Considerations on domestic violence – Japanese and German perspectives

More than a decade ago, I received a fellowship to carry out comparative research about domestic violence in Germany and Japan1. There is a Japanese cultural tradition to avoid direct confrontation and to name difficult, unpleasant, and painful events by their proper Japanese terms. Using the English word rape (reipu) for sexual assault, and DV Dibii for domestic violence are examples. In Japan, the world outside (soto) and inside (uchi) are in psychological terms different and closed-off hemispheres. Conflict within the inside of the house is shunned upon by society, much more than in Western societies. According to Japanese crime statistics, even interpersonal violence in public places (soto), outside of private homes, happens much less often than in the West. My findings, by the way, indicate that despite cultural traditions, and a totally different policing approach, prevalence rates between the countries were quite similar. A somewhat more homogenous society is no insurance for the safety of females and children inside their homes, a finding that cannot be easily explained. Japan is supposed to be a shame culture, so admitting domestic violence is avoided, committing it is not.

At the beginning of the lockdown phases in our countries when citizens were required to stay inside, some experts predicted a tsunami of violence between partners and families. This was immediately turned into a media topic. Media attention to domestic abuse has, however, not really persisted for longer periods of time, lockdown or not.

IMPRODOVA is presently looking into the available evidence for the implications of the lockdown periods for the incidence of domestic abuse using available data sources and expert interviews. This is work in progress, hopefully available at the end of the year.

Like many of us since March this year, staying at home, I have watched a lot of documentaries and films on streaming services, and I also looked through the stack of DVDs in my bookshelves. I discovered 'Shoplifters'2 (manbiki kazuko), a 2018 drama, winner of the Golden Palm in Cannes and nominated for an Oscar, about a 'non-conventional' underclass patchwork family of six, living in a tiny wooden house in Tokyo that is owned by 'grandmother'. They all belong to the growing number of persons in Japan who have to live in precarious employment and social living conditions, in social science terms precariat. In terms of 'family', the only real family bond exists between granny and her granddaughter. All the rest, a middle-aged woman and her partner, a school-age boy and a little girl have found their way into the family group as a result of acts of domestic abuse in their original families. There, the children had suffered neglect and physical abuse. The granddaughter was a victim of emotional violence. The middle-aged woman is a survivor of attempted femicide.

Analogous to this film, it transpires from the data of our exploratory overview on lockdowns that children are exposed to DV at even higher percentage rates than their mothers. Internationally, there can be little doubt that the 'precariat', the underclass, migrants, and minority people are overrepresented in the ranks of Covid-19 victims.

Safety research needs to consider safety in the private sphere. Future research must apply a more precise and diligent account of victimizations by looking at the human factors of DV in general, and the health and risk consequences of pandemics like Covid-19. Human factors are more difficult to grasp, describe, and tackle than the design of the umpteenth IT tool and technological gadget. In security research, and over the last two decades, such technological responses to social grievances seem to have enjoyed a privileged status at the expense of a thorough analysis of human factors.

1 J. Kersten (2007), Comparative Aspects of Violence in Intimate Relations and State Intervention, in. Waseda Proceedings of Comparative Law, Vol.10, pp.377-386.
2 Shoplifters (Manbiki kazoku) 万引き家族, Japanese motion picture by Hirozaku Koreeda 2018.

2020-09-30 by Joachim Kersten, DHPol