Although the increased focus on violence against women and children by government and civil society is laudable, it is insufficient if there is to be any hope of changing South Africa’s social environment. Lucy Jamieson, a senior researcher at UCT’s Children’s Institute, said there’s a problematic societal acceptance of violence against and between men and that if society is to stop gender-based violence and femicide, it must recognise and acknowledge violence against men. Jamieson explained that all these social ills are deeply connected and that focusing on violence against women and children alone is insufficient – we have to end violence in general.
Dispelling a common misinterpretation of facts, Jamieson clarified that violent tendencies are not only manifested later in life by children who have been exposed to, or who have experienced, violence. Children can begin to perpetuate and display violent and aggressive behaviour from a very young age.
“Anyone who’s got young children will know that if they have been smacked or if they see their siblings fighting or their parents fighting, that from a very young age those children display violent and aggressive behaviours. We’ve seen in studies that it doesn’t manifest [only] in adulthood but in early childhood,” said Jamieson.
“Those who have experienced, or been exposed to violence, are more likely to become bullies or be involved in violence in the classroom and in the community…It happens very quickly.”
The effects violence can have on young children extend past the perpetuation of violence or the display of violent tendencies, however. Children exposed to violence are at greater psychological and physical risk, according to Jamieson.
She indicated that there exists a gendered pattern of violence where boys who have experienced violence in childhood are more likely to be aggressive and perpetrators of violence in later life, while girls who have experienced violence in childhood learn to tolerate violence and are then more likely to be victims of gender-based violence and intimate partner violence in adulthood.
“What people are less likely to be aware of are the long lasting effects that are less direct. Children who experience violence in the home are also at an increased risk of suffering from poor mental health issues like anxiety and depression and are more likely to engage in alcohol and drug abuse as well as in risky sexual behaviours later in life. Here in South Africa the research even shows that children who have been exposed to violence are more likely to contract HIV in later life,” explained Jamieson.
“Children learn violence and once they learn it, it’s entrenched. They become more tolerant of violence.”
Jamieson warned that violence is quite literally taught to children from older generations and cautioned that this teaching of violence is one way the cycle of violence is perpetuated over time.
She seems to suggest that society should re-think its approach to violence and combat it in a more holistic way, rather than to simply focus on violence perpetrated on single groups in the hopes that it will heal society.
“Yes, men tend to be the perpetrators of violence, but actually, men are victims of violence too…we’ve focused a lot on gender-based violence and femicide, but for every woman killed, eight men are murdered,” she said.