Leading Swedish feminist admits: Domestic violence is not a gender issue

Translator’s note: For decades, even the hint that women may actually be responsible sometimes for domestic violence was taboo. The wind of change now blows full force in Sweden as a leading feminist takes it to a public forum to break the taboo and propose solutions. We are bringing her article here to AVFM, an article which has over 80% approval rate on the original platform. LV

Domestic violence is not a gender issue

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is not a gender issue – it is time for family peace.

In the last few days the results of the government investigation of IPV have been presented to me by the responsible minister. After reading them I am compelled by reality to present a dissaproving note to both the investigators and the government who still seem to be of the view that sexism is the solution to the problem of domestic violence.

The tone and the division was already defined right from the title – “The National Strategy to Combat Men’s Violence Against Women” – infering that we have a guilty sex and an innocent sex. But thanks to extensive research in the field, both at the national and international level, we now know with great certainty that this breakdown by sex is simply not true. We also know through extensive practice and experience that the attempts to solve the issue through this kind of analysis have failed. And they failed precisely because violence is not, and never has been, a gender issue.

In Sweden, however, even the slightest questioning of the current model has been regarded as swearing in an otherwise quiet and echoing church. Few are those who have dared to openly question the current model, but it is about time to start doing so. Sweden is, or should in any case strive to be, a knowledgeable society. This society is characterized above all by its willingness to be guided by free and politically independent research when it comes to making decisions affecting all of us. As such, careful analysis and lessons of accumulated experience ought to be an important criterion in decision making.

The efforts conducted so far aiming to end IPV have not been working. This is also acknowledged by the government. The reason for this should obviously be analyzed carefully. And, whatever the reasons for analyzing, we can be sure of one thing. The road to a solution for this social problem is hardly to stubbornly continue to feed the patient with more of the same medicine that has already been tried unsuccessfully for decades. It is time to raise the bar.

The available knowledge out there is not lacking in substance. In what has come to be known as the Partner Abuse State of Knowledge Project (PASK), which is the world’s largest research database on IPV, no less than 1700 scientific papers on the topic are summarized. Virtually all differ in their conclusions from the tired gendered analysis that the government has once again introduced.

When such a considerable amount of research is evaluated, some clear and interesting patterns emerge. One such pattern is that violence in the family, rather than being gender-bound, appears to rather be an inherited generational problem. To know this and then continue to ignore the damage done to the children who are today subjected to violence is a huge social betrayal. We condemn these children thus to repeat the patterns they’ve learned from their parents and by doing so we ultimately condemn our society to continue to perpetuate the problem with enormous costs in both money and personal suffering.

Enskede Årsta Moderates, where I am the chairwoman of the Opposition Alliance in the district, has taken a clear and continuing responsibility to prioritize the work on domestic violence in the direction of prevention. In our efforts, we prioritize the methods to be more legally secure. We are also the first district of Stockholm to have introduced the anti-DV program FRIDSAM combined with treating both men and women. By doing so, we have demonstrated the importance of seeing the big picture when violence occurs in families without prejudices and preconceptions. We had hoped that our unique approach would be spread to more locations but unfortunately this has not yet been the case.

Another aim of ours was to provide better care for children and increase the quality of the social services. This, however, never got fully implemented.

Very often I, as a politician, talk with parents who don’t get to meet their children. I have also heard many children talking about how they witnessed major vulnerabilities in the processes that are intended to protect them. This is, of course, completely unacceptable. I am also deeply concerned with the one-sided focus on men being seen only as perpetrators in cases involving domestic abuse. I have met and spoken with many fathers and children who have witnessed and experienced a very different reality. The research also provides evidence to their stories that, yes, women also use violence within families. Both the partners and the children can be victims. If we view women only as victims, doesn’t this set up these men and their children to be in a disadvantaged position? If we as women do not stand up for these men, who then will do it? Any form of violence is illegal and must be combated.

Therefore, as the chairwoman of the Women of the Moderate Party in Stockholm, I intend to initiate a process where we meet with and listen to all of those who in any way have experience with domestic violence. I also welcome the representatives of the authorities, such as social workers, police officers and others to contact us and bring their experiences into the discussion as well. And, above all, I want to see those exposed to or subjected to unjust legal sanctions that hit the children due to misuse of authority, prejudice, ideological tunneled vision or whatever the cause might be. This of course applies to both men and women.

Without more transparency and openness regarding the vulnerability of those who are otherwise entitled to a protective family life which has been threatened or destroyed, we will never manage to create a better society. We now learn from the National Public Health Institute that the risk of suffering from mental illness, substance abuse and other conditions that lead to social vulnerability is twice as high for children who are deprived of one or both of their parents. We also know that every day children are being taken away by one of their parents, both within Sweden and from Sweden to abroad, and the distrust of the parents towards the responsible authorities is growing at an alarming rate.

We have to start daring to see and talk about this difficult and complicated problem. And we must begin to recognize the fact that domestic violence, in at least half of its occurrence, is carried out by female perpetrators. Otherwise, our efforts to protect the most vulnerable among us, the children, will never become more than just an aspiration. We will continue to fail in the attempt to help families break the destructive pattern.

Let us now stand together, not divided by sex, and help each other with the work to now, once and for all, commence to break the destructive patterns wherever they occur. Do you want to help us with that?

This article has first appeared on Nyheter24 and is reprinted here with permission. Translated by: Lucian Vâlsan.


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