Domestic violence: how do we control it?
By Mrs. Sylvia Conway
Guyana Chronicle
November 28, 2002

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AN attractive 19-year-old woman with evident signs of severe physical abuse walks into Help and Shelter to seek a Protection Order. Her batterer is her ex-boyfriend -- a 42-year-old married man who lives with his wife and teenage sons.

She discloses that this is her fifth beating for this year. Her ex-boyfriend refuses to accept that she is no longer interested in the relationship, which promises her no personal security. So he refuses to let go. She admits that she is afraid to seek professional help because he has threatened to kill her if she did. However, her mother, with whom she lives, has insisted that she must either seek professional help or move out of her home.

This is just one of the several cases of this kind that is dealt with on a regular basis by the counsellors at Help and Shelter. And so many distraught women from every socioeconomic group have their own painful stories to tell. It's time to turn an unflinching eye on a topic that society has ignored for far too long.

When we talk about domestic violence, we are referring to a pattern of coercive control that one person exercises over another in order to dominate and get their way. It's an addiction to power and control that is known as domestic violence.

In the majority of cases, the abusers are males, but this is not to say that there are men who are not abused by their partners and may have to seek help. But when women are violent, it is usually in self-defence or retribution. However, Courts are cautious in accepting battered women's syndrome as a defence, but society must recognise and deal with domestic violence to prevent future tragedy.

Men's violence towards their partners can include a range of power and control measures including physical, sexual, emotional and economic abuse, as well as use of coercion and threats, intimidation, isolation, blame and denial and emphasis on male privilege.

In too many cases such atrocities as murder, rape and incest result in leaving maximum psychological trauma, not to mention the physical scarring -- often a case of shattered love and broken lives.

There is never an excuse for domestic violence. And social scientists examining the issue have found it has become learned or habitual behaviour. It reflects a direct perception of an inequality in men's relationship and this seems rooted in the male-dominated social traditions that have engendered the belief that men are entitled to have power and control over their partners.

Male violence to partners, ex-partners and children is reflective of an abuse of power and control in the context of his perception of male dominance. The gender socialisation of girls and boys to accept and continue gender stereotypes has further reinforced male dominance and has put at risk the safety of defenceless women and children.

The cycle of domestic violence shows how it often becomes a pattern made up of three stages:

There is tension-building with criticism, yelling, swearing, use of angry gestures, coercion and threats.

Then there is the violence, ranging through physical and sexual attacks and threats.

And there is the seduction, with apologies, blaming, promises to change and gifts.

How do we go about controlling this malady in our communities? Of course we have recourse, in the short-term, to counselling agencies such as Help and Shelter, or the Probation and Family Welfare Service, issuance of Protection Orders and temporary relief through women shelters, which unfortunately are still too few.

In the long-term, we need to tackle the root causes of the problem at the earliest stage, and all women, whether they are mothers or guardians, have that golden window of opportunity, which we too often fail to utilise in nurturing our children.

That window is too often closed in early parenting when mothers or primary caregivers, for various reasons, dispense anger, abuse, and punishment. As one social scientist has posited, social information processing patterns are responsible for maintaining aggressive behaviour in the young abused child. The style of social interaction to which the abused child is exposed in the process of home socialisation, is generalised to others, and from an early age, power relationships in gender roles are defined.

A clinical psychologist has pointed out too, that boys who witness their fathers beat their mothers, are sometimes so negatively affected, that their singular plan is to kill the man to put an end to their mother's humiliation and misery. Boys learn that violence can be dealt with by greater violence.

Children who are victims of domestic violence are often scarred for life. They display dysfunctional behaviour in which they bully others as they themselves were bullied at home.

Is the home then primarily responsible for the man who becomes the aggressor?

In early childcare, we must teach life skills without racial, ethnic or gender bias. We must teach positive coping skills such as money management, stress management, nonviolent conflict resolution and interpersonal communication. It has been found that in most abusive homes, interpersonal communication is poor.

An African proverb says that it takes an entire village to raise a child - every child. In effect, this proverb is saying that the child is a product of his home and his community.

Wanted: more responsible parenting and positive, nonviolent role models for our children. The best time to stop a man from becoming abusive is before he becomes a man.

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