|"What a Child Sees" by Thomas Hawk|
Despite the number of domestic violence agencies that network the country, coalitions across the United States are currently reporting a significant rise in family violence during 2009. But this problem is not confined to the U.S. During the first months of 2010, similar news reports have surfaced from Australia, the U.K., China and Malaysia, among other countries. Although some focus on the recession as the main cause for this increase, others wonder whether the problem may have even deeper roots.
Of course, there is no doubt that financial woes add more strain to already violent relationships, and that financially strapped agencies have fewer resources to help victims. And it's true that both of these factors contribute to the rise of reported domestic-related crime. However, it is also true that not everyone who is financially stressed feels compelled to inflict violence on their families.
What do researchers really know about domestic violence and the factors that cause families to resort to harmful, self-destructive behaviors and how can communities help families replace violent relationships with healthy ones? Researchers who study family violence suggest that individual and community attitudes toward solving conflict are a key consideration. When nations, communities and the media portray violence as an acceptable approach to problem-solving, individuals and families can hardly be expected to reject violence in their own relationships. And when children witness violence between their parents within the home, they are more likely to repeat the cycle.
In a study published in the American Journal of Criminal Justice in April 2008, Deeanna M. Button examined the effect of neighborhood status on attitudes toward family violence. She found that socioeconomic factors are not the only influence: a neighborhood's acceptance of crime is also an important element in the equation. Button concludes that "to end family violence, there needs to be an end in the societal toleration for the aggression that takes place between family members. A shift in attitudes needs to occur."
To psychiatrist Bruce Perry, such a shift would begin by ensuring secure, enriching relationships for children. A researcher specializing in child trauma, Perry also has a background in neuroscience. "Our society's general disrespect for the importance of relationships is undermining the development of empathy," he says in The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, a book of case studies coauthored with journalist Maia Szalavitz. "Like language, empathy is a fundamental capacity of the human species, one that helps define what a human being is. But like language, empathy, too, must be learned."
Is the recession a factor in the international increase in domestic violence reports? Certainly--but probably only insofar as it increases the stressors on those already prone to violence. Research (and common sense) suggest that the foundations of violent behavior run much deeper than the pocketbook.