Disclaimer # 1: For those of you who have not had extensive training on Domestic Violence (DV), I suggest reading my first DV post on this blog before reading this post.
Disclaimer # 2: I know I tend to focus on heavy topics, like DV, and then I manage to make the conversation even heavier… but it’s just that I really care about social justice and so when I feel strongly about a topic, I really learn about it. I spend years learning and then spend more years learning more about it. All the while, I think and analyze the issue to figure out ways to raise awareness, address it and eradicate it. You see, behind all this doom and gloom talk, I’m an idealist. I truly believe the world can change and anyone and everyone can make a difference. So I want to know how to effect change. I’m a practical idealist, dammit.
Okay so here goes… recently I’ve come to think that much of the violence and injustice we see in this world goes back to domestic violence. For instance, if we take the example of serial killers (I know a lovely topic). Well it seems that many of them witnessed Domestic Violence as children. For some, there’s outright mention that their fathers abused their mothers. For others, there are facts that hint at it, such as reference to the parents fighting constantly, the children being routinely yelled at and/or the children being physically abused (note that many fathers who abuse their children also abuse their partners). And I keep thinking back on the marathon bombing, as it had a profound impact on me. It almost immediately became known that the older suspect abused his wife and ex-girlfriend. But I also came across an article that indicated that police were often responding to violence in the Tsaernev home while the kids were growing up. Not to mention, the two brothers likely also witnessed violence from war prior to their immigration to the US.
So there’s a correlation to people who inflict severe violence on others and witnessing violence as children. I suppose that’s no big surprise. But the part that’s most compelling to me is that it seems that in particular, these individuals witnessed domestic violence as children. My best guess is that this correlation exists not just because these people were traumatized as children, though certainly that is true. But it also happens because when children witness domestic violence, they get messages about the rights and needs of one partner, usually the man, being more important than the other partner’s, usually the woman’s, needs and rights, at least in heterosexual relationships. Now don’t get me wrong; most people who witness domestic violence as children do not grow up to become abusive themselves. This is because as we grow up, we get a multitude of messages about how relationships should be, some messages are positive and some are not. We learn that relationships can be egalitarian, even if we don’t learn this from our parents. We learn that many believe equality is a must for relationships. We learn that the one of the basic foundations for a happy, healthy relationship is equal compromise so one person is not always getting his/her way. By the time we’re adults, we know we have choices about how we treat others. Batterers choose to domineer and control their partners. It is a conscious choice (though abusers may swear up and down it’s not and maybe on some level, some of them even believe it’s not). But even so, it’s also fair to ask that if these men had not witnessed abuse as children, would they even consider the choice to abuse in their adult relationships?
The other piece to point out here is that the vast majority of batterers are abusive only to their partners and/or families. That’s partially why the problem of DV is so pervasive because it’s often perpetrated by the very people we least likely suspect of it. But, there are some batterers, who are likely also anti-social, who cause harm and/or death to those outside their closest relationships. What’s the difference? I imagine that these individuals likely got the message through the abuse they saw/experienced as children that not only are their rights more important than their partners, but their rights and needs are also more important than those of most, if not all, other people. And that’s an incredibly dangerous and scary mentality.
Batterers likely get the message that their needs are more important than those of others, with “others” being on a spectrum ranging from those closest to them to everyone else. That said, many abusers are very good actors and even if they believe they’re more important than everyone else, they may never reveal that belief to anyone but their families. I think it’s all very circumstantial and dependent on their personal histories. But that is not to excuse their behavior as adults. No matter what we see or experience as children, unless we are psychotic or in some other way deemed mentally incompetent, we know right from wrong and if we do something in the wrong, we do it of our own volition.
So you see, why I spend my Saturday afternoon considering the childhoods of serial killers and bombing suspects, is because I think there’s a lesson to be found in them. It seems apparent to me that we absolutely must dedicate more resources to child welfare. We absolutely must engage in violence prevention efforts as much as is humanly possible. And children must be sheltered from all abuse, violence as well as messages that they have the right to mistreat others. Not because if they experience these things, they’ll end up abusive and dangerous themselves. But because, I think, if they’re sheltered from all this, they’re less likely to see themselves as more important than others and then choose to act upon this belief. And if less people see abuse as a choice, then I genuinely believe this world will be a safer place on so many levels.
PS The other interesting correlation I’ve noticed with serial killers is adoption. I’ve read of several serial killers who did not have a known history of witnessing abuse or being abused as children. But they were often adopted. Again, I think this speaks to the need for more support for child welfare. So we can assure children’s needs are met and if children are adopted then the adoption process is nurturing and attentive to child development. Just a note to end with…