THE SOCIETAL ISSUE
Domestic violence is not just a woman's issue, its a societal issue since we are all affected by its impacts. In general, the optimal approach to addressing societal issues is not to marginalize any group, but rather to embrace every legitimate source of support and assistance. In regard to domestic violence, that means that both men and women, collectively and united, must play a role in addressing the negative consequences which we all find so abhorrent.
The white ribbon campaign, sponsored by "Men Against Violence Against Women", is an international success in terms of its ability to mobilize public awareness during a specific period of time. The cause presumes that men, for the most part, are the problem and reaches out to suggest that some men do not feel comfortable being left out of this issue by feminist groups. Often is the case that a man displaying the white ribbon on his lapel will be mocked by a woman because of the polarization of views that some hold. However, the facts are clear that the incidence of violence is actually common to both genders and that we all share in the responsibility to mitigate the consequences. Abuse of men should not be viewed as merely the opposite side of the coin of abuse of women. Both are part of the same problem which should be described as one person abusing another person. The problem must be faced and dealt with, not in terms of gender, but in terms of humanity. In that context, violence is a societal issue.
It would be naive to think that domestic violence could be totally eliminated. Often the concept of "zero tolerance" has been suggested as an achievable objective. And yet over the decades not only has the problem not been reduced, it has in fact increased according to Statistics Canada.
One of the most frustrating aspects of discussing the subject is finding that terminology is often used interchangeably depending on who you are talking to or which material you are reading. Domestic violence, domestic abuse, domestic assault, spousal violence, spousal abuse, spousal assault, wife abuse, wife assault and violence against women are all examples of terminology that one will find in research documentation. However, how each is defined or qualified could give substantially different results, thereby opening the door to misuse, deliberate or otherwise.
Abuse is often categorized as physical, emotional, or sexual. Physical abuse includes hitting, punching, slapping, pinching, spitting, hair pulling, pushing, kicking, choking, arm twisting, using a weapon, or forcible confinement. Emotional abuse includes threatening, insulting, isolation from friends or family, destroying of personal property, withholding money or food, controlling personal activities, public humiliation, threatening to abandon spouse or children, blaming for things that were not their fault, name calling, belittling, scorning, and swearing. Sexual abuse includes unwanted sexual touching, forced sexual activity, sexual degrading, forced prostitution and forced viewing of pornography. This collective definition of abuse is such that there is likely not a person on the face of the earth who has not been abused. As such, if you wanted to demonstrate high rates of prevalence, abuse is the best term to use. Not all the above are offences under the Criminal Code and not all can be characterized as violent. Those that are violent can also be broken down into minor and severe. The term "spousal" may or may not include common-law and the term "domestic" may or may not include ex-partners. You also need prevalence information so that you understand whether an incident occurred once in a persons entire lifetime or whether the occurrence is current or repetitive.
Here are just a few definitions that I found in my research:
- Domestic violence is the learned pattern of behaviour used by one person in a relationship to control the other person. The partners may be married or not married, living together, separated or dating.
- When spouses, intimate partners, or dates use physical violence, threats, emotional abuse, harassment, or stalking to control the behaviour of their partners, they are committing domestic violence.
- Domestic abuse is a pattern of assault and controlling behaviour, both criminal and non-criminal, perpetrated on one adult intimate by another.
- Domestic violence is intentional physical injury, and/or a pattern of intentional acts that affect psychological well-being, and/or forced sex or sexual activity.
- Violence against women includes physical assault, sexual assault, neglect, verbal attacks, insults, threats, harassment, and other psychological abuses.
- The United Nations Declaration on elimination of violence against women defines it as any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.
The range of the definitions is so broad that it would be extremely difficult to put real focus on the issue at hand. My preference is to use domestic violence for discussion purposes although I find that abuse or violence by a person on another person is more reflective of my concerns.
Domestic violence is often referred to as spousal abuse or more specifically wife abuse. And yet informed experts have stated clearly that the incidence of criminal violence is equally applicable to both men and women. In fact, the severity of abuse is worse in the case of women against men for a very simple reason. When a man physically abuses a woman, he typically uses his hands. When a woman abuses a man, she normally uses a weapon or an object.
At this point, it might also be useful to introduce some facts about the law. Any type of forced sex constitutes sexual assault under the Criminal Code of Canada including between married partners. The Criminal Code specifically says that husband and wife can be charged with the crime of assault or sexual assault whether they were living together or not. Any type of intentional or unwanted force applied to another person constitutes assault under Section 265 of the Criminal Code.
This section could be used for the most serious to the least serious forms of assault. A simple nudge is an assault. The Criminal Code also prohibits, and more severely punishes, other forms of assault classified as assault with a weapon, assault causing bodily harm or aggravated assault (where a wound or disfigurement results from the assault or the life of the victim was endangered).
Sexual assault is a separate crime, as is sexual assault with a weapon, sexual assault facilitated by threatening a third party, and sexual assault which causes bodily harm. The Criminal Code also covers, and more severely punishes, aggravated sexual assault which, as above, includes situations where a wound or disfigurement results from the assault or the life of the victim was endangered.
The Criminal Code now has anti-stalking protection, known as criminal harassment. It punishes any person who recklessly harasses another person by engaging in contact causing that person to reasonably fear for their safety or the safety of anyone known to them. You do not have to wait until you are assaulted to avail yourself of the provisions of the Criminal Code. Preventative justice is available in the form of Section 810 which allows you to go before a provincial court judge and request a "keep the peace" promise on the part of the aggressor. It is a crime in and of itself to refuse to sign a peace bond ordered by the court, or to disobey an existing bond.
Some provinces have unique laws to deal with family violence. For example, Manitoba has a special court set up to deal with family violence. Saskatchewan has new legislation which enhances the powers of Justices of the Peace to judicially intervene instantly in family violence cases. Tort remedies always exist above and beyond criminal or statutory law remedies. Assault and battery is a long-standing tort for which damages can be sought against the perpetrator. Note that while criminal remedies seek to address the perpetrators conduct, civil remedies under tort, seek to financially compensate the victims for damages suffered. Further detailed information on Legal Rights is included in the Appendix 1.
Beyond the laws of people, there are also certain natural laws which should be kept in mind. For example, women give birth and that exclusive role has a great deal to do with how we have evolved as a society. Being a mother and raising children is, in my view, the single most important job in the world. However, under growing social pressures for individual equality, this role is losing recognition for its value to our society. It is also an important factor relating to domestic violence since 21% of assaults of women occur during pregnancy.
Among the other more obvious differences, women, on average, are shorter and weigh less than men. It's a striking example of what scientists call sexual dimorphism, a phenomenon found in many species that goes beyond differences directly linked to reproduction. A fossil female from 3.2 million years ago, was a diminutive adult of 3 feet 7 inches tall and no more than 60 pounds.
In comparison, the male fossil measures about 5 feet 3 inches and 110 pounds. As the evolution of the species progressed, the size differential narrowed but still remains significant. By contrast, modern humans are not only bigger but their body-size dimorphism has declined. On all whole, men today are only about 15% to 20% heavier and 5% to 12% taller than women.
The amount of dimorphism has significant implications to behaviour. In primates for example, those that are highly dimorphic, like gorillas, tend to be a polygamous species, not monogamous. Males fight with each other for sexual access to females, and the larger, stronger ones would presumably have an advantage among them and thus pass on more of their genes to succeeding generations.
While this would have favoured the continuation of large males, it presumably would also have tended to produce larger females over time. This has been the long-term trend. Scientists note that the gap in male-female sizes in the human lineage has been closing less as a result of slight increases in male stature than as a result of the tremendous leap in female size.
As dimorphism diminished toward current levels, there was a transition in human sexual and family life when humans began to bond, as a rule, with only one partner. Gradually large size ceased to be such an overwhelming advantage for males as the level of sexual dimorphism narrowed. In other words, as the size differential between males and females became less pronounced, social equity began to evolve.
There can be little doubt that over time, men have taken advantage of the size differential to assert themselves. However, as a society evolves in terms of its values and norms, the utilization of ones size for the sake of power becomes unacceptable. Those who are unable to control their physical advantage or who use it to overpower a situation, are looked upon in a negative light for their opportunism. However, it is no wonder that the traditional view of domestic violence is a man physically abusing a woman.
In a civilized society, size shouldnt matter but when all else fails, it does provide a significant advantage. The size differential is a fact which will continue to affect the issue of domestic violence. It will be held against men and used by women as leverage in advancing womens issues. As long as there is someone who is larger, some will continue to exploit that reality to lever their position or to exercise control or dominance. All we can reasonably hope for, is for society to adopt values which teach that taking advantage of ones size to the detriment of others is wrong. Our laws reflect the principle, but special interests continue to abuse the size differential mainly because of our collective tolerance.
The terms "wife beating" and "battered women" have become political expressions and the issue of domestic violence has been substantially taken out of the arena of serious sociological study and thrust into the political arena. The definitions of spousal abuse and the proposed remedies, will therefore likely be political ones, not necessarily ones which respond to the reality of the existing problems.
Domestic violence is a two-way street and should be acknowledged as such. Some sociologists suggest that as long as women do not take responsibility for their participation, they will remain disempowered and completely dependent upon men to change. Is that what women really want? Domestic violence should not be tolerated and we should deal with it on those terms. As a start, we must better understand the conditions that women and men create that allows for and sustains that violence. Male bashing and protection of women's innocence only perpetuates the problem.
Domestic violence is a confusing and disturbing phenomenon, perhaps rooted in the frustrations and disappointments of a hectic society, but it is not gender specific as some would have us believe. In what has been called the "dance of mutual destruction", mainstream research indicates that men and women abuse each other with almost equal frequency.
According to family violence researchers, Dr. James Sniechowski and Dr. Judith Sherven, blaming men doesnt stop domestic violence. They describe the issue of domestic violence as having at least two sides. One is the physical, impulsive and vicious act of abuse. When that occurs, the only reasonable response is to take whatever means is necessary to stop it. However, the heightened debate has remained fixated on the urgency of the violence. That keeps us focused on punishment of the abuser who is almost exclusively the male.
The other side, which receives almost no serious attention, is the prevention and ultimate resolution of the problem. It receives almost no serious attention because the roots of domestic violence can only be found in the co-created, interpersonal relationship dynamics between both people that foster the violence. Solutions will emerge only from an objective look at how the two people are participating in the situation of ongoing brutality. That, however, is considered to be politically incorrect and the denial surrounding co-responsibility is enormous.
There are those who claim that domestic violence occurs unexpectedly, with little warning, even for people who were in long-term relationships and supposedly knew one another. This is simply not the case. Psychologist, Dr. Lenor Walker, Ph.D., made the idea of "learned helplessness" part of the diagnosis of the woman's role in domestic violence. According to Dr. Walker, women interviewed in shelters described the process as having three distinct stages; 1) the tension building stage where both persons sense the oncoming eruption; 2) the battering incident when the violence erupts; and 3) the remorseful stage in which both parties expressed sorrow for what took place. There is an entire phase of warning, especially for people who have turned their awareness and responses to the violence. In most cases, the violence is present during the courtship although not as severe as it later becomes.
Is it possible that people would enter into, or return to, a relationship in which they knew they would be at risk of being beaten or killed? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. The proof is in the recidivism rates for both men and women who return to an abusive relationship or leave it only to resume the violence with a new partner. According to recent research, some women take the position that hope springs eternal for people in love and they shouldn't be held accountable for the abusive choices they make. This is precisely the kind of romantic notion that men and women cling to and use to seduce themselves into staying in relationships in which there is clear evidence that they should leave.
Often friends and parents try to intervene but the obvious dangers are overlooked, when the women says something like "I just love him enough that he may change." Battered men say exactly the same kinds of things. What is needed in situations of verbal and physical abuse is not romantic fantasy but a critical and self protective assessment of the facts followed by a decision based on those facts. Anyone who has any experience with shelters for battered women will know that more than 80% of women will return to their abusive spouse because "I love him." Rarely will any counseling or mediation take place.
In an 1994 article entitled "Backlash and Battered Husbands", co-authored by Dr. Sniechowski and Dr. Sherven, they discussed the subject of how partners in an abusive relationship are drawn together. It was their view that men and women, consciously and unconsciously, design together the relationship arrangements that house their lives. In varying degrees over time, both are responsible and accountable for what happens. A focus on laws and police policies will not change the battered woman's character. If she assumes no responsibility for involvement in the violence, she will remain blind to her collusion and the likelihood of her developing a healthy relationship is very negligible. The same is true of men.