January 7, 2000 Halifax Herald

Violence can't be tackled in a piecemeal fashion

A news item in the November 23, 1999, issue of this paper, entitled "60 NS women murdered in past decade," contained this paragraph: "It will be a decade on December 6 since 14 women were killed in the Montreal Massacre simply because they were women." During one of the December 6 televised commemoration events for the victims of the massacre, a teenaged girl made this shocked comment: "they were killed just because they were women!"

Related to this horrific incident, and others where women have been victimized, various women's groups have often placed signs in public places which read: "Stop Violence Against Women." Such a message leaves an impression that stopping violence against other members of society is not so urgent. It is. Therefore, the message needs to be changed to recognize that violence is a universal problem needing universal attention. The only way to reduce violence against women to insignificant levels is to reduce it to the same level across the board.

These examples of violence testify to why a universal solution is needed: During the Bosnia civil war, 5,000 to 8,000 Muslim boys and men were rounded up in one incident alone and executed simply because they were potential fighters in the civil war. In Rwanda, 500,000 to 800,000 were slaughtered because they were members of the wrong Tribe. In Quebec in early December, three very elderly, helpless people were bludgeoned to death because they were old, rich and defenceless.

Grouping these horrific crimes into categories of victims and trying to cure the problem in such a manner is useless. If we were to limit our efforts to tackling only the worst of them first, then all our attention would have to focus on male - vs - male violence, which probably exceeds all others combined by tenfold!

To kick off efforts to change things so that eventually society will be less violent, there must be an admission by all parties that the guilt is universal. The practice of laying most of the blame on men must stop; men and gender violence are not synonymous. In this regard, females have to admit that violence committed by women against men is as condemnable as that committed by males. There are stats that show that when reported and unreported gender violence is combined, the female incidence of being the perpetrator exceeds the male. In the fatal category, the male gets the nod. However, determining which gender group is the worse is largely incidental to curtailing the problem.

What is most important is going after the source. It doesn't start with birth, because the overwhelming majority of children are not born with violent streaks any more than they are born with racist tendencies. Both are acquired traits, learned from adults, mothers and fathers in particular.

In disputing the level of blame that live adult role models must accept for the acceptance of violence as a norm by children, some experts instead point the finger at the media, movies, television shows, etc. People from earlier generations probably will take this with a hugh grain of salt because if such were the case, the children from their generations, who saw movies that were really violent, would have been homicidal maniacs. For example, when I was very young, I can remember seeing Western movies in the late 1940s and 1950s, where literally hundreds were killed in a single movie. They were shot, hung, burned alive, tortured, dragged, etc. As history relates, we didn't turn out all that bad.

When it comes to curtailing violence, parents are the front line people who should be telling their small children that its wrong to pull the wings off of live flies, assault other small children, etc. Two-year-old Susie pulling two-year-old Johnny 's hair, or vice versa, is not cute; its wrong and the child needs to be told this, not encouraged by laughter to continue.

Perhaps the biggest problem in trying to curtail violence in children, before it becomes an ingrained adult trait, is mom and dad's tendency to see no wrong when it comes to their own children's behaviour. Ask the teachers out there about the reaction they get from many parents when they call them to relate that their child is acting up, or bullying other children. It can be venomous. One of the most illogical responses is: My sweet child is being picked on.

Curtailing violence to the lowest possible level that human nature will permit is a long-range project; there are no magic solutions. Probably the best policy to implement to make a sizable reduction in violence-related incidents in the foreseeable future is to adopt a zero-tolerance for it from day care to university. Any child or young adult caught assaulting another, or committing any other act of violence, either on or off school property, should be immediately suspended or expelled. The penalty assessed depending on the level of violence used.

Violence is akin to racism; neither can be cured piecemeal. Its time to stop squabbling about whose the most to blame and accept the universality of the problem, and unite to reduce it to the lowest level possible. The uncountable victims say its a must!

Daniel N. Paul


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