VIOLENCE IN THE FAMILY: (United Nations International Year of the Family 1994, Occasional Papers Series, Family and Crime No.3 1992)
Prevention of domestic violence is of utmost importance. Recourse to physical force by parents on children and by spouses when dealing with each other promotes the use of violence outside the family.
Verbal and emotional maltreatment and abuse can be as intimidating, demoralizing, damaging, troubling and terrorizing as physical abuse. Verbal insults and humiliations, repeated constantly in a young lifetime, are what socializes children into violence and sets them apart from the other youngsters who learn quite different lessons in their family and social interactions.
Violence causes feelings of entrapment, degradation and humiliation. Self-blame is common to all victims of family violence. The deleterious effect of violence in the family underscores the need for effective preventive and treatment strategies. Once family interactions become dominated by violent processes, the situation is difficult to alter.
However, numerous programmes around the world prove that families can be helped even in these situations. Activities of immediate protection and assistance include shelters, emergency telephones, self- help and governmental groups for battered women and children, and therapy programmes. For offenders, only limited therapeutic treatment is available.
In some countries, self-help efforts have been the response to perceived police inactivity or insensitivity to the occurrence of domestic violence. Numerous countries have voluntary mutual defence groups. In one community, “habitant groups” take measures to prevent domestic violence from escalating by placing the victim with another family for a short period and disciplining the offender. “Neighbourhood watch” programmes and other community self-help programmes can effectively expose and intervene in maltreatment, diminishing the level of tolerance for it. The importance of providing immediate protection has been borne out by cross-cultural studies highlighting the readiness of kin and neighbours to intervene in violent or potentially violent situations in societies with non-violent child-rearing practices and relatively low incidences of wife battery.
Special measures have been introduced to protect children from both domestic abuse and violence outside the home. Examples include neighbourhood car pools organized to drive children to and from school and extracurricular activities and the designation of certain homes in the neighbourhood with special decals as safe houses where a child in danger or fear may seek refuge and assistance.
What complicates the prevention of violence is the fact that violence in the family is frequently influenced by broader cultural patterns. Research suggests that battery in the family is related to the general level of violence that exists in a particular society.
Violence constitutes an abuse of power. It often emerges from the desire to dominate, degrade, subjugate, possess and control others. In the long run, the promotion of human rights, better education and the improvement of the status of women are needed, as well as a change of attitude towards domination, be it sexual or any other kind. Training individuals in the dynamics of successful family relationships includes the promotion of gender equality, equality in partnership between spouses and the teaching of coping skills. The starting- point is to strengthen the strong and well- functioning aspects of families.