Connecting the dots of violent behavior

The first purpose of a clear prohibition of violence is educational — to send a clear message that all violence against children is unacceptable and unlawful and to reinforce positive, non-violence social norms.
          — Paulo Sergio Pinheiro

Violent Behavior
By individual state statutory law domestic violence is defined as child, sibling, dating, intimate partner, spousal or elder abuse. Domestic violence is the multilevel, multifaceted use of manipulative or coercive behavior and/or physical assaults with the objective of changing or controlling the behavior of a family member or intimate partner with the intent of achieving a specific goal. This behavior ranges from threats, pushing and shoving to injurious and lethal assaults.

Bullying — as well as acquaintance and stranger violence — is also the multilevel, multifaceted use of manipulative or coercive behavior and/or physical assaults with the intent of changing or controlling the behavior of a peer, acquaintance or stranger with the objective of achieving a specific goal. These behaviors also range from threats, pushing and shoving to injurious and lethal assaults.

Recent research documents that coercive behavior or physical assaults do not mysteriously appear the first day children attend school. Nor does dating violence spontaneously arrive when young adults date. Intimate partner violence does not suddenly occur when dating couples reach adulthood or marry. Elder abuse does not inexplicably emerge when adults become elders. All of these behaviors occur across the lifespan between family members, intimate partners, peers, acquaintances and strangers, inside our homes and on the streets of our communities.

Empirical data document there are far more similarities than differences linking family, bullying, intimate partner, acquaintance, and stranger violence. A National Research Council (NRC) report documents that research on violence against women has been isolated from the research of violence in general and the NRC urges an end to this almost total separation of violence research that hinders, not helps, the exploration of proactive and inclusive causes and solutions.

Culture of Violence
In a Boston Globe article, Spike in violence has city on edge, the Boston Police report homicides and shootings are on the rise again. This most recent spike in violence has raised calls for more patrols and tougher firearm penalties. Both, at best, are temporary reactive interventions that provide little to no life span violence prevention. However, the last sentence in the above article does note both cause and solution. Police Commissioner Davis notes that, “There is a cultural norm that we’re fighting that really needs to be addressed.” There are also members of the Boston clergy who are working to break the culture of violence.

Some neighborhoods and families are disproportionately at risk. Those at highest risk are families in crisis because of violence in the home and neighborhood either witnessed or as victims, cyclical poverty, chronic unemployment, lack of educational and family support, chronic alcohol and/or drug abuse and individuals affected by emotional disorders.

A Boston Globe columnist writes that neither the mayor, the police commissioner, nor the district attorney know what to do to end the cycle of violence in homes and communities that cause many people to live in fear. This is because, as empirical evidence demonstrates, the solution is not in their hands. Politicians and law enforcement can do little to provide comprehensive and permanent life span violence prevention. The ultimate solution rests in the hands of parents and neighbors.

In a Boston Globe article, Some laud new antiviolence effort it is suggested where the city, neighborhoods and parents could begin. Most people ignore or have overlooked the fact that this Globe article identifies the necessity of breaking the cycle of violence in the home. The article notes that, “Violence starts and ends in the home, even though its most visible effects may play out on the streets.” Violence intervention and prevention needs to begin the day a child is born. A primary cultural norm that needs to be addressed is that many parents raise their children using coercion and physical assaults to control their child’s behavior and/or to achieve parental goals.

Many people are unwilling or unable to recognize that the cultural norm of violence too often begins with parents in their homes because as a once famous (now mostly forgotten) possum, POGO noted, “We have met the enemy and the enemy is us.”

And the enemy is in denial.

Parents use — and society continues to condone raising children with the use of — coercion and physical assaults. Why do societies in general and parents in particular appear surprised when toddlers, adolescents, teens, young adults, and adults continue this parental role modeling behavior with peers or intimate partners to achieve their real or perceived needs or goals?

Educational and community-wide preventative programs must better connect these lifespan violent behavioral dots. Children should not receive less protection under the law than adults.

Until we begin at the beginning, there will be no end in sight.

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