2019-09-02

At present, IMPRODOVA research teams in our eight partner countries are harvesting the outcomes of an intensive phase of fieldwork.

Interviews with professionals from law enforcement, medical practice and forensics, and activists from non-government organizations have confirmed that among others, the 'human factor' of work with those affected by DV is of utmost significance. Aside from sufficient financial support and staffing, which are indispensable yet far from always guaranteed preconditions, in all segments of first responder organizations it is the competence and the high motivation of persons that create innovative response structures and functioning networks of interagency cooperation. Their engagement affects policies, protocols, and organisational structures at a strategic level (including specialist DV units and response teams).

Occasionally, the responses of our interview partners tackled the wider socio-cultural debates about domestic abuse, although they generally do not affect practitioners' everyday work. Recently, however, questions of DV interconnectedness have been raised in public debates. Research findings covered in a New York Times article indicate a link between mass shootings, as in Dayton and Orlanda, and misogynistic hate speech in the internet. Such hate for women cannot be understood within the scope of the 'usual suspect' explanation for shooting spree perpetrators, namely their mental illness. Mass shooting offenders have a 'history of domestic or family violence in their background' (Bosman et al. 2019). According to the article, so-called 'incels' (involuntary celibates), live out their fascination with firearms and emphasized masculinity. They define themselves as self-assigned victims of women who reject them. And thus, such males perceive their quest as legitimate execution of revenge against innocent women and men, namely 'normies', those who represent the normality which allegedly excludes them.

In the context of norms subordinating females, there is an ongoing public media debate about the interpretation of Holy Book passages. Modern exegesis contradicts an alleged traditional understanding that a husband may use physical punishment in order to discipline his wife (and children). Cultural anthropology research has frequently found that migrant communities use religion as an 'anchor' in new alienating societal surroundings. Also, such orientations tend to cultivate the most traditional, if not fundamentalist norms of their home country's religious orientations.

In Munich, Germany, the website of a religious centre was criticized for text that recommended the use of physical disciplining for the 'non-obedient' wife. This has led to an outcry of public disapproval in serious media, radio etc. Whether this has resulted in the centre's withdrawal/rephrasing of the related content is not yet confirmed. This goes to show that democratic/human rights norms must be clearly communicated and enforced by civil society.

The alleged 'authority' of the husband and father within the 'rules' of 'traditional family values' has been intensely promoted by the church of Europe's neighbour Russia. There the Church influence was seen to support the country's ultra conservative politicians, so that decriminalization of domestic abuse went through the Duma. This concerns first battery offences among family members which are no longer sanctioned as criminal acts but as administrative offenses. In a country where four out of ten serious crimes take place in the family and where in one year nine thousand women were killed due to criminal assaults (with eleven thousand severely injured, 2013 data), a 'law reform' like this sends a dangerous message to perpetrators. You may bash your wife and your kids. As long as you don't break their bones and leave bruises, it is alright with God, and the law.

Does this represent a Russian mainstream attitude? According to recent surveys, the country's general population appears to disagree. Nearly 80% find domestic violence 'unjustifiable' (MacFarquhar 2018). And even the president, whose politics are often aligned with those of Russia's Church, fears that it is 'a short distance from slaps to beating' (Nechepurenko 2017). This points at the necessity to vigorously feed research based information about DV into society's mainstream and citizens' opinions and attitudes towards domestic abuse and DV victimization which is exactly one of IMPRODOVA's objectives.

by Joachim Kersten