This paper is a critical reflective account on domestic violence. To give an objective and unbiased critical reflection of the theme of domestic violence, this paper looks critically at the meaning of the concept domestic violence; the paper also looks critically at the consequences of domestic violence, to the parties involved in the violence, the children, and the community at large. The paper concludes with a reflective critical summary based on the findings in the paper.
Conventionally, domestic violence can variously be defined as a pattern of behaviour which involves the abuse of one partner by another in a close relationship. One of the conventional definitions of domestic violence is given by the USA department of justice. According to the USA department of Justice, domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behaviour in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner (The United States Department of Justice, n.d). Domestic violence therefore in this sense encompasses all forms of physical, sexual, emotional, economical or psychological actions or threat of actions that influence another person. In this sense, domestic violence therefore includes any behaviour that intimidates, manipulates, humiliates, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.
A critical reflection on the conventional conception of domestic violence, as expressed tersely by the USA department of justice, shows that the definition of domestic violence is ambiguous and misleading. This is because, to begin with, the conventional conception of domestic violence doesn’t take into account the cultural aspect of domestic violence.
While it is true that domestic violence is used, on occasions, as a mean to gain and maintain power in an intimate relationship. It is not true, however, that all forms of domestic violence are meant to gain and to maintain power. This is because some cultures of the world regard some forms of domestic violence, for instance wife battering, as a socially accepted way of maintaining social order. For instance in Africa, among the Luos of Kenya, wife beating/battering is a socially accepted form of disciplining errant wives who fail in their responsibilities as wives and mothers (Mbiti, 1991). For these kinds of cultures, wife battering is perfectly within the justice system of the societies and it is in no way a mean to gain power by the husbands over their wives. The conventional conception of domestic violence therefore doesn’t take cognisance of this fact and for this reason the conventional definition of domestic violence is flawed.
Secondly, the conventional conception of domestic violence is ambiguous and misleading since it is too broad in scope. According to the conventional conception of domestic violence, epitomised by the USA’s department of justice definition of domestic violence, domestic violence is any form of abusive behaviour by one partner against another partner in a relationship, meant to enable the abusive partner to gain and maintain power over his/he colleague that he/she is abusing. A critical reflection on this definition of domestic violence shows that this definition is too broad since it encompasses any forms of abusive behaviour in an intimate relationship. According to the conventional conception of domestic violence, even an abusive behaviour between presidents of two different countries, who are in an intimate relationship, though not living in the same family, can be regarded as domestic violence.
This is obviously incorrect because the concept of domestic violence should cover only abusive patterns of behaviour among people in an intimate relationship, within the family setting. This is because the concept of domestic violence is derived from the adjective domestic, and the noun violence. The adjective domestic denotes anything to do with family. The concept of domestic violence therefore can alternatively be termed as family violence. The conventional definition of violence therefore is too broad and misleading, the definition isn’t specific.
Having critically reflected on the conventional conception of the concept of domestic violence, let us now turn to the critical reflection on the consequences of domestic violence to the individuals in an intimate relationship, the children in a family where there is constant violence, and to the whole society.
One of the main consequences of domestic violence, to the parties involved in the violence, is that it can lead, in some instances, for example, in wife battering, to physical injury. Domestic violence has been known to cause even death in extreme cases. In some world cultures, a mild form of physical punishment is regarded as an acceptable form of punishment for the members of the society who have violated some society norms and values (Mbiti, 1991). However, a critical look at this effect of domestic violence shows that the effect is morally wrong and cannot be justified under any circumstance. This is because although in some cultures wife battering has been known to make wives and mothers to adhere to the society norms and values; in the light of the modern enlightenment wife battering is not the best way to make women to be responsible and to uphold the society’s values. The best way to make people responsible is to educate them on the values of the society, but not to inflict physical pain on an individual. Again, wife battering is discriminative since it is a selective form of justice that is meted out on women only. This is clearly unfair and should not be encouraged in the contemporary world.
The second major negative impact of domestic violence is that it undermines one’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem. In domestic violence, the individual who is abused, for instance the wife or the children ends up with a damaged sense of self-worth. This is because the abused person feels unloved and unaccepted. Domestic violence actually is a classic form of betrayal because it involves parties in an intimate relationship. The person therefore who abuses his partner in a relationship betrays his/her partner by treating him/her badly. This makes the abused person to feel unloved, betrayed and unaccepted; this in turn damages the sense of the self-worth of the abused person.
Another major disadvantage of domestic violence is that it can lead to imprisonment of the person who abuses his partner in an intimate relationship. In many jurisdictions of the world, wife battering and inflicting physical pain on children is illegal. In the USA for instance, wife battering is a crime punishable by imprisonment. Domestic violence therefore can make one to be imprisoned and this will have far reaching consequences upon the family. For instance, when the man of the house, husband, is imprisoned for battering his wife, the children, if any, will be left without a father. This will affect the children a great deal because they will miss the love of their father. The imprisonment o the abusive husband may also lead to economic difficulties to the family. This is because the imprisoned abusive husband may be the sole-bread winner of the family and this may pose serious economic problems to the family.
The other negative consequence of domestic violence is that it can lead to loss of employment. The crime of domestic violence is often associated with a lot of stigma. Once a person has been convicted of domestic violence, it is quite likely for the person to be sacked from where he/she has been working. This is because many corporations and even government prefer employees with clean records, with no record of domestic violence related crimes. For this reason, people convicted of domestic violence may also find it very difficult to get jobs in some corporations and also in government. Domestic violence therefore is treated as a very serious crime in many countries for instance in the USA.
Another negative consequence of conviction with domestic violence related crimes is the revocation or denial of a licence to engage in some forms of business. In the USA, people who have been found guilty of domestic violence related crimes are not allowed to operate some forms of business, for instances the businesses that deals with domestic affairs. This again shows that domestic violence is indeed a serious crime that has far reaching consequences.
Another legal consequence of domestic violence is the issuance of a criminal or family restraining order. In USA, criminal restraining orders are issued by criminal and family courts where there is evidence of domestic violence. One of the negative effects of restraining order is the loss of liberty by the restrained party, whereby the restrained person is prohibited from going to certain locations. Family restraining orders are actually issued for the public interest. With a person having been convicted of domestic violence, it is important to protect the members of the public from such a person.
Another legal consequence of conviction with domestic related crimes is that the convicted person is barred from possessing firearm. In the USA, with the issuance of restraining order, the restrained person is automatically disqualified from possessing firearm. This can be particularly frustrating for the people working in risky areas that require possession of firearms. Again, in the light of the modern terrorism challenge in the world, it can be very frustrating for one to be barred from possessing firearms.
Another legal adverse effect of domestic violence is the loss of child custody or visitation rights. In USA, one of the major factor that the courts considers in determining the child custody and visitation rights is whether there have been evidence of domestic violence in the relationship of the separated/divorced couples. Courts are particularly sensitive on this issue when considering the best interest for the child. For this reason, if one of the separated/divorced parties is convicted of domestic violence he/she will be denied custody and visitation rights. This is for the interest of the minor child.
Another legal consequence of domestic violence is that it can lead to a civil lawsuit by the abused person. Since domestic violence is recognised as a crime in many jurisdictions like in the USA, the abused person can file a lawsuit against his/her partner who abuses him/her. The lawsuit can lead to award of huge compensatory and punitive damages.
A critical reflection on the legal consequences of conviction with domestic violence related shows that some of the premises on which most of the legal consequences are based are false. The main premise upon which most of the legal consequences of domestic related crimes are based is that, when a person chooses to commit a domestic violence related crime, he does so willingly and voluntarily. For this reason, the law requires that those who have been convicted of domestic violence be punished accordingly. But as we have seen, some people commit acts of domestic violence because they are culturally conditioned to do so. For some people who come from cultures that permit some forms of domestic violence like wife battering, they find it normal and socially acceptable to beat a wife when she fails to live up to the society’s expectations. For these kinds of people therefore, they are socially conditioned to commit acts of domestic violence, and they should therefore not be treated as if they have willingly and deliberately chosen to commit acts of domestic violence. Unfortunately, most of the jurisdictions, for instance the USA do not take into account this fact. For this reason, all the convicts of domestic violence related crimes face severe legal consequences.
Besides the legal consequences of domestic violence related crimes, a crime of domestic violence is regarded as a crime of moral turpitude. For this person, the credibility of a person convicted of domestic violence related crimes can be put into question when the person is testifying. This can indeed have adverse effects on the life of the person convicted of domestic violence.
A critical reflection on the view of domestic violence as a moral turpitude shows that domestic violence can be morally justified, depending on the moral outlook that one adopts. This is because in morality, there are various theories that guide people in their choice of actions. Examples of moral theories include the utilitarian theory, the deontological theory, and the Aristotelian theory. Depending on the ethical theory that one subscribes to, one can judge moral violence as either morally acceptable or not. For instance, on the utilitarian ground it is possible to give a moral justification of domestic violence, while it may not be possible to morally justify domestic violence on deontological ground because the law requires us not to commit any act of domestic violence. For this reason, the view that domestic violence is a moral turpitude is questionable.
Having looked critically at the far reaching consequences of domestic violence to the parties involved in the violence, let us now look at the effects of domestic violence specifically to the children who grow up in homes where there is constantly acts of domestic violence.
The negative effects of domestic violence to children can broadly be divided into three main categories (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2009).
One category of the negative effects of domestic violence to children is behavioural, social and emotional problems. Children who have grown up in families where there is constant domestic violence exhibit aggressive and anti-social behaviour. Other children who have grown up in these kinds of families tend to be depressed and anxious. Also, children who have grown up in families where the there is domestic violence exhibit higher levels of anger, hostility, disobedience, fear, oppositional behaviour, low self-esteem, and poor peer, sibling, and social relationships. All these behavioural, social and emotional problems among children are caused by the domestic violence.
A critical reflection, however, shows that although domestic violence can make children to develop behavioural, social and emotional problems, domestic violence is not the sole cause of these kinds of problems. This is because some people have grown up in an environment without domestic violence and yet they exhibit these kinds of behavioural, social, and emotional problems. Also, although growing up in a family where there is domestic violence can actually make one to develop anti-social problems, it ultimately depends on an individual. This is because there are children who grow up in families where there is domestic violence and yet they do not exhibit any of the behavioural, social and emotional problems that we have looked at.
The second category of negative effects of domestic violence on children is the cognitive and attitudinal problems. Children who have been exposed to domestic violence experience difficulties in schools and they score poorly on assessment of cognitive skills. Also, children who have grown up in families where there is domestic violence have slower cognitive development, they lack conflict resolution skills, and they have limited problem solving skills. Again, children who have grown up in families where there is domestic violence have pro-violence attitudes and believe in gender stereotypes. All these cognitive and attitudinal problems result from the experiences of children in families where there is domestic violence.
A critical look, however, at the cognitive and the attitudinal problems of children who grow up in families where there is domestic violence shows that, although family environment with domestic violence can predispose one to develop cognitive and attitudinal problems, the development of the cognitive and attitudinal problems depends on the nature of an individual. This is because there are many children who grow up in families where there is domestic violence and yet they do not exhibit these kinds of problems; some children who grow up in families where there is domestic violence have excellent cognitive skills and they neither have pro-violence attitude, nor do they believe in gender based stereotypes.
The third category of the effects of domestic violence on children is the long term problems. Studies have shown that males who have been exposed to domestic violence as children are more likely to engage in domestic violence as adults, than the children who have grown up in families where there is no domestic violence. The studies also have shown that females who have been exposed to domestic violence as children are more likely to become victims of domestic violence than the females who were not exposed to domestic violence as children. This fact therefore shows that domestic violence has adverse long-term effects on the people who have experienced domestic violence as children.
Having looked at the effects of domestic violence both to the individual parties involved in domestic violence and also to the children who grow up in families where there is domestic violence, let us now look at the negative consequences of domestic violence on the society as a whole.
The main negative effect of domestic to the society as whole is that, domestic violence is a threat to the well-being and social order of the society (O’Reilly, 1983). There are two main reasons why domestic violence is a threat to the well-being and the social order of the society. To begin with, as we have seen above, domestic violence can lead to the imprisonment of the bread winner of the family who has been convicted of domestic violence, and this will significantly affect the family economically. This in effect can make the children in the family to drop out of school for lack of school fees; the family will find it difficult to make ends meet when its sole bread-winner is imprisoned. The poverty that results from domestic violence can lead to crimes in the society as the members of the family struggle to survive; this in effect will lead to the lack of social order in the society. Secondly, the long term effects of domestic violence on children can lead to potential criminals in future, leading to lack of social order in the society. As we have seen, children who grow up in environments where there is domestic violence tend to develop anti-social behaviour and these kinds behaviour will later be a threat to the well-being and social order of the society.
In conclusion, a critical look at the conventional definition of domestic violence shows that the definition of domestic violence is too broad and misleading; domestic violence should rightly be understood as violence in the family. Also, a critical look at the legal consequences of domestic violence shows that the legal consequences of domestic violence are based on erroneous premises. This means that there is a need to re-look at the domestic violence afresh, in light of the modern knowledge on the causes of crime.
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