Thursday, October 10, 2013

Societal Acceptance of Domestic Violence Against the Most Vulnerable

10 October 2013

2013 Presidential Proclamation of Domestic Violence Awareness Month

When I use the term “violence” I am speaking of it from the clinical perspective. That is, actions that do actually or threaten to do physical or psychological harm to the receiver whether made using physical force, psychological trauma, or an element of control over the needs and resources of the receiver. Domestic Violence which includes Intimate Partner Violence is a violent act between members of the same family for the purpose of exerting control over the receiver. The greater harm of DV over stranger violence is the violation of trust between the participants in family members. Whether the protective obligation to the family member is explicit or implicit it is the violation of the expectation of protection coming from the person to whom such protection was entrusted.

As with many hot button issues there is a dichotomy between perception and reality. Domestic Violence is no different. Images of DV are generally that of a man beating on a woman. Strauss, Gelles and Steinmetz (1980), and (1988) long ago published findings that violence inflicted upon husbands by wives was just as common as that inflicted up wives by husbands. Strauss, Gelles and Steinmetz noted that 28 percent of husbands and 23 percent of wives thought that “a couple slapping each other” was normal along with 15 and 9 percent respectively claiming that it was a good thing. What is more amazing is that 70 percent of parents proclaimed that violence directed towards their children was a good thing. Currently about two-thirds of American parents believe that violence against their own children is acceptable. A rate that has been rather steady since 1990. Up to 94 percent of adults admit to engaging in DV against their own children when the question is framed by its actions rather than name. These parents see the violence as acceptable while engaging in “Domestic Violence” is not. So again, perception plays a role.

“This is going to hurt me more than it is going to hurt you” is the mantra of many a child abuser who wishes to rationalize his or her violence directed towards one's own child. Day, Gilbert, Settles, & Burr (1995) state that these authoritarian parents excuse the abuse by saying it is out of love for the child expressed as “interest in our child's welfare.” It is well established that this form of abuse, cloaked as discipline, is not effective in producing a better disciplined child. Coopersmith (1967) states that compliance is achieved by fear of retribution and that the violence demonstrates that the children have little worth to the parents.

Often times the violence directed at the child is a result of frustration, anger or retaliation rather than trying to develop true discipline. Instead or providing discipline it only humiliates the child which is damaging to self-esteem and social development as well as breeding resentment toward the abuser. Bachman, O'Malley, & Johnson (1978) propounded that it is the love of parents communicated through warmth and trust that fosters self-esteem. But, violence by a parent demonstrates neither warmth nor trust. As Carl E Pickard (2006) notes, parents who “choose to inflict physical hurt as a punishment” are teaching “that if you're bigger and not getting what you want, beating up on someone weaker is okay.” He states that this physical abuse “can arouse fear in the young child and extreme resentment in the adolescent.” Strauss, Gelles and Steinmetz likewise says that “Hitting children establishes the moral correctness of hitting members of the family” and that these abuse victims are more likely to victimize a future spouse or their own offspring.

While the attitudes of spousal DV violence have changed dramatically over the years there is still, largely, a cultural acceptance of DV directed towards children which produces abusive spouses or intimate partners in the future. In the 2005-2006 year school administrators in Indiana, one of nineteen that allowed it at that time, hit children at a rate of 1 per 2000. The schools were operating in loco parentis, that is in place of the parent. Nationwide the rate has dropped from 3.5% in 1976 to 0.5% in 2006. Rates of abuse by parents in the home remains much higher and is much more tolerated. A 1995 survey for the National Institute of Health found that in the previous year 35% of parents of infants admitted to hitting them while parents of children age three and four struck their children at an alarming rate of 94%. “You better not hit my kids, abusing them is for me to do” seems to be the American attitude toward DV against children.

That attitude is not without an ingrained cultural support though. The concept of children as parental property has been rooted in the Hebrew code of 800 B.C. Which considered infanticide to be an acceptable practice. The Book of Proverbs (13:24) encourages the beating of one's children: “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently.” Torgerson (1973) claimed that a German poll indicated that up to 60% of parents thought that “beating” their children was acceptable. DeMause 1974) found that 80% of German parents had beat their children, 35% with canes. Germany at that time recently had a dark history of using violence as a social control and thus it was part of the cultural norm. In 2000 Germany banned the use of violence by parents against their children. Mead (1935) had suggested that the level of abuse that parents inflict upon their children is correlated to the society viewpoint on physical aggression in general. Thus, aggressive and war driven societies like the United States have high rates of abuse and neglect of their children while peaceful societies such as Japan have a rate about 1/3 of that. Nance (1975) observed that some cultures have little or no vocabulary for violence related acts or objects of war and concurrently have little violence in their societies.

If Domestic Violence is to truly be suppressed and extinguished if possible then it is necessary that a critical initial step be taken. That is to quit breeding violent abusers through the conditioning process of directing DV towards children. It is the indoctrination of children into the societal concepts that disagreements, frustration or challenges to power are resolved through violence. We cannot count on the abusers themselves to break this cycle. We are going to have to teach them for it has been well-established that violent abusers score lower across a broad intelligence and knowledge matrix. For additional information on protecting children from abuse please visit Prevent Child Abuse Indiana.

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©2008, 2013 Stuart Showalter, LLC. Permission is granted to all non-commercial entities to reproduce this article in it's entirety with credit given.

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