Monday, May 04, 2009

Stop It Before It Starts: Part 1 Domestic Violence

On Wednesday of last week I attended the seminar Stop It Before It Starts: Preventing Sexual and Domestic Violence presented by: Minnesota Men's Action Network: Alliance to Prevent Sexual and Domestic Violence.

Presenters at this session included: Chuck Derry – Gender Violence Institute, Lindsay Gullingsrud – Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Cordelia Anderson – Sensibilities Inc.

One of the first items worth noting is that many of my fellow attendees worked for schools, including teachers, a school nurse and a principal. This is important because for primary prevention to be effective it must be as pervasive as the prevention of other public health issues.

Chuck Derry presented the first session of the morning, Dynamics of Domestic Violence.

Primary prevention is defined as a systematic process that promotes healthy environments and behaviors and reduces the likelihood or frequency of an injury or traumatization.

What many people call prevention, lecturing girls and women about ways to avoid becoming a victim, does nothing to promote a healthy environment so this is not primary prevention. This is supported by research which shows that the most influential victim precipitant for domestic violence is being female.

The first message was that prevention works and that we have seen it work in areas where it was considered impossible 40, 30, 20 or even 10 years ago. Because primary prevention has worked in other public health areas we can learn from what did and did not work prevention-wise.

One of the barriers to prevention is the assumption that sexual and domestic violence against women has always been a serious problem in all cultures. But this assumption is wrong. Native American cultures living in the upper Midwest prior to European colonization did not have this cultural problem and men who were violent toward women were held accountable. A tree graphic titled Ending Violence Against Native Women From the Roots Up and was created by Sacred Circle, National Resource Center to End Violence Against Native Women shows how different belief systems are at the root of either pervasive violence or pervasive non-violence.

Three theories about what causes domestic violence are helpful to abusers in different ways.

  1. Individual pathology
  2. Relationship dysfunction
  3. Learned response to stress and anger
The first theory presents abusers as suffering from some kind of illness and this helps abusers dodge responsibility for their choices. The second theory gets the cause and effect reversed. Abuse causes relationships to be dysfunctional. The third theory was used in early abuser treatment programs and the result was happier more well adjusted abusers.

Clarification: Derry told us about these theories but doesn't believe in the validity of any of these 3 series. He believes in the fourth theory.

The fourth theory comes from looking at the practical positive (from the abusers POV) function of violence in the abuser's life. This is the theory of dominance. Under this theory we see the abuse as a system of power and control. This system is highlighted in the Power and Control Wheel. Rather than an abuser suffering from bursts of anger, the abuser uses anger to intimidate those being abused. The abuser's beliefs are at the root of that person's abusive actions.

Because dominance is considered by many to be an acceptable masculine attribute it makes sense that more boys and men would adopt this pattern of dominance. Since not all of the methods used to gain and maintain power and control are illegal, many abusers may not cross the line into becoming criminal abusers.

Abusers who have the control and dominance they want may not see any reason to give up having those they abuse verbally or otherwise doing everything they can to please the abuser while the abuser is obligated in no way to please those being abused.

To keep up the illusion that they are not doing anything wrong when they harm their victims, abusers need to blame their victims for the abuser's violence or non-violent domination.

One of the common beliefs among men who batter is that women who speak out against sexual and domestic violence do so because they hate men. Another is that if they don't dominate they will be dominated. These 2 beliefs highlight that dominance/submission is the only personal relationship system the abuser accepts as valid.

This violence from abusers is intentional and unfortunately our society has supported men's use of violence to maintain dominance in relationships. One of the ways our society did so was by viewing this abuse as a private matter.

Because of the abusive tactics and the impact those tactics can have on the victim those who leave abusive relationships can look bad on psych evaluations because their truthful report of being targeted can be diagnosed as paranoia.

Derry noted that there is a difference between battering and committing individual acts of violence. Many times women who are systematically battered use violence to defend themselves and this can cause a poorly trained investigator to assume that she is the batterer. An example was where a man is choking his wife and she scratches his face in an attempt to get him to break his hold. The man is the only one with visible injuries and then can use those scratches to make people think he's the one being abused.

Many times this responding violence does not meet the legal standards of self-defense. The victim's violence is usually different in the intent and the effect.

If investigators don't get the full context the system meant to help abuse victims can be turned against them. When the wrong person is identified as the abuser or as the victim of abuse the response can lead to additional danger from the abuser.

The risks for those who are battered are complex and there is no single action which will eliminate those risks. When it comes to safety plans people need to think about 2 months, 2 years and 20 years and not just immediate risks. If an abused woman is dependant on her abuser for her needs and the needs of her children or if leaving will take away that woman's existing support system, leaving may not be a viable option even with professional help. The criminal justice system needs to have provisions so that women who decide that staying is the most viable option are not abandoned.

Just because someone doesn't leave doesn't mean that person likes being abused or that bystanders should tolerate or support the actions of the abuser.

Understanding how this type of violence functions is important but understanding, appropriate law enforcement responses and general education about these dynamics are not enough to prevent this type of violence. That topic was for the afternoon.

Next, understanding sexual violence including the role it has on a community as a whole.

Here are the links to: part 2, part 3 and part 4.


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 8:47 AM   3 comments links to this post


At May 04, 2009 10:29 AM, Blogger Rj said...

This was very timely, I had to go back and add this to my post

At May 04, 2009 10:33 AM, Blogger Rj said...

Marcella, are you saying that the Minnesota presenters were giving the same old information (1,2 and 3) or providing more useful information? Or was it you, in this post, who is providing the good info? I'm a little confused.

At May 04, 2009 10:56 AM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

RJ, sorry for the confusion. The presenter gave all 4 theories about what causes domestic violence and he highlighted why the first 3 theories are invalid and actually help abusers. The 4th theory which is the theory of dominance is the only one the presenter believes in.


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