News Mary Kenny

Monday 22 September 2014

Why do women with freedom and opportunity choose violent partners?

Published 10/03/2014 | 02:30

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Men hitting women is wrong. But we are short on analysis of why this violence occurs. Picture posed by model (Photo: Getty)

THE shocking revelation that more than a quarter of women in Ireland have been victims of domestic or physical violence has elicited a strong response from a number of women's organisations, including the National Women's Council of Ireland, the Rape Crisis Centre and even the Girl Guides.

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Sharon O'Halloran, director of Safe Ireland – the national organisation which combats domestic violence – has even called for the Government to establish a high-level cabinet sub-committee to address "the prevalence, complexity and poor response" to all forms of violence against women in Ireland.

Who would disagree with such a right and worthy cause? Hitting people is wrong: men hitting women is totally unacceptable. But, while there is no shortage of statistics about the prevalence of personal violence – Sharon O'Halloran describes the current report, which came from the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, as "the tip of the iceberg" – we are much shorter on analysis of why this violence occurs.

Since, surprisingly, the Nordic countries emerge as among the worst offenders – the EU agency claims that Denmark, Sweden and Finland have the highest rate of domestic and sexual violence in Europe, with between 46pc and 52pc of women claiming they have been victims – perhaps we should enquire as to whether alcohol plays a major part in this behaviour? It is well established that the Nordic countries have a problem with alcohol abuse, and there is a well-observed link between drink and domestic violence. While the Finnish and American experiments with Prohibition (Finland introduced Prohibition of alcohol in 1919, just ahead of the US) have been discredited, nevertheless domestic violence fell dramatically in the first years of Prohibition.

The second question that must surely be asked is: why do women in societies where every legal freedom and most opportunities for equality are available, voluntarily choose to live with, or marry, violent or abusive men?

If we lived in societies where young girls were forced into marriage at the age of 18, it would be logical to suppose that females were victims of circumstance. But modern western-European women are in full control of their lives, and are free to make whatever choices they like when it comes to boyfriends, partners and spouses.

Those who call for the Government to address all forms of personal violence mean well: but surely it is infantilising women to suggest they can only be protected from their own choices by some Big Daddy or Big Brother state?

Any man, or person, charged with assault should face the appropriate penalty if found guilty: but no state can – or should – protect individuals against their own poor judgment in personal relationships.

Rather than calling for the Government to intervene in every nuance of personal relationships, shouldn't we teach young girls not to get sexually or romantically involved with males who show signs of violent behaviour, especially connected with the abuse of alcohol?

Yes, relationships are complicated: a person may not find out a partner is violent until well after the cohabitation has been established. If a woman has children, it is much harder to leave. But discovering someone's previous form used to be one of the purposes of a courtship. Before you commit, enquire!

There is some suggestion that women in the Nordic countries are more at risk of violence because gender equality has exposed them to such risk. "When women . . . start to challenge traditional gender roles – for example, by going out more at night to socialise, by being in work – then they are more exposed to risk of violence," the survey suggested.

That, also, should be part of the analysis. We do not know if it is true, but it should be investigated. Perhaps, by the same token, Nordic women are more open about admitting to abusive experiences, whereas women in more traditional societies might feel either shame, or a sense of privacy about such occurrences.

It is obviously a complex subject. In the majority of cases of domestic violence – across the EU – victims do not report it. Women are being urged to go to the police when they experience abuse or violence, and where they feel they have grounds to make a charge, they certainly should do so.

Yet, not everyone wants to drag the authorities into the realms of their domestic or personal relationships at all times. In my own marriage, when it came to arguments, I was the one far more liable to lose my temper – and I was a vixen for throwing things when roused: china, liquids, ashtrays, anything that came to hand. He never responded in kind.

I'm sure there were times when he would have had grounds for complaint, but marital spats can also be settled through calm negotiation and individuals can come to their senses (or sobriety).

So when we debate domestic violence, let's consider all the surrounding issues, rather than just demonising men. And let's admit that adult women have some responsibility for their own free choice of partners.

Irish Independent

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