I should start this off by saying I am no authority on this subject. After reading for what feels like years, and training on the subject, I have more questions than answers. Below are some of my thoughts.
Recently, while reading “Invitations To Responsibility” by Alan Jenkins, and having various discussions with my clinical team, and have been thinking deeply about domestic violence and violence in general in society. I am not going to start a debate over gender, or whose fault it is – we know who to blame for the destruction that DV causes. It is important to note that while most DV is perpetrated by a man, not all men are violent (Im a man too!). BUT whose responsibility should it be to break the cycles?
Jenkins suggests that without the participation of the perpetrators, that is acknowledgment of violence and the urge to cease, shifts out of violence in therapy are difficult if not impossible. I wonder then, does that mean that those men (and indeed women) who refuse to acknowledge they have a problem are doomed? Does that mean responsibility for violence and control begins and ends with the perpetrator? It would be easy to say yes, but what of the influences of the perp’s family, or society? This is not to say that they are not responsible for the behaviour, but surely change begins before the act itself. Change is in the thoughts and beliefs that lead to the behaviour.
I believe this could be a controversial post as some men could feel attacked. Jackson Katz discusses the language we use concerning domestic violence and how as a society we have made it an issue for women, when really it is a mans issue. As a man I can say that at times it becomes hard not to feel defensive when people talk about violence being a mans issue, as I dont consider myself a violent man. But if I think hard enough about it, I can see how its fair to saymost violence is perpetrated by men.
Carina Kolodny in her article ‘The Conversation You Must Have With Your Sons‘, suggests that parents also have a responsibility to talk with their girls about not enabling boys to treat them like objects and to help boys guide their thinking about women as people, not objects to be controlled.
I am in no way saying it is the responsibility of the women/people on the other end of the violence, and am certainly not saying that men should not be held accountable for what they do. I am saying that for a true change we cannot look at a person in isolation and expect to change him, we need to look at a wider system to work out how it got this far and how to prevent it from happening again.
Then there is the question of what to do with men who commit violent acts – is this a situation for the criminal system, or one for therapy? Perhaps a mixture of both. With so much practice working with the violent behaviour, we are missing the point, that underneath that violent exterior there is a person with some sort of self esteem and powerless issue. This is not a defence to those problem behaviours, rather a redirection of our energy. Rather than focus on violent men, we should be focussing on boys with low self esteem or low sense of self efficacy. Kids that grow up believing that being powerful is being violent. And maybe that being masculine is about having power.
In short, after much deliberation, as with so many questions I ask myself, the answers are far from simple. I have many more questions than clear answers. One thing I am certain of is that it is an insidious and complex problem that requires a change in the way society thinks and behaves for a meaningful shift.