(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 24 October 2010)
A friend suggested to me that it would be good to get a man’s viewpoint on domestic violence and then she connected me with Luke Daniels, who was born and raised in Guyana then moved to London where he now works to help stop domestic violence – of which he once used on his own wife. Luke has a book on how to stop being abusive and he works as a counsellor to perpetrators of violence. The following is my interview with Luke Daniels.
Stella Ramsaroop (SR): From your book, it seems you believe the patriarchal system under which most of the world operates to some degree or another, is detrimental to both women and men. Could you please explain how patriarchy, which supports the control by men of a disproportionately large share of power, can be injurious to men?
Luke Daniels (LD): People generally believe that Patriarchy is a system that existed hundreds of years ago and this is why the system has been able to survive so well. Most of the world’s power, economic, military and political is controlled by men.
But that power resides in the hands of relatively few men. The100 or so multi-billionaires have a great deal of power over the rest of the world and they generally support a system of exploitation of everyone, including men. It is true that all men benefit from patriarchal rule but the benefits are small as compared to if we had a more egalitarian society.
Men get to feel like they are better than women and are generally paid more for the same work that women do. The down side is that men are made to feel responsible for providing and protecting and both of these activities cost millions of men’s lives each year. Men are not encouraged to take care of themselves and are more prone to addictions and ill health. More men commit suicides and engage in risk taking activity and generally live miserable lives as compared to what it could be if the system was more caring of them.
SR: Here is a quote from the Introduction to your book. “With less tolerance for domestic violence nowadays, what was legally acceptable behaviour in the past is now no longer permissible in law in most developed countries.
After being encouraged by patriarchy for millennia to mistreat women, men are now expected to change their oppressive behaviour almost overnight, with little support for change from the state.” This is an important point; could you please elaborate on this thought?
LD: Most states still depend on the violence that men do and have a vested interest in the socialisation for violence. Men are expected to be the protectors in times of war. At the very least the expectation is put on men that we will have to protect our family. We live in violent societies because of this conditioning for men and it’s oppressive to blame men for the conditioning they receive from the society. We did not ask for this conditioning, but it was imposed by the patriarchal society.
We must remember that historically most states actually sanctioned the abuse of women by law. In England it was legal for a man to beat his wife with a stick not too long ago. This law has been changed because of the pressure from women and a few men, but it takes more than laws to change society.
Those laws have to be enforced – when the enforcers are themselves conditioned to be violent to women we have an uphill task. Most states still rely on coercion to change attitudes and often their actions make matters worse – as research shows that jails actually make men more violent.
What’s needed are interventions that help perpetrators to change their attitude and behaviour to women. Sexism is at the core of men’s violence to women and this has to be challenged – most patriarchal societies find this very difficult to tackle.
In developed countries a lot of money is invested, and rightly so, in supporting the survivors of domestic violence, but barely a fraction of that investment goes to preventative work or work with perpetrators to stop their violence. There has to be a better balancing of the resources if we are to end domestic violence.
SR: What caused you to decide to take such a strong stance against domestic violence that you would write a book to help perpetrators of domestic violence and spend so many years counselling those in abusive relationships?
LD: I always had a revulsion to injustice, and growing up in Guyana I intervened whenever I could if I saw advantage being taken. One could not help but notice women being beaten as it often happened in the streets. I hated that I was not old or strong enough to intervene if I saw a woman being hit, and grew up thinking I would never hit a woman.
When I hit my wife after ten years of marriage I was so disgusted with myself I had to seek counselling to get over the depression I experienced. I wished someone had intervened and I suspect a lot of men feel the same way too. When I realised how much the socialisation for violence had to do with my violent behaviour I decided during my counselling sessions that I would always intervene if I was close to an incident of Domestic Violence. I decided I would use my socialisation for violence in a positive way.
After several interventions I realized I might get hurt sometime if I was to stick with my decision to always intervene. Besides I did not want to be in a situation, as happened once, where I had to use violence to stop violence.
I started training as a counsellor and when an opportunity to work with men to stop their violence came I took it with both hands. I decided to write the book because I want to see an end to violence and there are never enough trained counsellors or projects to help the perpetrator who wanted to stop their violent behaviour.
I would rather spend my time doing the work with perpetrators than writing, but I realised I could reach more perpetrators by writing as this is a huge world-wide problem, and in most developing countries they have not even started to think about working with perpetrators. Of course I continue to work face to face with perpetrators who want to stop their violent behaviour.
SR: In your book, you said, “Soon into counselling, when I came to the realization that I had hit my wife mainly because of my socialisation for violence, I made a decision always to interrupt domestic violence if I saw it happening, even if simply by getting my body in the way.” Why do you think the realisation of your socialisation to violence caused such a dramatic response in you?
LD: I felt I would not be in this situation if I had not grown up in one of the toughest villages in Guyana. I loved my wife and felt I was losing her because of the violence. I was angry that it had happened and when I understood how patterns of violence are installed in us I was angry with the society for encouraging the socialisation for violence – especially in men.
I decided to take on the root causes of violence – the oppressive society we live in. But the first step was taking responsibility for my violence. Too many people live in denial about their violent behaviour blaming everyone and everything for it. This is not useful as if we do not accept responsibility for our actions we can never change them.
SR: You mention in your book that you believe what helped you understand the wrong of domestic violence was the fact that your dad taught you to not hit girls by saying, “Men who hit women are cowards.” Why do you believe there are some abusers who cannot see the wrong in domestic violence?
LD: Often we learn from the people around us. If we see our fathers, uncles and other role models abusing women on a regular basis, we come to think of it as the norm. None of us like to think of ourselves as being horrible, so if we do something that is horrible we instinctively try to justify our actions “she was wrong, she did not listen” or whatever excuse is used to justify the action.
Once the action has been justified as “her fault” it is very likely to happen again. This is why at the first instance of abuse it is important that the perpetrator seek help. The survivor needs to know that the action is likely to happen again unless the strongest action is taken at this first incident.
SR: You mentioned in your book that it is important to recognize the things that trigger violent acts, so steps can be taken to block the trigger from operating. How would one go about unearthing a trigger that is masked by years of socialisation? And what are some common triggers that you have encountered during your years of counselling?
LD: As humans we are all different and our different experiences need to be taken into account in any therapeutic intervention. Listening to the perpetrator will usually provide the clues. Going back to childhood memories are very important as that is where most of the problem lies.
For example, being called a fool or treated like one might trigger a violent reaction if that is the way they responded when young. Sometimes if they feel neglected or not listened to can cause a violent reaction. I am yet to counsel a perpetrator who has themselves not been mistreated in some way. For male perpetrators it is usually the many sexist expectations they have of women, and they believe that their needs should be more important – that provides many of the triggers.
SR: How would you respond to the following type of statement that has been put to me on more than one occasion?
“Please, Stella, your writings are only setting women up for blows. You should focus on teaching women to be a good and decent wife. Teach them home economics. Teach them the hot spots that can arouse the beast in a man. By doing this you will be helping to reduce domestic violence.”
LD: It does not surprise me, as the socialisation for women has always been to take care of men. The notion that men are beasts and it is the women’s job to civilize them has been around for a long time.
As a result many survivors of domestic violence blame themselves for the bad behaviour of men. If only they were different or did things differently, the men would behave better. This is a myth and generally the responsibility for the bad behaviour resides with the man. It is not the responsibility of the survivor to act as a sop for him; he needs professional help and should seek it.
SR: For those who find themselves being abusive to someone they care about and want to find a way to stop the violence, what advice would you offer them?
LD: Making a decision to stop the violence is the first step and seeking professional help is important. You could also write a letter to the survivor saying why your actions were wrong and promise not to repeat them. You can also use the ‘six-foot rule’. That is you stay at least six feet away from your partner if you are having a heated argument. Also agree with your partner that you will leave the house for an agreed time if you feel you will use violence – 30 minutes or so to give yourself time to calm down. Not take a drink but perhaps go for a walk to cool off and remind yourself of the decision not to hit. After the agreed time is over return and try to have the discussion in a temperate manner. Repeat this exercise if it gets too heated again.
Luke Daniels is a social activist, counsellor, trainer and consultant on domestic violence, who was born in Guyana and settled with his family in London in the 1970s. A father of eight, he believes passionately in the need for fathers to take an active role in parenting. He was the first co-ordinator of a Black Fathers project at Exploring Parenthood and has worked with youths in schools.
He has had years of experience working with couples seeking help to overcome difficulties in their relationships.
His work counselling men at the Everyman Centre in London received national recognition in the 1992 television documentary “Pulling the Punches.” His book can be ordered on his Website: www.pullingthepunches.com