Some discussion of domestic violence

20 years ago, Ritchie and Ritchie wrote: “The conventional mythology maintains that the family scene is, and has always been, a haven of peace and happiness. But for many it is not, and never was. / Indeed, one might view the family as an arena where personal tensions can be released, but also contained so that they do not spill over into other situation. That does not always happen. A businessman, say, may leave the house after a violent argument in which his teenage children sided with his wife against him, and then take his resentment out on his employees at work. Steinmetz and Straus point out that though we all want to consider child abuse, wife beating, and drunken brawls to be exceptions to the usually placid course of family life, their actual frequency makes them very common exceptions indeed [Steinmetz, SK and Straus, M (1974) Violence in the Family New York: Harper and Row]. Domestic violence is a daily phenomenon, as any police watch house or women’s refuge can testify.” (p.29)

“Gelles has shown why the family is so likely to be an arena for violent expression [Gelles, RJ (1979) Family Violence Beverley Hills: Sage Publications]. First, family members spend a lot of time at home – women more than men, young people more than older ones – but all may interact more with each other than with anyone else. Families are impacted, enclosed in intense relationships to which the members may be so committed as to feel totally confined. Often the goodies are not equally distributed; money certainly is not, nor are less tangible but no less desirable things such as parental time and attention, love, and, for this discussion, importantly, power.” (p.29)

One reason why domestic violence is likely to be more frequent than violence outside the family is because there is less risk of serious repercussions. If you strike your boss, you will probably lose your job and be charged with assault, but if you strike your wife, she may do nothing (except perhaps leave you). As Goode points out, because husbands are bigger, have higher status and earn more money they are ‘top dog’ within the family. Women and children have most to lose if they reject or react to domestic violence. They may have no place to run, no financial or other resources by which they can survive alone, or seek retribution from their attackers [Ritchie, James (1988) Sacred Chiefs and Secular Gods: The Polynesian World View Hamilton: Centre for Maori Studies and Research, University of Waikato.].

Because the home is private, its secrets are controlled by whoever is most powerful within it. Furthermore, police, prosecutors, courts, and other agents of the state are biased towards the preservation and [-p.36] perpetuation of the family and are supported in this by vociferous lobbies with unrealistic views of what families should be.” (pp.35-36)

“Until 1987, police practice in cases of domestic violence was to play a very low-key role. Unless the woman was prepared to press charges, the violent male was never routinely arrested. A pilot research programme directed towards reform was carried out in 1986 by Greg Ford in Hamilton [Ford, GW (1987) Research Project on Domestic Disputes: Final Report. Wellington: N.Z. Police National Headquarters]. A new policy was adopted. An arrest was made wherever there was evidence of assault. Procedures were initiated actively to link the victim with support services. This action research was an outstanding success. In 80 per cent of cases, the violence stopped after the arrest. Clearly, police felt happier, too, with their more active and decisive role, since the project led to a national review of policy, endorsed and applied in 1987. …Arrest may be a crude tool with no guarantee of correction or protection. But it is a decisive intervention that may initiate changes in what were previously intractable and damaging relationships.

Perpetrators of domestic violence may be handled by a policy, available for first offenders, known as diversion. After an initial court appearance, the offender may be directed to attend a course in anger management counducted by groups such as Men for Non-Violence. Here, males learn how to handle their anger in non-violent ways by recognising their body signs and by making use of time-out, that is, taking themselves out of the potentially violent situation. If the course is completed satisfactorily, charges are dropped.” (p36)

Those who have never been in a situation of domestic violence may find it difficult to understand why women, particularly, put up with it. Why don’t they just leave? There are always many reasons – fear, threats, children, dependency – but three reasons sominate.

Firstly, in many families violence has come to be accepted as normal, something that must be endured either ‘for the sake of the children’ or because of the background of violence within which the parents themselves grew up. Secondly, because the victim often gets blamed, there is great shame attached to publicly acknowledging domestic violence (as is also the case with incest and rape within marriage). Sometimes the husband’s aggression is followed by guilt and remorse which may be mistaken for love; if this leads to a linkage between beating and sexual intercourse the cycle may become compulsive. Violent men may collapse into a blubbering [-p.37] heap of dependency if their wife-mother threatens to leave – and who will look after the children? Thirdly, there is often no place to go, particularly if the woman’s own family was as bad or worse, and if financial resources are limited or non-existent. But above all else is the motive of sheer, and justified, terror. Fear paralyses the victim’s whole condition, preoccupies her everyday thought. She fears to stay; she fears to go. The threats of reprisal, whether overt or implied, are real.” (pp.36-37)

“McMaster and Swain [McMaster, K and Swain, P (1989) A Private Affair? Stopping Men’s Violence to Women Wellington: Government Print] rightly regard what they call the ‘ideology of men’, beliefs based on male strength, dominance and power, and conversely, female weakness and inferiority, as the fundamental background to domestic attacks.” (p.37)

Ref: Jane Ritchie and James Ritchie (1993) Violence in New Zealand. Huia Publishers and Daphne Brasell Associates: Wellington

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About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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