Recently, in my homeland Barbados, there has been a mass appeal to end domestic violence. While I applaud the various agencies, government ministers and civil servants who are determined to stamp out this type of violence, I must say that there are some aspects of this campaign with which I have particular difficulties. First, there is the universal assumption that domestic violence only pertains to violence directed towards females. I take issue with this. While as a female I could perhaps join the bandwagon and bash men, calling them dogs, referring to them as heartless beasts, it would not be fair, as I would have to accord similar adjectives to the females who subject the men in their lives to violent acts, whether of a physical, psychological or financial nature. As a society we need to remember that both males and females can be and are victims of domestic violence/abuse. Since in the Barbadian context, domestic abuse tends to be focused on the female as the victim, my other comments will look at women on the one hand and examine the current discourse in the Barbados Media.
The revived advocacy to end domestic violence In Barbados occurs against a background of what appears to be some kind of record in Barbados, where a number of women have been murdered by their spouses, partners, ex-spouses, ex-partners. I get it! If ever so often women are being murdered by their current or previous partners, it presents a problem to society. In a small society one murder may be a one-time event, but when we get to four and five murders of the same kind, it is humanly impossible not to notice the trend. It is clear there is a problem and so the plan of action would be to eradicate this destructive behavior as quickly as possible. I therefore have no aversion to what appears to be a national campaign to end domestic violence.
The second issue I have pertains to the notion that the victim is somehow culpable. In perusing the social media feeds, and in listening to the conversations of others, I have heard that “some women push men to that point.” I have also read one status which essentially said that women need to learn to “keep their feet closed,” as though the violence is somehow warranted by virtue of her acts. If the society has this mindset, then we are wasting time in asking for an end to such violence. The campaign should not only be focused on ending the violence, rather there needs to be an entire re-socialization, an understanding that no matter what (even if there is such a legal defence as provocation) domestic abuse is not justified.
As it relates to the most recent case of domestic abuse in Barbados, the media has sought to highlight all of the victims for the entire year. My main issue with this is that for the past year, the media, government officials etc, have been speaking of domestic violence/ abuse as though it only exists where one partner suffers death. I understand that these deaths may want to be used as the faces of a campaign to end domestic violence but I think it sends the wrong message.
Yesterday morning while listening to the radio, an announcer gave the definition of domestic abuse/violence as act which eventually results in death. Tonight while watching the local news, I received the impression that there is a level of urgency to deal with these situations, but again there seemed to be concern only about the deceased and not the ones living through it everyday. Please, do not in any way think of me as insensitive to the grieving families, but I have a problem with focusing solely on the part concerned with death. Such a focus seeks to lessen the impact of the psychological beatings that one partner endures from another partner; it trivializes the physical beatings and injuries which do not cause death. Such conceptualizations of domestic abuse suggest that there is good domestic violence and bad domestic violence. Such conceptualizations hurt our society, because they undermine the much needed re-socialization process.
Our message should be clear. We need to reformat our minds, get a sound understanding of what constitutes domestic violence, subdue the inherent societal hypocrisy and view domestic abuse as completely destructive, as opposed to implicitly or expressly accepting that there are gradations of domestic abuse.
If we are going to stamp it out, we need to make sure that the “stamp out” lasts.