A violent society breeds violent people

Violence in our most personal relationships is symptomatic of the violence in our society, said Rhodes Journalism lecturer Professor Anthony Collins at a talk convened last week to think about the Amanda Tweyi shooting.

Collins, who has a dual background in Psychology and Cultural Studies, is an Associate Professor in Media Studies in the Rhodes Journalism and Media Studies Department.

One of his main areas of study is violence and trauma, examining the causes and patterns of violence in South Africa and how to reduce violence and support survivors.

The talk was held at Rhodes University’s Eden Grove on Thursday 15 May.

All were invited to attend, though attendance was mostly from Rhodes’ student population.

“Violence in relationships is common. It is a widespread problem that arises from social norms because we created it,” said Collins.

“When an event such as Amanda’s death occurs, we as witnesses want to get back to normal as soon as possible,” he said. “But what is normal? In a purely statistical sense, violence in relationships is normal.”

Every day, three to four women are killed by their intimate partner in South Africa. The pattern of relationship violence is one that is all too familiar in this country.

Dominant forms of masculinity and their associated behaviours were raised by Collins as part of the problem.

Violence is often seen to be the only way to resolve conflict, and aggression and dominance are encouraged in men.

How to deal with emotional complexity is often a skill that is not taught to boys or men.

The phenomenon of ‘victim blaming’ was also discussed. Witnesses to the violence in relationships often have conflictual feelings towards the victim and often blame the victim, thus “re-inscribing a secondary trauma”.

“One of the reasons [for victim blaming] is that is makes us feel safer. When someone else is attacked in a terrible way, we all feel worried for our vulnerability,” said Collins. “One of the ways of dealing with this vulnerability is not accepting the world can be a dangerous place but to protect ourselves from that feeling by saying ‘Well that person is different from me and they did something wrong, which I’m going to avoid doing’.”

He also said the violence in our most personal relationships, between family members or intimate partners, is symptomatic of the violence that has become part of the fabric of our society.

“When we create inequitable living conditions, we facilitate instances of violence across all borders,” he said, referring to studies which show that heightened levels of violence is found in societies which are highly unequal.

And, if there is a preceding gender disparity in the structure of a society, it is easier for violence between genders to occur.

Collins was eager to stress that although speaking mainly of heterosexual relationships, violence is not confined to this situation.

The audience questions raised further interesting issues such as psychological and emotional abuse, the role of punitive actions towards perpetrators and why a victim remains with an abusive partner.

The following points were made by both Collins and audience members about how successful interventions can work. These involve:

• Avoid victim blaming
• Ask the victim what they want and allow them time to reach their own solutions
• Provide effective support when the solution is presented
• Build social networks which are supportive and sympathetic
• Break the culture of silence surrounding violence in intimate relationships

The annual Rhodes Silent Protest, which is aimed at breaking this silence, will be held in August this year and aims to be a network where survivors can connect with and support one another.

A full recording of the talk can be found at the following link: soundcloud.com/profanthonycollins/love-and-violence

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