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Domestic Violence In Costa Rica Essay, Research Paper

Executive Summary

Domestic violence is a grave and complex problem which has no easy solution, but it affects the entire costarrican society. The priorities of todays institutions have a tought time, trying to detect, atend, prevent, and transform the socio-cultural patters which have originated and perpetuate it. Violence against women compels all sort of phisical, sexual and psicological violence in the family, violence in the comunity and educational institutions, and female prostitution.

Gender violence includes a series of learned values, beliefs and atitudes which were learned and are transmitted generation to generation, without any discrimination for social, economic, educative, ethnicity, religion or ideological politics.

Violence manifests itself in many different ways according to the dinamics of the power relationship. The impact of violence on the quality of life of people is deep and compels not only physical damage, but also emotional and psycological. The costs of domestic violence are always very high for the individual and for the state. Furthermore, the negative impact on the quality of lives of womem becomes evident through: adictions, suicides, frequent admitances to the psyquiatric wards, recurrent sicknesses, low academic and working achievement, low personal satisfaction, etc.

It is in this investigation that this problem will be analyzed from the point of view of the male offender. How is it that this men commit this acts of violence in their cyclical patterns? If the male offenders were stopped there would be no need for this investigation, therefore the key to the answer to stopping domestic violence in Costa Rica, should be to stop the men from hitting women before they commit any violent act. There will be also an insight on what is been done in other countries to treat this problem. Some recomendations to resolve the conflict at the root are presented as well.

Extension of the Problem

In Costa Rica, violence against women has taken on average the lives of two women per month, in this decade. Nonetheless, this is only a small statistic of the violence that women endure everyday in CostaRica. On a intrafamiliar level, in 1996, a study on the urban public opinion made by the Psycologial Investigation Institute of the UCR, for the INAMU, revealed that 36.3% of the selected population knows a man who frequently batters his companion, and that 21.4% of the people of the urban setting knows a man who forces his wife to having sexual relations with him. A recent study in the country for the United Nations Program for Development, shows how there has been a rise in the denouncing of domestic violence in the many ofices around the country. The study also explains how in 1998 the Judicial Power has issued 21.000 petitions for protection under the law against Domestic Violence, while in 1997 these accounted for only 15.336 for the whole country.

A statistical analisis of the petitions presented for domestic violence, prepared by the Planning Office of the Judicial Power, indicates that due to the anual increase of these petitions, (5000 more per year) in 1999 it will be expected to receive 26.000 cases, which gives an average of 2.150 petitions per month, or 100 per working day.

In june of 1999, the Fiscal a de Delitos Sexuales y Violencia Dom stica (San Jos ) has taken 321 accusations, referring to domestic violence and sexual crimes. This institute, which begun in january of 1998, atended this year 655 cases of violence. In bothe cases, la wide mayority of the victims were female.

This year, 8 women have already lost their lives to their husbands, companions, boyfriends and fathers. From january 1st, to may 19, 4652 registered calls were made to the Lets Break the Silence hotline; 1733 women have been atended for by the Women+s Delegation and up tu April 30th, 307 women were looking for refuge in the Home for the Battered Woman.

In the working environment, it is evident the rise in situations of sexual harrasment according to the Defensor a de los Habitantes: in 1996 only 17 cases were reported to this institution, in 1997, 22 were reported and by 1998, 100 were accounted for. This is mostly due to the widespread information available today provided by institutions and working environments. Nevertheless, this numbers only reveal a small part of the problem of sexual harrasment.

Psychological Analysis of the Causes of the Problem

There are many theories about the psychological causes of battering, ranging from alcohol abuse, stress, poor anger management, and an abusive childhood. However, a more accurate picture of the causes of battering needs to include the social conditions that permit and even encourage violence against women: Such conditions include traditional sex roles that teach men to dominate, and women to submit. Another social condition that promotes battering is our society’s use of hierarchies , with the belief that every group, family or relationship should have one person in charge, and that person has the right to use force to ensure their power and control over others. Batterers often abuse women because:

I. They choose to, in the same way that they choose not to assault their boss when they are angry,

II. It works. They get what they want (in the short-term): release of tension and submissive behavior from others,

III. They get away with it. If there are no negative consequences such as police arresting and filing charges, then the message is that violence is acceptable.

Many theories have been developed to explain why some men use violence against their partners. These theories include: family dysfunction, inadequate communication skills, provocation by women, stress, chemical dependency, lack of spirituality and economic hardship. These issues may be associated with battering of women, but they are not the causes. Removing these associated factors will not end men s violence against women. The batterer begins and continues his behavior because violence is an effective method for gaining and keeping control over another person and he usually does not suffer adverse consequences as a result of his behavior.

Historically, violence against women has not been treated as a “real” crime. This is evident in the lack of severe consequences, such as incarceration or economic penalties, for men guilty of battering their partners. Rarely are batterers ostracized in their communities, even if they are known to have physically assaulted their partners. Batterers come from all groups and backgrounds, and from all personality profiles. However, some characteristics fit a general profile of a batterer:

+ A batterer objectifies women. He does not see women as people. He does not respect women as a group. Overall, he sees women as property or sexual objects.

+ A batterer has low self-esteem and feels powerless and ineffective in the world. He may appear successful, but inside he feels inadequate.

+ A batterer externalizes the causes of his behavior. He blames his violence on circumstances such as stress, his partner s behavior, a “bad day,” alcohol or other factors.

+ A batterer may be pleasant and charming between periods of violence, and is often seen as a “nice guy” to outsiders.

Theory- Hypothesis

The culture of male violence has been under sustained criticism as never before. Writers such as Anna Coote and Suzanne Moore have highlighted that not only is most crime committed by men, but men are responsible for nearly all violent crime. However manifested, whether as road rage, random assaults in public places and wife beating, violence is possibly the most pernicious male disorder.

There are means for helping the violent tackle their violence but these techniques are largely ignored. Why? It might be assumed that that men who want to stop their violence would be welcomed and help made readily available to them. Not so, and the political inertia has a curious dynamic; a strange alliance of machismo politics and second wave feminism.The result – the total demonisation of such men – may ironically be preventing any further change in attitude towards solving male violence.

It was not that domestic violence was new, but in the past society s attitudes had just been more ambivalent. In other countries like Britain, the statistics paint a horrifying picture: forty-five percent of women murder victims are killed by present or former partners (compared to eight percent of male victims). A quarter of women say they have experienced physical violence from a partner. In sixty-eight percent of incidents of domestic violence, children are in the same or next room, witnesses to the assault. A third of children present during an incident intervene to protect the mother. The women s refuge movement has done a great deal to change the public attitude to such violence. It is now generally accepted that it is never the victim s fault and that women should not stand by a violent man.

Stopping the cycle of violence usually requires radical action. Often women and children have to move out of their home to one of the several hundred refuges around the country. Sometimes, the police have prosecuted violent men and the courts will grant injunctions to keep violent men out of the home. In Costa Rica, this is not working very accurately, because the project for the penalization of the Domestic Violence Law has been stuck in congress for months with no true progress.

But what is being done to help violent men who want to reform? Here the debate gets tricky. The prevailing attitude to all violent men is that they should be punished. If they need to be removed from society so be it. It is a point of view which at one level is completely right. But it has drawbacks. Prison may send a strong warning to violent men but in practical terms, all the evidence is that the prison system is one of the most violent and brutalising environments and only reinforces aggressive behaviour. The deviated conduct that he learned when young, will only grow more accentuated in jail and probably in this point, it would be very hard for him to ever go back to living a non-violent life.

It is also important not to lump all men s violence together because individuals are involved and cases vary. The other implicit part of the argument is that violent men should stop. But many men do not have the emotional equipment to be able to control violence without expert help. There are comparisons with the problems addicts have in breaking their patterns of behaviour. To make people stop, some deep stuff usually needs to be addressed by the individual. It is here we come to the curious case of political inaction. There is a good deal of noisy bluff but little is actually done on any front to tackle male violence. In the current tough on crime political climate politicians exhibit old fashioned political machismo. While we all say we hate violence we mostly admire the hard man. This might be the hard men (and women) of politics. Understanding or empathy is not part of the appeal. Policemen who take on violent criminals are seen as a hardmen, because of their use of violence with them. Dealing in understanding or empathy with the criminal is seen as weak. Yet the overall effect is to reinforce and, in effect, condone male violence.

A curious ingredient is that much of the debate over domestic violence has been driven by a strand of feminist activism that traces its roots back to the all men are rapists dictum. While the arguments have got more sophisticated, that remains the underlying core and the tone remains inflexible. The alliance of these two apparently unlikely ideas, that all men are bastards and that offenders must be dealt with in a tough manner. But is is also this alliance of views that in the case of male violence prevents a proper framework for providing help. Suggesting that violent men may need help seems as popular as advocating eugenics.

Feminists understandably take a very hard line on men who do commit domestic violence. However the hard line in itself has not brought about change in male behaviour. Perhaps now is the time to review our stance and the provision of counselling to violent men.

Prosecution may express society s abhorrence of such behaviour but it does no more to stop the tide of domestic violence than it does to stop burglary or other crimes. Much of male violence is spontaneous, and most authorities agree that deep-seated anger is at the heart of it. Violence may be frightening and used to control but often it is form of emotional illiteracy. The perpetrator has little insight into the deep seated reasons behind his use of force.

Can men change their violent behaviour? InBritain, a handful of voluntary sector organisations have devised therapeutic courses to help violent men. The best known is probably the Everyman Centre in Brixton but that has been scaled down because of financial problems. Over 300 men have gone through the Centre. The courses developed out of anger management techniques pioneered in the United States.

Violent men have difficulty articulating and expressing feeling and emotion even to themselves and this severely limits their ability to empathise with others. Men s emotional spectrum is very limited and in addition they are unaware of feeling or emotion unless it is intense and often extreme. Men drop out of the course along the way and of the men that successfully finish, it does not automatically follow that they are cured . Some have re-occurrences during the course and some afterwards.

These courses are still controversial. Even in England, the pro-feminist view and the women s refuge movement view is extremely sceptical and wary. Such schemes, they say, should be accountable to women and must be seen as secondary to the work of women s refuges.

The traditional approach is practised more within the prison or mental health sectors and works on the principle that men can treated as individuals. One frequent criticism is that there is no way of assessing how effective these courses are.

Men should be encouraged to to take responsibility for their behaviour and helped to recognise that their need to control stems from sexist expectations endorsed by society: Arresting and charging violent men delivers a powerful message to society that assaulting a women in the home is as serious as an assault on a stranger. (INAMU)

In parallel to the voluntary sector, American-style anger management is used in dealing with offenders in the public sector. A violent offender is referred to the probation service who either have their own courses or send the offender on a course run by the local mental health trust. The NHS in the West Country has been at the forefront of this development. Mike Hennessy, a clinical psychologist with the Dorset Community Health Trust in Dorchester, has been giving individual one-to-one anger management counselling for nine years and deals with all forms of violence. He sees eighty percent men and twenty percent women.

To be effective, anger management courses need to be tightly monitored and accountable in the wider sense. Even if each course has less than a hundred percent success rate they are still tackling one of the most difficult issues of our times – men and their emotions.

A social worker for the CCSS in Costa Rica, Mercedes Chac n, argues If a man who has a long history of violence, beating up partners, a record for violent offences, comes to our course and either stops violence for periods or reduces his violence that is a major success. Of course we would like him to stop altogether but, realistically, if in the course of a few weeks we can intervene against the pattern of behaviour built up over a life time, bearing in mind that these people are living in a violent society, then that is a major achievement. I believe that if we attack the problem from the time they are adolescents, we can have higher probabilities for that man not to express his violent character in a later time.

If male violence is the greatest threat to the stability of society then it would be sensible to help any man who seriously wants to stop his violence. But machismo has such a deep appeal in the Costarican society: it is as though one can are hardly be conscious of it let alone in a position to challenge it. There is no evidence of the political process being able to address the issue. The existence of a flourishing network of groups in England like Everyman Centre in Brixton would send out a strong signal that male violence is unacceptable and that there are alternatives. Demonising and further dehumanising men will not change a society already terrorised by male violence


After conducting this investigation, one can trully observe how the domestic problem in this country is very real and frightening. The statistics presented by the INAMU, can very well scare the women and men of the age bracket (20-45) because it is where most of the victims and offenders lie in. Most men who batter women are their husbands, so that leaves the community a bad sense of the word marriage.

The root of the problem resides in the male idea that violence is a way to solve their problems. In our society, males are taught implicitly to be strong against their problems, but it does not teach the individual not to use violence as a way to solve marital problems or domestic problems. This is where the fallacy lies on. Many men believe that if violence solves problems in their external lives, they can also use this tool to solve internal life problems.

In Costa Rica, much of the work that is being done to control male violence in the man himself is done by social workers at nationwide hospitals. When the woman comes all batter up by the husband, to the hospital, inmediately she is assigned to a social worker to try to solve her problem. But the social worker, in Costa Rica, tries to help not only her, but also the husband or companion if he is willing to participate in the therapeutic sessions in the hospital. This is where the true solution to our nations crisis is. The solution is to help these social actions in the hospitals to achieve their goals effectively and efficiently. In these hospitals atention to domestic violence has grown integrally: socially, legally and in health for the battered woman. This is the way to do it because an offender without treatment will continue to be an offender for the rest of his life.

Ms.Chacon was stating that from all the cases she has had in Puntarenas, only five out of twenty domestic violence cases have had some progress and this is due to the willingness of the man to get some help from her and attend the meetings as a couple. The others have not made progress because either the man is now in jail or is dead or continues battering the woman. (She is too submissive and is not thinking)

Violence is ciclical. Everyone carries some sort of anger inside, but these men do not know how to express it. Their conducts are deviated because at a young age their patterns of violence were never corrected or even obstructed. Violence is a type of behavior that is learned through life. No one is born violent, society changes them to be this way. The domestic violence problems in this society resides in that every male child is taught directly or indirectly to use certain amount of violence to solve their problems, even if it has to be in the home. Because it is one of the mayor myths of this society that, El hombre debe imponerse para mantener el orden en la casa. (even if it means violently)

There is no institution for helping violent men who wish to manage their anger. There is a big gap in the system of trying to stop male violence in the home, and it lies inside male minds, behaviors and personalities. This group is been left out of the solution picture in Costa Rica, at the time when the problem keeps getting worse every year. The social workers for hospitals are trying to solve the problems from the root, but it is very dangerous for them, because they lack the resources and the security to work with these violent men. They need to be better funded. An institution is very greatly needed in this agenda. The INAMU used to be an institution for the entire family, but now all the regional and main offices are just dedicated to trying to solve women troubles. Men need help, and they cannot find it. They are not getting the support they need to get. If the problem is not cut from the root, it will still keep coming back, even if all men were sent to jail.

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