Friday, April 06, 2012

Layers of Complexity

I normally don't engage in conversations on planes. Small talk doesn't interest me. With very few exceptions if I talk about what I do it makes the people around uncomfortable. And people make me tired. Today was a pleasant and awesome exception. I happened to sit next to a lady who on top of playing rugby dealt professionally with domestic violence issues.

Good conversation. Good learning. One of the insights--
There are things that we want to be simple that are very complex. We want domestic violence to have a good guy and a bad guy, a perpetrator and a victim. But it doesn't take much exposure to realize that DV is a 'game that the whole family can play' as MM sometimes says. The lady on the plane pointed out that in shelters, victims sometimes become abusers. Sometimes maintaining the level of crisis and drama is necessary--- they know how to function in that milieu.

It is not a simple play with a white hat and a black hat. It is a dynamic.

Further, it is a dynamic that happens in a broader social spectrum. How the people involved were raised alters how they will behave and what they consider acceptable. And the extended families will intercede, possibly to keep the dynamic going.

Lastly, our society's attitudes about what constitutes domestic violence or even violence change over time. They have changed vastly just in my lifetime. Up until 1985 it was perfectly legal in many states for a police officer to shoot someone just for running away. Marital rape was not against the law in any state until 1975. Fistfights were an accepted and expected part of growing up. I was told explicitly, by my mother, that if you didn't get a broken nose by the time you were twelve, you weren't a boy. (I got my first at six).

This is a matrix. A complicated dynamic in more than three dimensions. And, in my experience, the only way to get good at handling something this complex is to get in and experience as much as you can. Study, observe, read for extra viewpoints and insight but you have to get in there. It has to be handled intuitively if people are going to be saved. The best answer will change in each situation. In the white hat/black hat world you can imagine one-size-fits-all answers. Not here, and if you insist on hanging on to your myths because they are more comfortable to believe in, people will suffer.

And that adds the last dynamic we talked about: Most of the resources dealing with this are funneled through bureaucracies. Bureaucracies like measuring things. They like consistency. They generally don't deal well with fluid situations and many will never empower their employees to work on intuition. The insistence on a consistent message, and measurable results and 'fair and equitable treatment' (meaning treat all the same even if the method will only work for a few) almost demands a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all answer.

Which we all know will fail.


David Kafri said...

Your mother sounds like an interesting person...

And one of the reasons I never got into DV work is just that - I felt I had no idea as to how this stuff works, so had no idea how to fix it, from any angle.

Trevor Montroy said...

Excellent post. As usual.

Anonymous said...

Ask anyone who has worked with domestic violence victims ( except,well paid, bleeding heart social workers) .and they will tell you they are a run round after them trying to get them to give evidence in court, and half the time they go back to their abuser anyway...with the US debt standing at $17 trillion, and the end of the Petro Dollar looming, I can think of a lot better things to waste tax payers money on

Molly said...

Anonymous - I must ask - where in the world can a bleeding heart social worker get a well paying job?

Anonymous said...

Try the UK, I know for a fact they do. Try to phone one up and they are either on holiday or off with stress!!!

Anonymous said...

I think people have trouble finding an approach because they struggle to find a measurable goal, which, in the end, might not even accurately reflect progress. Is the goal to reduce the number of reported dv cases? Decrease hospital visits due to dv? Fewer dv deaths?

How do we view rehabilitation? Once an abuser always an abuser? Is someone who has been in multiple abusive relationships even capable of being attracted to a "good" person? Does a "victim" really need to leave the cycle or is it good enough if the next relationship is simply "less" abusive and causes less social disruption?

Who should be held legally responsible? Should battered women with children be arrested for child endangerment?

The Strongest Karate said...

Well, as a 28 year old male who has broken bones, but never my nose, I guess I am not a boy! (But the, I always tried really hard to keep my hands up).

Still, it was a funny and interesting thing to say and was, to my ears, meant to impart a "boys are rowdy, so be tough" message.

About the DV in your post...this is the hard part about reality. As you put it, we want certain things about life to be simple: Learn that a man beats his wife? Go pull the man out and beat him half to death. Learn that he did it again? Go pull him out and finish the job.

We all have those who are close to us who we want to advise on how to keep themselves safe. I think that articles like yours - and the person you sat next to on the plane - really serve to show that there is much more to the subject than we'd prefer to believe.