1,06,527 cases, in 2012, to 1,13,403, in 2015. As per the state and union territory-wise data, Uttar Pradesh has seen the highest number of women rights violation cases so far, in this financial year at 6,110

These cases are not only related to the dowry or physical and mental violence, but many cases are of sexual abuse, branding the daughter-in-law as a witch and violence for giving birth to a female child. We found that one of the main causes of why domestic violence prevails and continues, is the lack of alternatives among the victims due to patriarchy.

Due to this, women and children are economically dependent on their abusers. In almost all cases, they generally feel that it is better to suffer in silence than to be separated from their loved ones. They keep hoping for improvement, but it is usually observed that, without help, violence gets worse.

The effect of domestic violence is not only physical, psychological or emotional but also impacts upon physical, social, interpersonal and financial domains. The survivors are compelled to live a poor quality of life, and they have to become dependent on their mayeke (parental home) financially.

They also have less social interaction due to the social shame of their poor relationship, due to which, they develop many psychological symptoms such as anxiety, the fear of going out, lack of self-esteem, confidence, isolation, lack of confidence and self-blame. “I feel so bad that I do not want to go to any place. I never feel like attending a marriage or any other function. I feel like repenting in the corner of the house, as I fear what will happen to my four-year-old daughter and me,” says 23-year-old Jyoti.

The survivors don’t disclose the abuse or seek social support, because they may feel stigmatised if others find out about it. They may see violence in the home, as a private matter or they may fear retaliation from their partners if they disclosed them. Even if abused women seek social support, they may not receive the support they need, because potential support providers may indulge in victim-blaming, or feel uncomfortable in discussing this sensitive topic.

This pilot study included 24 Indian survivors of domestic violence. The participants were selected for testimonial therapy by community workers or human rights activists during their work in the villages, or among those who had actively sought legal advice from the People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR).

To be selected, the participants indicated symptoms of trauma, such as the inability to provide a coherent story. The study includes only those survivors who also participated in the follow-up sessions. PVCHR had provided psychosocial support to 236 survivors of domestic violence. They received two to three cases of the domestic violence in their office everyday.

Testimonial therapy is a short psychological approach to trauma that utilises the testimony method. The testimony involves truth-telling and sharing the emotional pain of the survivors, as the truth is an important aspect of the process of justice. The testimony is viewed within the broad framework of social construction and provides valid information of human rights violations, without humiliating the witness. More often than not, it resulted in the survivors overcoming of depressive symptoms and cope with a difficult situation. Survivors rediscover self-worth and dignity. They regain self-esteem through the recording of their stories in a human rights context, as such, private pain is reframed with a political meaning.

In the Indian context, it has acquired the psycho-legal form that emphasizes denunciation of human rights violation and initiates advocacy for justice. It has three elements:

1. Private: Psychological rehabilitation of the survivor leads to a certain degree of restoration of the physical and mental state. This opens the possibility of their participation in a community movement and ultimately becoming a human rights defender.

2. Legal: The testimonies provide a lot of subjective information about the plight of the survivors, which help the court to take the information into account when the bail application of the accused is considered. Human sufferings are never recorded in the court proceedings. However, these references of human sufferings often go in favour of the survivors in front of the well-prepared defendants.

3. Political: Within testimonial therapy, public ceremonies are organised to honour the survivors of torture. These ceremonies provide an opportunity to bring back the survivor to the same community/society that has isolated them. The testimonies are read out in the presence of the villagers, guests, local politicians, elected representatives, and the local media, creating debate and discussion at the local level because it contains human sufferings, institutional malpractices, and failure of constitutional guarantees. Testimonies can be used as urgent appeals and for advocacy work.

The ceremonies honouring the survivors after the process of testimonial therapy was such an empowering and endearing moment and a milestone in the lives of the survivors. It was a real recognition of the integrity of the survivors as human beings, and reaffirmed to them, that they possess value in every community and society, and they have right to be honoured in their community.

The society provides acknowledgement and understanding of the survivors’ suffering and the necessity for healing and reparation. Events such as “The Kajari Mahotsav” were a celebration of their breaking the silence, and moving towards achieving empowerment. It was able to facilitate the elimination of the casteism, as both the upper and lower caste can participate together in said festival. With the Right to Information also being discussed in their school, the leaders are utilising it well for their purposes. During the festival of Kajari Mahotsav, Dalit women have provided solidarity to the upper caste women, who were facing domestic violence.


The following measures were used for the pre- to post-intervention outcome comparisons:

1. The World Health Organization’s Five Well-Being Index (WHO-5): WHO-5 consists of five self-report items, which measure emotional well-being, including mood and general interest in daily life activities.

2. The Participation Scale: The P-scale measures restrictions on social participation due to social stigma and physical disability.

3. Pain And Anger Analogues: The Pain Analogue measures persistent physical pain in the body or head caused by the traumatic event. Similarly, the Anger Analogue measures the intensity of emotional anger about the torture experience. Survivors are asked to rate the level of their pain and anger respectively on a 6 point Likert Scale from 0 to 5, where 5 is the highest intensity of pain/ anger.

The Pain and Anger analogues were developed by PVCHR to indicate the emotional state of mind of the survivor. They are iterations of the “Numeric Rating Scale for Pain”, which has commonly been used in various iterations for people with chronic pain.

At the end of the second session, an assessment of the trauma was undertaken, registering type of injuries, violations, psychological symptoms and the identity of the perpetrators, as well as other interventions that had been received in addition to TT, e.g. medical treatment or legal redress. The psychological symptoms that were registered during the trauma assessment were: Nightmares, flashback memories, fear of going out, self-isolation, panic attacks, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and sleeping problems.

Furthermore, survivors were asked whether they were members of, or worked for a political party, or a human rights organization and if they believed in human rights. These questions were posed to investigate whether the intervention had helped the survivor gain a sense of justice and personal dignity and confidence, acknowledging the principle of human rights, and feeling empowered to help others.

Qualitative And Quantitative Results


The survivors faced apathy from various concerned authorities and the police due to their patriarchal understanding. Their attitudes towards such crimes are that they are a ‘private matter’. This is appalling as the police are empowered to make an arrest, without a warrant for criminal offences involving domestic violence. PVCHR provided legal remedies under The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 and psychosocial support through testimonial therapy. Due to being in a continuously violent relationship, the survivors faced many psychological effects such as isolation, anxiety and low self-esteem. Due to these, survivors seek for a faster remedy or look for immediate settlement in the matter and punishment for the accused.

The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act of 2005 was enacted to augment women’s immediate protection from violence through emergency relief, including access to temporary protection orders and domestic violence shelters. But due to the poor implementation of the law, women facing imminent and life-threatening violence remain almost solely reliant on police aid.

In most cases, the lengthy justice process and no economic and social protection to survivors, result in extra-legal compromises involving a few people from both sides as witness. Poor and hapless women who don’t have money to travel to the district office to file a complaint or follow up on the case, often suffer. Even in the District Probation office, they have to pay to ₹10 each time, to get the new dates, even during the time of mediation of both parties. Survivors are again sent to their husband house to test that the relationship in the cooling off period.

It is a model of psychosocial support that covers the three significant pillars of work, that of healing and rPVCHRehabilitation, achieving and having access to justice and prevention, so that the practice and phenomenon of domestic violence are eliminated.

Shabnam, a participant, with tears of happiness said, “After the wedding, my world changed. I didn’t know that I had to see this day, but now I am self – reliant. I have my own dreams, and I will give proper upbringing to both my sons.” Her dream is to become a nurse and serve the people. PVCHR is making the survivors of domestic violence economically empowered and self-reliant through helping them to get jobs and higher education.