Abuse is Not a Relationship Problem

Many organizations try to remedy abusive relationships with mediation and conflict resolution. Pam Rubin explains that this approach can do more harm than good:

“Conceiving of sexual violence and abuse as a relationship problem does not fit what’s actually going on. What’s going on in terms of male violence is a worldwide phenomenon. Men who choose to use violence often have a series of targets. There’s nothing unique about a particular target or victim; and, it’s very unfair to burden that victim as if they have to solve a relationship problem.” (LionsRoar.org)

Pam Rubin correctly identifies the flaws in an approach to ending violence against women which is relational, and which uses conflict resolution tools to address this tragic, widespread problem.

I thought about others who are victims of sexual abuse, namely children. Sadly, some parents (power people) use the crime of incest to introduce sexual acts into the father/daughter or father/son dynamic. Fathers are the protectors of their children; those who have the propensity to assault a child, even a toddler, are certainly condemned, at least in theory.

However, the victim in such a crime does not have the ability to even understand “relationship.” She cannot define, control, or stop a “relationship.” If she speaks of being hurt, she may not be believed. She may be accused of lying, of destroying the family. She may stop talking when she realizes that her voice is not heard at home. Mother and Father are not supposed to hurt, not supposed to come in the night, not supposed to force themselves into the tiny body, to invade and violate the sacred child. Total responsibility for the parental-child connection is with the adult; this is not a pier relationship; there is no informed consent; there are exceptions; this is not a “special situation.”

For adults who were molested in childhood, confusion about whom to trust may be a lifelong struggle. The other parent is often the knowing “bystander” who remains silent. Sometimes the pair work together to terrorize and scapegoat one child. They are often charming and everyone seems to like them, everyone who is outside the closed doors of their home.

Any attempt to lessen the incredibly common experience of violence in families should start with two elements – justice and compassion. It is unjust to molest a spouse, or a child; it is a crime. The victim is not someone to be interrogated like a suspect in an armed robbery, but as the innocent victim of a depraved adult who calls himself/herself a parent.

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