Friday, February 2, 2024

We’re Losing Ground Again

By David S. Prescott, LICSW, ATSA-F

I’ve long felt sympathy for our colleagues working in the area of family and interpersonal violence. These issues are widespread but receive little attention. It is well known that violence against women has only gotten worse in recent years, and yet many governments have considered abandoning the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, known as the Istanbul Convention. Too often, the reasons have been political, with governments claiming that while they are against family violence, they want to preserve traditional family values. Observers are quick to note the political aspects of these decisions; one media outlet noted Turkey’s objection to “promoting LGBTQIA identities” (although the treaty’s only reference to sexual orientation merely stipulates non-discrimination).

Of course, it’s not just governments that have difficulty finding ways to prioritize ending family violence. One might reasonably ask how we can end violence when so much of our media and political discourse contain violence and violent themes? Recent media coverage of ideologically based death threats suggests that matters are only getting worse. In my former state of Maine, a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion coordinator recently fled the state in response to threats made against his life.

A central concern of this blog post is that at a time when too many people view violence as normal and sometimes desirable, those seeking to reduce its harm are too often lost in the mix. Whatever the data may show in one legal jurisdiction or another, we are all up against a cultural maelstrom in which violence and threats of violence have somehow become more acceptable.

What’s not acceptable is that our attempts to stop violence have become wrapped up in politics. Further, most people in our field understandably don’t want to talk about politics. As recently as a few days ago, a listserv for psychotherapists was taken offline for a period of time because of arguments over the current situation in the Middle East. It seems that even when we are open to talking about politics, we’re not particularly good at it.

ATSA has always championed ending sexual abuse. Unfortunately,  at the individual member level, too many potential discussions are off-limits because they are so hard to talk about. Wouldn’t it be great if professionals could talk about the relevant issues without political impediments?

All of this seems relevant at a time when a former US President has recently been found liable by a jury for sexually assaulting a woman. Another jury awarded her more money than most of us can realistically imagine. Lest readers think that mentioning this reflects a political agenda, it is vital to remember that there have been plenty of allegations across the political aisle, including in the 1990s. Indeed, questions of sexual abuse in national politics is nothing new.

It makes sense that discussing the actions of our leaders is difficult at best. Nonetheless, some important points emerge

- Sexual abuse and other forms of violence exist at all levels of society.

 Current public debates make even acknowledging this fact challenging.

- Many of our policymakers have engaged in the same behaviors they seek to regulate.

- Given all of these things, we are compelled once again to look at sexual abuse through a public-health lens.

 It would be unconscionable for us, and society, to soften our stance on ending violence simply because there is so much of it on the world stage. In truth, the mission has only become more critical.

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