Attacking the root cause of DVA …

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Written by Kudakwashe Nyakudya

Many of us are doing extensive work in assisting those affected by  Domestic Violence & Abuse (DVA), at different levels of government and society. However deeper observation directs that we need to do more work in attacking the root cause of DVA, with the vision to eradicate the pandemic completely.  This root cause is the abusive behaviour of those we commonly call “perpetrators”.

Like anything in life, a problem is effectively eradicated if its roots are pulled out and discarded. Managing symptoms, or consequences of its existence, does not eradicate it. What the bulk of us service providers are doing, is working to manage the symptoms, and consequences of DVA perpetration that manifest in the lives of adult and child victims, but not attacking the root cause. The work we do is crucial, however if that is all we do, then we are not dealing with the real problem confronting our communities. If one perpetrator can have numerous victims, imagine how statics will radically reduce if work with them is ultimately effective.

The extent of DVA reveals that it kills more women than cancer or road accidents, in Europe, with 2 women killed in England alone each week. Women who survive domestic violence are reported to have long term physical and mental health problems, a fifth more than other women. Women’s Aid reports that DVA has repeatedly been identified as a major factor leading to death in or related to pregnancy and childbirth. 

At times DVA co-exists with sexual abuse, and female genital mutilation, among others. Recent statistics show that 20% of women are victims of sexual abuse from the age of 16. 5% reported being victims of serious sexual offences since the age of 16, and 90% knew their perpetrator. Of the 90%, 56% reported their abusers were their partners or ex-partners. Only 15% of victims had reported these offences to the police. Reports also show that the proportion of DVA offences classed as ‘most serious violence’ is increasing, so is the severity of injuries suffered by victims.

A 2002 study by Women’s Aid examined the experiences of 200 female survivors of DVA. They found that 60% of the women had fled from their homes with their children, because they feared that they or their children would be killed by their perpetrators. In the same study, 76% of women experienced post-separation violence. In addition to all this trauma, more than 50% of those with post-separation child contact arrangements, with their former abuser, continued to have serious problems with the contact.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) reports that DVA has serious impact on children’s behaviour and well-being, even if they are not directly harmed.  Children endure DVA in different ways, that directly damage their physical, psychological or emotional development. Because of that, children affected by DVA often display more behavioural and emotional problems, both internally and externally. They are also more likely to be at risk of other types of abuses.

The NSPCC also shows that DVA is a core issue in child protection, and is a key factor in the family backgrounds in two thirds of serious case reviews where a child has been killed. They also report that adult males are the main perpetrators of DVA, accounting for 93.8% of all cases between parents. Therefore work with child survivors needs to be radical enough to prevent any of them from becoming future perpetrators, after witnessing or experiencing the gross trauma of DVA. 

In 2011, the Trust for London and the Henry Smith Charity, highlighted that DVA accounted for a minimum of £5 billion each week in every region of England. They estimated the human and emotional costs to be almost £26m per day. The figures show the substantial financial impact of DVA that applies stress on all services from housing and social services to NHS services and the criminal justice system. A study released by Open University last month reveals that the cost of DVA could actually be 10% of the UK’s national income.

The heights and depths of these statistics show the many areas of life affected by DVA perpetration – impacting individuals, communities, and the nation as a whole. There is also immeasurable damage to children, whose potentially remarkable future is yet to unfold, before it is crashed. The later, shows the piercing greater need for attacking the root cause of DVA.

Given this highlighted extent of the devastation caused by DVA, the most effective approach would be one that uses a measure of intensity that exceeds the measure of the known impact of DVA. In other words, the positive force of intervention has to be greater than the negative force of devastation, for the intervention to succeed. It should also challenge all the areas of perpetrating behaviour, especially the abuse of “power and control”

Neil Blacklock, in a journal of the Royal College of Psychiatrists advocates that any intervention for perpetrators must incorporate – challenging the perpetrator’s denial mechanisms and the gender-based assumptions; safe programme delivery only when coupled with safety-oriented support and empowerment work with a perpetrator’s victims; other professionals giving a coordinated message that DVA is unacceptable and hold perpetrators accountable for their behaviour; and fostering perpetrators to have a growing intolerance of the abuse of women in the community as a whole.

Neil’s approach may deal with the perpetrator’s behaviours, however, a method that compels victims to engage with a programme for the sake of the perpetrator’s transformation, is utter re-enslavement of the victims. After fleeing from DVA, many victims just desire to move on with their lives, without being drawn back into an arrangement that re-connects them with their abusive ex-partners.

Another arm, that must be examined is the effectiveness of legal proceedings and punishment of perpetrators. In too many cases, it is the Criminal Justice System and Civil Courts that have re-placed victims at risk, through different ways. There is also a question about whether a prison sentence, where applied, enforces perpetrators to change, or whether it only serves as a tool for punishment. Another question also has to do with the leniency of courts towards perpetrators.

The national organisation, Respect, advocates for “tough and effective punishment” for perpetrators. They also state that early intervention and protection of victims is crucial for increasing the effectiveness of criminal justice system responses. Early intervention can be proactive instead of reactive, to avoid tragedies like that of Rachael Slack. Respect adds that the protection of victims and their children is increased where the perpetrator’s criminal behaviour is appropriately sanctioned, and the culture of tolerance to DVA is challenged publicly.

Working with victims of adult & child victims of DVA is a “life-saving mission”.  If the consequences of DVA on victims’ lives where caused by some type of pandemic disease, there would be vaccines to prevent it or medical intervention to cure it. Medical interventions usually seek to eradicate a disease.

In regard to DVA, what we are faced with is a pandemic social problem, that needs a similar approach, dedicated to eradicate it completely.  The aggressive devastation caused by DVA on individuals, the community, and the nation, shows that we need to intensively work with perpetrators, ensuring “tough and effective” punishment is applied where required, so that change occurs in perpetrators with long term benefits to the community.

© Kudakwashe Nyakudya 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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