Applying generativity to family violence situations

Family violence is a complex issue that professionals will encounter when working with men. Many men accessing Family Relationship Programs will either talk about their own use of, or potential for violence. They may also want to discuss episodes of violence that they have experienced. This topic explores a wide range of view points and experiences encountered by professionals working with men and family relationships. It is intended to supplement other DV readings rather than cover all issues with significant depth and detail. It is an introduction and reflection on the practice issues involved in working with men and family relationships and does not attempt to be an academic article or deal at depth with these issues. This topic supports that feminist, psychological approaches and strengths-based interventions are possible to use together without undermining the traditional feminist approach to understanding DV. The feminist approach to DV has provided a significant platform for greater gender equity throughout society even though this change process is still far from complete.

Men and Family Relationship (MFR) programs hold the position that all violence in family relationships is unacceptable and the most important issue is the effect that this violence has on the victims, particularly the children. When children are routinely exposed to violence, another generation of violence is being incubated.

The issue of safety is the foundation of working with DV. It is critical for workers to maintain this stance. Taking sides will tend to subvert this stand, increase the possibility of collusion, increase the level of risk for those who experience the impact of the violence, and weaken any positive intervention. Professionals working with men need an appreciation of the many and varied understandings of DV (regarding both causes and interventions) and the considerable safety concerns.

Feminist theories now argue that there are a wide range of causes for DV. Men’s behaviour can be understood through the impact of a male privilege/entitlement belief system, and through using a psychological emphasis regarding the impact of trauma or negative social learning. Both perspectives are vital and should not compromise the significance of the other approach. In fact, it could be argued that social learning approaches and other psychological approaches are supported by feminist practice (DeKeseredy&Dragiewicz, 2000).

However, in practice, it is very difficult (some people argue, it is not possible) to distinguish what aspects of someone’s violent behaviour are motivated by male privilege versus psychological/trauma/social learning issues. Due to this difficulty, the broader understanding of DV work needs to:

However, when working with individuals, an integration of psychological (Heise, 1998; DeKeseredy & Dragiewicz, 2000) and strengths-based approaches is required as long as safety issues are not compromised.

Definition of domestic violence

Most definitions of DV are similar to ‘behaviour within a domestic relationship, that involves an abuse of power and is usually, though not exclusively, perpetrated by men against women and children. DV encompasses a range of behaviour including intimidation, coercion, emotional abuse, financial abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, isolation and psychological manipulation (Mulroney, 2002, p. 3).

These definitions reflect the definition of DV as being patriarchal tactics of power and control which has been dominant for nearly 20 years (Sutton, 2007b). However, there is increasing evidence that the influence of male privilege exists on a continuum, and depends on each man’s background (i.e. family history, education, lived experience with work/peers/ relationships).

Some domestic violence behaviour is a premeditated attempt to coerce or control a partner, while other behaviours are influenced by other reactive elements, such as attachment anxiety (Sutton, 2007b; Dutton, 2008). However, control and power tactics are often not ‘premeditated’ or even conscious, and that much of the work that needs to be done is about making the unconscious conscious.

Flood recently reviewed the Australian Personal Safety Survey that acknowledges that one in 20 women (5.8 per cent) and one in 10 men (10.8 per cent) experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence in a lifetime (Flood, 2006). However, this figure cannot be misused; the survey indicates that the violence experienced by men and women was mostly perpetrated by men. This survey inquires about acts experienced and did not explore the context or meaning of the violence. ‘Interviews with the same men and women documented that men’s violence differed systematically from women’s in terms of its nature, frequency, intention, intensity, physical injury and emotional impact’ (Flood, 2006). This is consistent with international research as well (DeKeseredy & Dragiewicz, 2007; Dobash&Dobash, 2004). One of the current tensions in practice which occurs, is that as more men access community welfare/health and relationship programs, there is a greater voice for their experience regarding violence. This experience needs to be heard and acknowledged but the hearing of this voice at the individual level, cannot cease to be informed by the wider context of violence as experienced in the community.

DV occurs in marriages, de-facto relationships, between boyfriends and girlfriends, in gay and lesbian relationships and between family members. There are many complex and confounding factors with regard to DV statistics, but there is a current general agreement that the majority of severe DV is researched and documented to be male to female while there is an increasing awareness of some female to male DV (as well as gay and lesbian DV) that requires greater empirical study (Dutton, 2008; DeKeseredy & Dragiewicz, 2007). In 2006, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) conducted a telephone survey of people over the age of 18 called the Personal Safety Survey, Australia. They found:

While this study is a good snap-shot of the experience of violence, it has no information about the level of violence, regularity and impact on the victim. Traditionally, DV is seen within socio-cultural/political theories (feminist and functionalist theories) where DV is a consequence of the structural inequality and patriarchal privilege between men and women. The majority of injuries, deaths and negative outcomes that result from DV occur to women. This is a perspective that men’s violence is usually in a context in which men have more power, either physically, or from their privileged opportunities in our society. While there is now documentation of violence that women perpetrate against men, the amount of violence of men against women is also under reported.

There are various ideas as to the range of behaviours that fall under the category of ‘violence’. People commonly think of physical acts when they think of violence. The judicial system has legal definitions that include verbal threats and intimidation but stop short of the more subtle forms of control and abuse, except for Victoria where new laws have been brought in to prevent non-physical forms of DV like financial abuse. Most DV agencies, including the ones with programs for people who perpetrate violence, consider behaviours such as the ‘silent treatment’, put-downs and keeping secrets as important to name as controlling acts.

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