Domestic Violence in America
Today in American society we have many social ills. Perhaps one of the most upsetting, at least to me personally, is domestic violence. Domestic violence can come in many shapes and forms and affects many different people. Reasons vary for spousal/child abuse, but none are justified. Police/community programs have recently had a more pro-active role in domestic violence, but that is not a solution to our problem at large. On the micro level, the ultimate responsibility of elimination of violence rests on the victim. On the macro level, we must look at our society critically and analyze why we have such an immense problem and how we can help correct it. In the following sections I will discuss domestic violence issues and attempt to offer some solutions. I will frequently use anecdotal evidence, as well as statistical figures. I assign genders to the abuser and victim using he and she or husband and wife frequently?this is for simplification. Although most victimization is male against female, I am generalizing for simplicity.
Domestic violence is a prevalent issue in the United States. There is much controversy as too how much violence actually exists in America (much of it takes place behind closed doors and is difficult to identify), but assuredly we have a problem with the issue as it is reported that almost 4% of American families experienced severe physical violence of a degree that had the probability of inflicting injury or death upon the victim (stabbed, gun used, beat up, punched) (www.silcom.com/paladin/madv/faq-dv.html). This 4% may seem like a small figure, but it equates to four million victims (and that only includes the major injury-inflicting violence). Another source states that 1 in 3 women will be assaulted by a domestic partner in her lifetime (www.npcts.edu/uo/handson/domviol/statfact.html). Another source indicates that 63% of parents have engaged in violent acts towards their children (Assaults Against Women and Children, p. 219). Truly this issue is unacceptable in a civil society such as ours.
Domestic violence, when most people hear that term, think of husbands assaulting wives. This is an unfair generalization. Violence is more likely against women than men but nevertheless women are sometimes the perpetrators. Another fact left in the corner when discussing domestic violence is how much occurs between high school boyfriends/girlfriends. Figures indicate that 1 in 10 high school students has experienced physical violence in dating. The figure rises to 22% for college students (www.npcts.edu/uo/handson/domviol/statfact.html). Perhaps most importantly and tragically, children can be affected by domestic violence in both direct and indirect ways.
A clear estimate of abuse is difficult to determine due to data collection methods and a precise definition of violence against children, but statistics indicate that up to 3 million children are abused/neglected each year Of this number, a mere 150,000 cases are reported. (Don?t Call it Child Abuse, It?s Really Poverty, p. 260). This number is astronomical and totally unacceptable.
Even if children are not directly abused, many witness their parents abuse each other. As a child I witnessed domestic violence (fortunately mostly verbal) nightly when I was young. I didn?t understand why they fought so much and so often. I couldn?t imagine the way I would have felt had my parents truly injured each other. Most of the time they broke stuff and yelled and screamed. I remember the only way I could interpret the situation (like many other kids) was to blame myself. The emotional stress violence places on kids (even if not directed at them) is a very serious issue.
There are many reasons that spouses choose to beat their wives/children. One explanation that is popular is that of frustration. The (often) male authoritarian figure in the household in today?s society is often threatened by a burden of responsibilities. Even if the wife does work, often the male feels responsible to be the ?breadwinner.? If he is unable to fulfill his role, or if he feels that the role is threatened, (job problems or wife earning more), he is likely to become disgruntled. This stressful situation leaves the person feeling powerless and without control. The one place where he (again, most of the time it is a male) can have total power and control is at home. When he does arrive home and the household is not to his liking, violence may erupt due to his perception of all control in his life lost and a possible build-up of work related stress. You could call it a sort of catharsis. Another factor which could increase the likeliness of violence is the use of alcohol/drugs. My parents used to drink quite heavily. Only then would violence erupt.
Surprisingly, most people elect to stay with their spouse after being abused (even if it is regular). Some, often like children, blame themselves. One woman states, ?I blamed me, and I still feel sometimes like it was my fault. . .? (Battered Women: Strategies for Survival, p. 245). Others find that they have no choice but to stay with their spouse. A traditional one-income family leaves a woman homemaker (or unskilled woman laborer) little option to leave financially. Others stay because they think it is best for the kids to maintain the marriage. Still others, no matter how severe the violence is, think that it will go away. Most of the time, the violence never goes away completely in a repeatedly abusive family.
Often police are called by a victim or a concerned person that has suspected violence. In the past, police have more readily dismissed domestic violence calls and let the involved persons sort their issues out themselves. Upon impetus from interest groups and community-task forces, many advances have been made to allow victims opportunities to relieve their situation (at least temporarily). An increasing number of police forces have pro-arrest policies for domestic violence. Some are implementing the technology based intervention of electronic monitoring to help control abusers (Police Responses to Battered Women: Past, Present and Future, p. 92). Still, other communities have allocated many funds to battered women shelters, counseling programs, victim-assistance programs, and other solutions. Ultimately, it is not the police?s responsibility to deal with the abuser, it is the victim. The victim needs to escape the situation through separation. Once a wife-beater, always a wife-beater is what I say (generally).
In the above, I have discussed a few issues surrounding the domestic violence issue. Volumes could be written about the prevalence, seriousness, demographics, intervention systems, implications, and many other topics about the issue. No matter which way you want to look at the issue, we have a very serious problem. There is no excuse for this social injustice–especially when you see domestic violence rates on the rise. It downright appalls me. We must look at our social/political/economic institutions critically, because assuredly they are the major contributors to our social problems, including domestic violence.
Traditionally in American society, we have had a patriarchal system. This social construction is a major underlying mechanism in provoking domestic violence. The patriarchal system relies on the presumption that the male is the head of the household; assertive and always right, unconditionally. The woman is the second-in-command; to take the place of the husband while he is away?but only when he is away. The woman is expected to fulfill the mans needs and to support him in whatever he believes and does, unconditionally. Children are also to be submissive and obey elders without question?especially their father (I always remember my mother saying, ?Don?t you make me get your father!.? To see the manifestation of this early 20th century phenomena, we need look no farther than our grandparents. My grandmother (on either side of the family) never questions my grandfather. She supports him in every way; seeing to his every need without question or hesitation (I might add that my grandfather on my mothers side is college educated and my grandmother is not even high school educated?epitomizing the clash of expectations for women/men in that era. Today in modern America, however, we can see this system changing. Women?s rights are increasing constantly. Slowly America is becoming egalitarian. I still don?t see our domestic violence problem decreasing because of this social change; obviously since it is on the rise according to statisticians. I think that the egalitarian (dual-earner) state we are evolving in is creating more stress than ever for couples.
Another major player in the problem of domestic violence is our fascination with violence in America. Today, to see death, all you need do is flip on a TV set. Cartoons, that used to depict comical stories, now depict violent acts (often with blood) with the intent on competition and winning. Our kids are taught at an early age that violence is the answer. Boys especially are influenced by our machismo masculine culture. Girls are taught to be passive and feminine. As an anecdotal example: throughout my socialization as a child, it took me a long time to figure out that males don?t have to be aggressive and domineering to be cool. Constantly I was bombarded with TV shows depicting the male masculine hero that shoots up the bad guys and treats the women with utmost assertiveness. Only now can I see the implications of things like that.
The prevalence of domestic violence in America is out-of-hand. Reasons are many for our problem, but above all, I conceptualize our socialization of competition/violence and our traditional male patriarchal philosophies at the root of the problem. On the macro-level, we need to teach our kids better values and beliefs. If truly we are going to have an egalitarian system, we need to dispel the notion that females should be fundamentally different from males in their socialization. Males, to this day, are still brought up with the implication of a patriarchal system and increasingly are exposed to violence. With this formula, we can expect to see much more violence in the future. Looking down on the micro level, the answer is simple: leave the relationship. Your life is more precious than a relationship.