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Saturday, March 26, 2016

Violence: An individual problem or a systemic problem?; Research Mesearch

Nadine Shaanta Murshid

For a non-conflict zone, Bangladesh is home to exorbitantly high levels of “everyday violence.” At home and on the streets, at the work place, and elsewhere, taking different forms – physical, verbal, and sexual – overt and covert, with malice or without, with malintent or just following scripts learned from others. Maybe if individuals knew the consequences of violence they would stop, and that's why I write about it; that is why a large chunk of my own research is on this topic. Because I believe that human beings are inherently good; no one is born a bigot or a killer; no one is born with a will to hurt other people.
Bangladesh is a country of primarily poor people in which approximately 40 precent live on less than $1.25 a day and about 70 percent live on less than $2 a day. Given the high rate of poverty and the pervasive use of violence, many are quick to argue that everyday violence is a problem of the poor. That's only partly true; violence is not created by poor people, violence is created by the rich, by those who are in power, and it is used against poor people. At the same time the societal structure is organised in a way that violence between groups and within groups is inevitable. Violence is both cause and consequence of inequality – income, gender, social (whatever have you); violence is the cornerstone of a larger malaise of systemic inequality where individuals bear the brunt of said inequality. It is what ties the structural issues to individual ones, creating the idea that changing individual behaviours will change the system (it will not). And, because people in power use violence, violence has become the currency of power, the shortcut to garnering control in both social and relational contexts.
Violence against individuals, including intimate partners, regardless of gender, arise from a need to “gain control or retribution and to promote or defend self image” (Felson, 2002).  But, we tend to write more about violence against women, not because violence against men do not exist, but because violence against women often takes more insidious forms that have deadly consequences, quite literally.  While violence against men is less likely to lead to homicide and physical danger (in intimate partner relationships – not in combat zones where men are exposed to and experience physical and sexual violence at high rates) the effect of violence (including intimate partner violence) on men, similar to women, include compromised mental health and physical health outcomes (e.g. anxiety and depression and heart diseases are much more likely among men who experience violence in their lives than men who do not).
That said, physical and sexual violence against men by intimate partners in a heterosexual relationship is still less than that experienced by women (Tjaden&Thoennes, 2000). The most common type of violence against men by women takes verbal forms, which has increased potential to affect mental health outcomes. This is because verbal abuse is highly correlated with emotional abuse (and include needling and belittling), which in turn is likely to be emasculating and psychologically jarring for men. Feeling emasculated or weak, on the other hand, is associated with increased use of violence by men who assert machismo, masculinity, and control by using violence. 
Some, however, argue that when there is violence in a relationship it is often because the couple dynamic is conflictual and each person responds to relational conflict by using violence as a tool for conflict resolution (barring situations where the perpetrator is a sociopath or a psychopath or has other mental health issues of which aggression is a symptom). In the absence of healthy communication skills and self-soothing tactics, as well as normalisation of violence, violence has become a pervasive social problem that directly or indirectly affects everyone, for different reasons. Violence affects not only those who experience (or even perpetrate) violence but those who are exposed to it – children, community members, society at large. Be it physical violence, violent language, or sexual harassment – it has the potential to permeate social and economic barriers to become omnipresent, and if we look around us we are likely to see that is all around us.
And once we open our eyes, we are likely to see that individuals with disabilities are more likely to be abused than their “able-bodied” counterparts. Homosexual men and women are more likely to be abused than heterosexual men and women.  Men and women from minority groups are more likely to be abused than men and women who are members of the majority population. While, women are more likely to be abused than men; disabled, homosexual, minority women are more likely to be abused than heterosexual able-bodied women. We need to recognise the hetero-normative patriarchal system that we are living in which heterosexual men have privilege over all others. We need to think about intersectionality and how group membership in multiple categories of identity increases the potential for harm. And then we need to think about who gains from such a system.
And then we must see how violence is systematically created by the system to oppress certain groups, while others are merely collateral damage. Individuals in this system have to work to change individual behaviours as well as the system that allows and maintains violence to come to an end. This should not only be up to activists and rights groups, but all citizens who stand to benefit from the eradication of violence.

 The writer is Assistant Professor at the School of Social Work, University at Buffalo. 

Source: Bangladeshi Newspaper - The Daily Star, 14 June 2015