There has been much written and spoken about domestic violence and child abuse recently due to incidents involving NFL players. It’s unfortunate that it takes a sensationalized incident to bring into view a chronic societal problem; but, that’s not surprising being that it hits very close to home for a lot of people.
But domestic violence is simply a derivative of the general violence that society has always tolerated. Let’s take a step back into history.
From about 72 to 435 A.D. the Coliseum in Rome housed the most diabolic display of human carnage and violence under the guise of “Public Sport.” Over 500,000 people and over one million animals were butchered while the crowds cheered on. And this is just one of many arenas throughout the Roman Empire that practiced this evil.
So why mention this? Because this is a window into an element of the human character that accepts, tolerates and even promotes violence. This is not a historically isolated condition. Look at the history of mankind; or even look at what’s happening right now in the Middle East with the emergence of the Islamic State.
In reality, we are very schizophrenic beings – on one hand abhorring violence while on the other, embracing it. NFL football is not the same as the gladiators, but it is based on an acceptable violent confrontation for public consumption.
My point is this: As a society we will never overcome the violence which wreaks havoc and destruction on millions of lives when we continue to tolerate any degree of violence as acceptable.
I personally don’t like the term “domestic violence.” I prefer “family” or “relationship” violence as a better descriptor. It is violence within a family setting, or in close relationships, and it is not exclusive to adults. It very often involves children, whether directly or indirectly.
There is a plethora of information about adult-on-adult family violence, but too often the impact this type of violence has on children is ignored. I find it absurd that we have laws clearly prohibiting certain types of adult domestic violence – you can’t punch an obstinate neighbor in the nose, you can’t abuse your pets or animals – but when it comes to corporal punishment of children, suddenly there is a big, fuzzy gray area!
There is still a segment of our society which believes “spare the rod, spoil the child” is a license to beat children into submission. Yet, all of the research and science tells us just the opposite; violence not only produces violence, but it seriously impairs brain functioning and can produce lifelong challenges and struggles. Violence, whether received or observed, creates trauma which adversely affects the brain and which manifests in current or future behaviors.
I encourage everyone who hasn’t already done so, to read the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) study. This landmark research has opened an amazing door not only in understanding the effects of violence and trauma on the brain, but also into producing effective interventions which produce health and wellbeing.
As a society, we need to get serious about reducing violence and child abuse. We need to stop sitting on the fence, tolerating, yet denouncing violence. Except in rare instances where life and liberty are in peril, violence should never be an acceptable solution. To do so, will take a very disciplined effort, and for many, a major paradigm shift.
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Please join me and others in forging a more civil, healthy society which is not characterized by anger, rage, violence and abuse. It is a huge mountain to climb, but we will never get there without taking steps in that direction.
Jim Roberts is the CEO and founder of the Family Care Network and a 42-year veteran of human services.