Moving beyond the silence of domestic violence with Kenneth Braswell

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Photo courtesy of Kenneth Braswell

When brothers get together and speak about domestic violence, many things can come from this discussion. It is very challenging and helpful to engage one another so that we can do better. Addressing the problem is critical for most men. Oddly enough, we typically only hear about domestic violence from a woman’s point of view.

Below, Kenneth Braswell, executive director of Father’s Incorporated, sheds some light on this sensitive subject.

“Here we are at the time of year that we as a matter of public service campaigns turn our attention to domestic violence. No other recent case of DV has stirred the ire of public opinion like the video of NFL star Ray Rice infamously spitting on and then knocking unconscious his then fiancé, Janay Rice. At this time of year the issues of both breast cancer awareness and domestic violence burst forth into the public consciousness as what seems like the causes du jour. With specific respect to DV, every rational mind hopes that the movement will endure long enough to reduce the number of women and men exposed to violence. Still, even if public attention is ultimately drawn to another crisis, injustice or crime, the painful irony is that to this point the Rice scandal has served to sharpen American awareness and direct money into the industrious hands of organizations bent on serving the victims. Medical attention, housing, counseling: these are services that relieve suffering far beyond our ability to calculate. This is noble work. Unfortunately, these efforts do virtually nothing to prevent the next act of domestic violence rage where flying fists become the intimidator of choice.

“Let us not oversimplify. Flying fists are not the only variety of domestic violence. Furthermore, a louder and more unified national voice condemning the act is quite clearly a step in the direction of success. On the other hand, we plainly live in a world that employs the metaphoric carrot and stick more frequently than any of our other tools, and it’s possible we have neglected one for the other.

“The stick has definitely become more active. The NFL has thrown its influence and financial strength into a campaign of A-list celebrities demanding they we tolerate “no more” of this behavior or any empty rationalization that seeks to justify it. These no-nonsense declarations are strong and they serve to further stigmatize violent behavior in the home. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, domestic violence convictions rose 11% in 2014 (87% to 98%). These are manifestations of our national stick. Both the penalty and the stigma have become more robust. But our goal, the true end game, is to cultivate a society in which this behavior is non-existent or at least rare. Punitive measures alone will never achieve that goal. We must find methodologies that attack the problem from an entirely different direction. Let’s be clear. Domestic violence is no admirer of class, wealth, race or gender. On the other hand, the majority of domestic violence falls into one category. According to a peer-reviewed article published in PsychCentral, Dr. Toby Goldsmith reports that

“While abuse can happen to anyone, women are by far the most frequent victims and men are the most frequent abusers. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that 95 percent of the assaults on partners or spouses are committed by men against women.

“While those guilty of this crime must indeed be punished, we must also find ways to make restraint attractive to all American men. We must find some carrot to hold out to all those tempted to resort to abuse. We must find ways to celebrate mature, non-violent behavior. We must find ways to label those who refuse to express anger through violence as “honorable men.”

“Why as a nation have we done so little of this?

“Naturally, the answer to that question defies any simple response. I will, however, assert two of the many reasons: 1) we rightfully channel most of our attention to triaging the victims. The very first order of business should be to assuage the immediate pain of a victim and 2) we simply do not know how to bring about a cultural shift of such magnitude. I will offer no plan, but I will offer one insight.

“Adults are certainly less likely than children to embrace a new cultural paradigm. Let us turn our eyes to the next generation. We must identify the voices and the models who shape the behaviors of tomorrow’s leaders. Who are the heroes that our children watch? Who influence most strongly what behaviors are accepted? The family is, of course, the most powerful of all influences. We will, however, find it intractably difficult to modify and observe the goings-on within any household. On the other hand, we can rather easily identify public figures who have the power to exert influence on this matter. Surely, I am not pointing to any elected officials, nor do I have in mind even famous and successful athletes. We watch and admire them, but we do not listen to them with any regularity.

“There is however, a group whose job description is to share with us their observations and judgments of our world. Musical artists critique all of the heaving and settling, all the conflicts and resolutions, all the pride and shame that are woven into the fabric of our national personality. They represent an enormous resource. The nettlesome question is how to secure their participation in a massive effort to redefine the “honorable man.” Their power lies in the authenticity of their art, therefore we can’t buy their strength without simultaneously compromising it. We can’t rely on public service announcements. We need them to speak with a pure voice that honors domestic peace and praises the strength of those who choose not to surrender to cruel impulses. Musical artists speak more loudly and with more cultural authority than any other group. Let’s figure out how they can be part of the solution to this national disgrace.”


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