Family violence more complex than sexual abuse

How appalling and complex is the reality of family violence ..

Aug 21, 2015

By Andrew Hamilton
How appalling and complex is the reality of family violence ..

Some of its dimensions are clear. It is gendered: most violence is directed by men against women. But children of both sexes and men, directly and indirectly, can also be the victims of violence. It is also cultural: some men have grown up in communities in which it is common to beat wives and children. Alcohol is constant: men often beat partners and children when they are drunk.

The challenge of responding to family violence is even more complex than that of protecting children from sexual abuse. In both cases it is to ensure that the environment is safe, that abuse is reported, that abusers are held accountable and, if possible, rehabilitated.

To create a safe environment for children, people working in institutions like schools, churches and community groups can be educated, licensed and monitored, and obliged to report any incidents of abuse they see. Police can follow up reports and prosecute offenders. To create an environment safe from the risk of family violence is more difficult because it happens in the home, a place for intimate relationships. It would be unacceptably intrusive to vet and monitor partners before allowing them to live together, or legally to require victims of family violence to report it, especially given that they may depend on the partner for shelter and sustenance.

The rage and desire for revenge of some perpetrators exceed their fear of being jailed. For the victim, too, the cost of freedom from violence can also fall heavily: a person imprisoned for causing injury can no longer contribute financially, or in other ways, to their partner. The difficulties inherent in making the home a place safe from violence naturally focuses attention on dealing with the men responsible for violence. A punitive approach of shaming and incarcerating offenders is made central.

To curb family violence, it is important to ask why men act violently, and to help them to change. Many of them have suffered directly and indirectly from violence in their own families. Their experience has led them to express their own rage in violent action. This pattern is likely to be strengthened by punishment and incarceration unless it offers the possibility of change.

It is also important to see family violence not in isolation but in its full human context. Childhood experience of violence is associated with many other aspects of disadvantage which, as a recent study shows, interact with and intensify one another.

Violence at the home is likely to be linked to irregular eating habits, poor educational achievement, mental illness, contact with the justice system, and substance abuse. Those affected are likely to live in areas where disadvantage is marked and services are poor. In such a culture, family violence is likely to be accepted as normal.

To make the home safe from violence, we must first care for children who are exposed to violence in the family, ensuring that they are safely housed, educated and helped to learn ways of developing respectful relationships.

This demands that the victims of violence have support in living and raising their children. The many services they will require must be available in a coordinated and human way.

It also demands that men who act violently in the home have access to counselling through which they can learn better ways of living. If incarceration is the only way of protecting women and children from violence, it must be supported by programmes directed at a change of life.

Source: Eureka Street

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