The family unit is one of the most crucial and universal societal structures that we have today or have ever had. Although families look different across the world they are found everywhere. Their respective sizes and organisations aside, families are a crucial part of any society and culture.
Traditionally, Chinese families are much larger than Western families and traditional Chinese vocabulary reflects that fact with specific words for an older maternal cousin or words that can differentiate between a younger sister and a youngest sister, for example. In Hindu on the other hand, there isn’t a word for cousin, implying perhaps a more closely-knit family structure than what we traditionally find in the Western world.
Despite all the regional and culture differences, families have solved societal problems since the dawn of societies. By organising into families units cultures were able to organise food distribution, create a workforce for labour-intensive agriculture, prevent incest, and arrange people into convenient groups that work together in society.
Nowadays, no less than in the past, families provide people with a loving environment and strong social and emotional support in times of need. But nowadays, again as much as in the past, families are not inherently supportive and desirable structures. Many people live in or were raised in families with family members who are physically or emotionally abusive.
Seeing as how families are such crucial units of societal organisation and on an individual level one of the most, perhaps even the most, important and fundamental form of socialisation, for people with less than supportive families both the drama and the trauma of being apart of a dysfunctional family can cause tremendous problems.
Issues like spousal or child abuse, sadly, remain huge threats to both individuals and society at large. With that in mind, there are many organisations round the world that seek to provide aid and solace to people, usually but not exclusively women and children, who have to deal with trauma a daily basis. And while we in the Western world often feel we’re immune to some of the more violent and oppressive structures found across the world, we mustn’t lie to ourselves that these problems are found only in other places.
In the UK alone, there has been an upsurge in recent years of aid organisations focused on combating domestic abuse. As everyone reacts to trauma in different ways, there needs to be a plurality of methods to fight against domestic abuse. Sometimes support groups where people are allowed to share their experiences in a safe environment without the fear of being judged are all that’s needed for people to break out of abusive relationships. As is the case with other support groups like Alcoholics’ Anonymous, on occasion the simple act of talking about one’s experiences with people who are going through or have gone through analogous situations can be enough to encourage people to change their lives and end abusive relationships.
But support groups are not the only structures that are required to fight such a brutal and damaging dynamic. For example, for people in circumstances where their well-being is threatened and sometimes even their very lives, having a safe house to where they can escape is a very necessary and helpful way of providing immediate support. The UK government has a domestic abuse and sanctuary scheme in place to provide both immediate and long-term support for people who find themselves in violent—both emotionally and physically—environments.
As is almost always the case in which certain people or groups of people are marginalised or oppressed, the dynamic is bad for the entirety of society and not simply the people or groups who are oppressed. Racial discrimination, for example, is counter-productive to all of society by limiting the number of people who are actively contributing to the society at large. The same is true of gender inequality whereby having women stay at home robs but public and private organisations of an able work force and the ideas and innovations that a plurality of people and backgrounds has always brought.
In the case of domestic abuse, this too creates a situation that hurts people who are not necessarily directly affected by the phenomenon. For many people with lives that are largely devoid of meaningful grievances and legitimate complaint, issues such as domestic abuse are seen as something from a different part of society, be it economic or religious or cultural.
This so-called ‘othering’ of problems can lead to inaccurate stereotypes and subsequent discrimination that cause very real and daily problems for people from the groups being discriminated against and as a knock-on effect the society at large. By robbing a society of one of its many subgroups through the use of discrimination, a society is effectively doing the same thing as an individual amputating an arm or leg based on a suspicion that there’s something odd and dangerous about it.
This process also has the effect of wrongly isolating certain social phenomenon, like domestic violence for example, to certain groups such as immigrants or the working class. The truth of the matter is that something like domestic abuse does not follow any religious, ethnic or socio-economic patterns and by doing so we ignore people who are living through such family traumas by pretending that these issues only exist in and for a specific group.
Domestic abuse, like families themselves, is not something that is confined to countryside farmers or urban elite, to western Europe or to subsaharan Africa. This terrible issue does not know borders or acknowledge income. It is both a modern and ancient tragedy that societies should actively fight against and bring into the open in the hopes of ultimately eradicating the practice.
Families have endured millennia because they are such effective methods of providing love and support to people, no matter where they are from or when they lived. But not everyone has a positive experience of family and the issue of domestic abuse is ultimately ignored to the peril and great cost of society at large.