Expelling the boogeyman part 2

I want to know if ignoring violence can serve the same function as ganging up on a violent person to beat, humilate, or expel him. The first part of this article grounded the discussion of community response to rape, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence in a case study and a statistical review. I wondered — in light of how prevalent these types of violence are — how communities decide who to defend and who to expel. This blog post examines ignoring and minimizing violence. The next and final post in this series will look at ganging-up.

The possibility: Safety to grieve and make amends

The most widespread, accessible, and well-documented1 community-based violence recovery programs are those based on the twelve steps. In most parts of the world, there is an Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous group nearby. The twelve steps encode a process for confronting and amending harm. Program members explicity guide each other through clarifying personal morality, rehumanizing through grieving for themselves and their victims, and amending their lives.

Here are steps four through ten, from the Narcotics Anonymous tradition.

4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. We humbly asked Him to remove these shortcomings.
8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. We made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it [5].

Millions took these steps in prison or on release, and millions more for harms that others never revealed. The steps helped people face shame, anger, resentment, and fear that motivated battering, murder, rape, child abuse, and elder abuse. In twelve-step programs, sucessful abstenence is an amend that immediately and sharply decreases the risk a person will carry out a habitual violent act again.

The twelve-step process shares much in common with formal and informal non-twelve-step processes for confronting family and community violence, as documented among Vietnam Veterans in New York, Inuit people in Northern Canada, families with violence in Western Lapland (Finland), and punks in West Philly. I'll take a closer look at these models in a future blog post. It is enough for now to see that there are plenty of alternatives to the denial and scapegoating the rest of this article examines.

Ignoring or minimizing violence

In addition to the well-known skill of batterers to systematically isolate survivors from family and friends…some survivors [have a tendency] to hide abuse from members of their social networks in order to maintain privacy and manage safety…. In cases where family and friends are aware of abuse…they can be notoriously avoidant of any attempt at intervention [3].

In their paper, "Interpreting Community Accountability: Citizen Views of Responding to Domestic Violence (or not)," Hess, Allen, & Todd selected a small sample ten self-identified liberals and ten conservatives, and interviewed them in-depth about how their community did (or didn't) intervene in situations of violence, and how the interviewees thought their communities should (or shouldn't) intervene.

Public survey data showed that almost three out of four people who were personally exposed to violence against a woman kept silent.2 Hess, Allen, & Todd found ten distinct attitudes that cultivate inaction, which they grouped into three categories: "(a) a denial of the abuse itself (this can't be happening), (b) a denial of the need to intervene (Is this really a good thing to do?), or (c) a denial that they should be the one doing the intervening (Am I really the one to do this?)" [3].

Their paper closes with counterarguments to each of the ten attitudes they found. That the views supporting doing something are not prevalent suggests why inaction is so common.

Views identified as potentially mitigating against citizen accountability for domestic violence Viable alternative views proposed as potentially bolstering citizen accountability for domestic violence
1. "I just can't imagine": Difficulty conceiving of violence due to past well-being. "I can imagine": Seeing beyond one's own happiness to the true scope of abuse. Rather than being incredulous at the extent and reality of violence, acknowledging and attending to the actual scope of abuse within families.
2. "She must be exaggerating her situation": Not believing the victim. "If she is making these claims, there is something going on that I need to take seriously": Believing the victim. Rather than minimizing or questioning claims against an individual with whom one has a friendship or positive perception, hearing and taking seriously (always) the possibility that abuse is actually occurring.
3. "A little conflict is not unusual, of course": Normalizing violence.
4. "He's not always like that": Difficulty conceiving of violence due to personal optomism. "He's not always like that…but he's like that some of the time and that is not okay": Seeing beyond personal optomism to the true intensity of abuse. Rather than only emphasizing the hidden goodness and potential of an individual perpetrator, emphasizing that for whatever reason that same individual has acted in destruction of another human being's good potential.
5. "Isn't keeping the family together still ideal?": Believing in the potential of an intact family. "In an abuse situation, keeping the family together may not be ideal": Believing the potential of an intact family evaporates in the presence of abuse. Rather than highlighting and acting in reference to the potential goodness of an intact family where abuse is occurring, acknowledging and acting in reference to the actual anguish and destruction implicit in an intact family where abuse is occurring.
6. "It's none of my business, really": Framing abuse as a private matter. "It is my business, actually": Framing abuse as a collective issue. Rather than framing abuse as a private matter centering exclusively on family responsibility, acknowledging any instance of violence as a community issue with a citizen responsibility to address.
7. "Isn't this kind of a liberal issue?": Questioning the universality of the cause. "Isn't this kind of a human issue?": Asserting the universality of the cause. Rather than presuming that abuse is a "liberal issue," considering it as a human issue…period.
8. "I don't have a good enough relationship with him": Assuming accountability requires friendship. "I don't have a good relationship with him, but that's not necessary to intervene.": Understanding that accountability does not require friendship.
9. "I don't want to ruin our relationship or make things worse": Fearing anger or aggravation. "I don't want to ruin our relationship or make things worse for the victim, but doing nothing risks even more": Not allowing fear of anger, offense, or aggravation to stifle accountability. Rather than focusing personal worry on one's own relationship with the batterer and personal comfort, consider prioritizing one's relationship and their own level of comfort.
10. "I just don't know how I would go about it.": Feeling unsure about how exactly to intervene. "I don't know how I would go about it, but I'm going to find out!": Community learned helpfulness. Rather than seeing one's lack of knowledge as a reason to not intervene in a domestic violence situation, making that a reason to go and learn the best way of doing so.

A few accessible, multilingual sources of information about how to go about intervening are:
* Hesperian Foundation's book Where Women Have No Doctor. See the chapters on Violence Against Women, Rape and Sexual Assault, Mental Health, and Alcohol and Other Drugs.
* The book Our Bodies Ourselves. See information about Violence and Abuse and Sexuality and Relationships.
* In the United States, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233), the San Francisco Sex Info Line (415-989-7374), and the Backline Pregnancy Options Line (1-888-493-0092) for information and referrals.

1. Alcoholics Anonymous General Service Office (2014), Estimates of A.A. Groups and Members as of January 1, 2014.
2. Enrique Gracia and Juan Herrero (2006), Public Attitudes Toward Reporting Partner Violence Against Women and Reporting Behavior. Journal of Marriage and Family 68(3):759-768.
3. Jacob Z Hess, Nicole E Allen, and Nathan R Todd (Jul 2011), Interpreting Community Accountability: Citizen Views of Responding to Domestic Violence (or Not). Qualitative Report 16(4):1096-1123.
4. David Lisak and Paul Miller (2002), Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending among Undetected Rapists. Violence and Victims, 17 (1), 73-84.
5. Narcotics Anonymous, 6th Ed. (2008). Narcotics Anonymous World Services.
6. Narcotics Anonymous World Services (2014), Information about NA.
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