By Dr Ian Bethell-Bennett
WE have created a prison in which we live. We are afraid to leave our houses after work. We are afraid to drive at night. We are now afraid to be in our houses after dark.
Where did this fear come from? How did it happen? We blame the young people.
They react more violently because we expect them to be violent. Yet nothing improves. All studies are now showing us that our society, yes, our small-island, idyllic society that inhabits 21 miles by seven, is becoming increasingly violent. We are producing children who do not listen to adults.
We are producing young men who kill each other for sport. We celebrate when politicians boast about their violent behaviour in public.
Yet we see no connection when it comes to the way we live. Children answer surveys that show that they believe that a woman should be dominated by a man. Yet we see no problems. We are creating a prison of violence where we feel afraid to leave a safe space, but that space may not even be safe.
We usually feel that we create safe spaces in our homes. We go there to regroup and to lick our wounds from a day of battle.
What happens when home is no longer safe?
Many of our young people are saying that home is not a safe space. Home is as dangerous as the streets, or even more so. One of the latest episodes of violence shows this. Here we must connect general violence with gender-based violence and domestic violence. Why do we create barriers between them as if domestic violence is less violent, less bad, less hostile and less destructive than street violence?
Domestic violence, despite having a seemingly ‘gentle’ name is actually more caustic than street violence. It destroys any notion of safety. It destroys any idea of escape. It breaks apart our entire notion of home and self. When we grow up in homes that are violent, where do we flee to for safety? When we leave our childhood homes and move into our own homes, and we marry into violence, where do we find solace?
The internet provides another testament to the level of violence we walk through everyday. There, people post videos of themselves either inflicting violence on someone one or being the recipient of violence.
How does someone live with that level of violence? Are we taught that we are worth so little that we merit that kind of treatment? How can we live with such terror and pain day in and day out? Is it because there are usually very good moments in those relationships that fool us into thinking the violence is gone? Do we learn from our childhood homes, as studies are now demonstrating, that violence is normal and interpersonal violence is to be expected?
We know now that unless there is some kind of intervention, people who live with violence as children will reproduce that violence, notwithstanding their gender/sex.
Throw out the idea that girls will not be violent when they are brought up in an environment of violence. Gender construct is very much a construct. We create people to be violent; their sex is irrelevant. But what role does society play in this?
Sitting in a movie theatre one night watching a rather violent movie, I was horrified by the audiences’ reaction to a particularly heinous attack on a woman. The man in the film sexually assaulted the woman and broke her bones and tore her flesh.
Meanwhile, the audience cheered and shouted for him to give it to her harder. Beat her!
The audience was not men alone; it was populated by women who were as vociferous as the men. They egged on the character on the screen. What does that tell us?
When they left that cinema, where did they go? What did they do? Who did they hurt?
When violence becomes normalised, it knows no limits. It does not remain in the streets; we instead become prisoners to violence. We know no other way to respond to provocation than with violence. The less educated we are, the less able to reason, the more automatic violence becomes. In the meantime we continue to inhabit our prisons without trying to break free (other than through thinking that policing will stop the violence; policing will only make the violence worse).
People often blame the victim. For example, if the victim is gay; because they are gay they are wrong, and so God frowns on them and allows them to be beaten, tortured and killed. Wherefore goeth the God of non-judgment? Does being anything condone someone else to beat, torture, kill a person? Perhaps it is like saying, because they are black, I will beat them. They deserve to be beaten. Because they are short, I will torture them.
We all decry Hitler’s atrocities, yet we blame the victim of domestic and gender-based violence. Where is the difference? Could the Jewish community escape being Jewish? Could a woman stop being a woman? What would happen if she did? What would happen if the Jewish communities decided to stop being Jewish? Who gives us the right to determine who lives?
Then we often say that the victims should have left their homes before things escalated. How does someone leave a relationship that has beaten their will into the ground and destroyed their idea of self? This kind of violence takes time to develop, it does not begin until the groundwork has been laid, until the person is almost completely isolated from his or her community. Where would they go given the isolation the predator would have created?
We live in a prison of violence. How can we escape it when we think that it is normal and continue to justify or excuse it? Can we work to escape this prison of violence that has held us hostage for far too long and is only getting worse?
Thinking back to that movie where the audience cheered on the woman’s attacker, Hollywood is not real, why do we choose to believe and consume the violence they sell us? Would refusing to live in that violence free us from our current prison?