Culture, mindsets and abuse

The heinous murder of Heavenly Terveus, who was allegedly killed by her deceased boyfriend in what police call a murder/suicide, sparked outrage typical in the aftermath of such terrible crimes.

Calls for tougher laws and better systems to protect victims of domestic violence came about this week, as Bahamians took to mainstream and social media platforms to express views about this deadly end to all-too-frequent incidents of intimate partner violence in The Bahamas.

Though commentary on addressing systemic weaknesses is routine, what is not sufficiently explored in an honest way in our society are cultural mindsets formed and reinforced, via messages about the purpose, value and worth of males and females.

Years of research into approaches to domestic violence has found that in order to effectively address and tackle intimate partner violence in a society, cultural and societal factors that may contribute to or bolster such violence, must be analyzed.

Religion plays a deeply influential role in Bahamian society and culture.

In a statement following Terveus’ murder, The Bahamas Christian Council (BCC) said of the need to “minimize and eliminate” violence including domestic violence, “The BCC strongly encourages all churches to make this a core focus — to sound the alarm from the pulpits; to open your doors to those in need of counseling and to speak truth to power.”

It may be time, as part of this “core focus”, for churches to examine teachings and doctrines that establish a hierarchy in humanity based on one’s sex, such as those that teach that the purpose of a woman being created was to serve the needs of a man.

Society should consider how the internalizing of such a message plays a role in many females sacrificing themselves and their potential in intimate relationships, believing that who she is and what value she has in life, depend on her ability to attain and maintain love and acceptance from a man.

Doctrines that equate female submissiveness with godliness and proffer that a female’s natural deficiencies lead to the fall of mankind, can not only have the effect of disempowering females, but of causing males to attach superiority to their identity, viewing females as property and as “weaker vessels” in need of guidance or control.

Studies show that the longer a woman remains in an abusive relationship, the higher her chances of being exposed to serious harm.

It would be beneficial for religious institutions to review marital counseling goals to examine practices that encourage an abuse victim to handle the situation through prayer or greater submissiveness, or that advise a continuation or reconciliation of an abusive marriage because of the view that God hates divorce.

Meantime, there can be no serious approach to addressing the complexities of domestic violence on the part of religious institutions, if such institutions preach the view that there is no such thing as marital rape, and that the same ought not be explicitly outlawed.

What we call a thing impacts how we view and react to a thing.

Violence is violence, but it may be useful to consider how the title of domestic violence shapes the extent to which we view it as less serious and worthy of preventative action than violence outside of an intimate partner dynamic.

Reactions such as victim-blaming, rationalization, justification and misplaced empathy seem to come about more so as a response to intimate partner violence than other forms of violence.

Where cultural mindsets rooted in misogyny are prolific; where the idea of domestic violence being a private matter is espoused; or where crimes of passion are romanticized in society, the gravity of domestic violence can be minimized – leaving victims with inadequate protection and support.

Perhaps a reason we see often only episodic outrage to heinous acts that settles into a continuation of the status quo, is that while we may be jolted by the fruit of inhumanity, we do not then take the time to examine and tackle its root.

Combating domestic violence will require our action, and not simply our impassioned words.

That action must include an individual and collective assessment of the ideas and suppositions that shape how males and females see themselves both individually, and in relation to each other.

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