By DR MIKE NEVILLE
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will make me go in a corner and cry by myself for hours.”
DOMESTIC violence. I am not sure if this is an oxymoron, domestic has a homely, pleasant even tame ring to it, certainly not a word that should sit with violence. It is however inevitable that the emphasis is always on the violence, ranging from nasty words to physical encounters that can even end up in death.
Over the past few decades, there has been an immense amount of work mainly by women’s groups that has pushed the issue into the mainstream of concern and crime statistics. The violence, however, continues unabated and there is still a lack of concern from many societies and police forces who view it as a matter to be left to the combatants to sort out. There are many reasons for this, is it an arrestable offence, will the complainant show up in court, lots of paper work and of course it is just domestic.
There are no real statistics as to the level of domestic violence in The Bahamas; we are fed nonsense facts that crime is going down and murder is just bad men killing bad men. The statistics are controlled by the police and even if accurate, a large number of people have given up reporting crime for a variety of reasons.
We do know that three women are killed every day in the USA by a current or former partner. The problem is just as bad in the UK where the police recorded just over one million domestic abuse related cases in one year and the police are reporting that the children exposed to violence in the home are much more likely to be attracted to gang membership.
It gets worse, recent reports have shown the relationship between domestic terrorists and exposure to violence in the home. It makes sense children exposed to violence in the home grow up habituated to violence but terrified to show weakness. These boys with fragile identities are likely to join gangs or terrorist groups who then glorify abuse of women by rape and other violence and the girls become to accept it as the norm.
This is not meant to excuse boys who grow up to be abusers, psychologists regard it as a choice which can be changed. The men’s group run by Dr Harry Ferere and the Catholic church has shown remarkable success in helping men who batter women to change their behaviour.
It does however demonstrate a systematic failure of our current efforts to deal with this scourge which is destroying so many lives; perhaps it is time to step back and look at the problem afresh.
The Bahamas is blessed with beautiful turquoise waters and amazing coral reefs. The reef is an ecosystem kept in balance by corals, sponges, seaweed and fish. They all live together in some sort of balance. It is believed that the reefs provide shelter and food for one quarter of all marine life; but they are under threat from global warming and overfishing.
There are so many parts of our lives that are all about balance, diet, exercise our very health needs to be kept in reasonable boundaries for our survival. It may be helpful to see domestic issues in the same way. How can we develop a human ecosystem that lets us co-exist in some sort of harmony?
All relationships have power issues that give a sense of control, it is natural to want to use our power to get what we need; not the same as what we want! This healthy instinct must always recognise the needs of others in the relationship, finding ways to teach about power and control in relationships from an early age should lead to mutual dependence in relationships.
The present societal acceptance of inappropriate male behaviour which glorifies violence, aggression and dominance; accompanied by the reality that they will get clean away with their disgusting behaviour is extremely worrisome for the future. There is also increasing power imbalances in relationships where women are getting a better education and doing better in the job market despite the country voting twice against equality between the sexes. The problems of childhood abuse have also left many adults with shame, low self-esteem, fear of rejection and a lack of assertiveness. This then leaves them open to abusive relationships.
There needs to be a cultural shift towards shared power, a move away from aggression and learnt passivity to relationships that respect assertiveness which always respects the needs of others in our quest to control our own lives.
• Dr Mike Neville is a forensic psychiatrist who has practised for more than 40 years in The Bahamas, working at Sandilands, the prison and in private practice. Comments and responses to firstname.lastname@example.org