© Priory Lodge Education Ltd., 1994,1995,1996.

Videotape Review:

"More Than Words"

Responding to Domestic Violence

Producer: David Doepel
Echo Bridge Productions USA

The video "More Than Words" is part of Echo Bridge's Understanding Psychological Trauma series. In the words of the accompanying support material:

"In creating More Than Words...we sought to make a video that focussed more on intervention. A video that, in its own way, might help diminish the occurrence of spousal homicide and help women living in abusive relationships to find ways to be safe and to live free of violence, which is their right. To do this, More Than Words emphasises a professional's responsibility and role in identification, assessment and referral of women they suspect are being battered"

Domestic violence is a global pandemic, but often an unseen one, with which society often unwittingly colludes. The statistics are frightening; to quote from "When Father Kills Mother" (Hendriks, Black and Kaplan, 1993):

Every year in the USA, about one-third of all children in families are either seriously assaulted by one of their parents, witness one parent assaulting the other or are exposed to both kinds of assault. There is chronic violence in one in fourteen marriages in the USA, and at least two thirds of women in women's refuges bring children with them. Indeed in the USA more women are abused by their husbands or partners than are injured in car acidents or by muggers or by stranger rape"

At the very least, the victim is physically and emotionally traumatised. So also are the children; to quote the video support material:

"Children are clear victims in domestic violence cases, there is convincing evidence of co-morbidity between domestic violence and child abuse, and there is an emerging body of data chronicling the legacy of children witnessing violence"

At worst, the situation can escalate into the even grimmer tragedy of manslaughter, murder or suicide, and we are reminded of the scale of this in the first part:

"In Australia from July 1989 to June 1992 161 murdered women were killed by a current or former male partner"

There are in Australia more animal shelters than women's refuges, and many women have to be turned away.

Many of the abused or murdered women have children, and it is not uncommon (as Hendricks, Black and Caplan point out in their book) for a child to witness the murder of his mother, or even spend the night alone with the body. We are also reminded that battering is one of the leading causes of infant mortality and birth defects in pregnant women.

More Than Words consists of a trilogy three videos. In the first part, three abused women - Lyn, Stacey, and Sharon talk about their experiences at the hands of abusive partners. There are no stereotypes, neither of victims, nor of perpetrators. Stacey Allen, the first American woman to reach the summit of Everest, and clearly a courageous and strong woman, suffered chronic domestic violence. In her own words:

"Every kind of person can be involved in an abusive relationship. The perception of an abused woman I think needs to be changed - it can happen to anybody"

Part I of the trilogy of videos looks at the historical roots of domestic violence. We are reminded that there has existed for many centuries a legal definition of wives as the property of their husbands, and such deeply seated values do not die easily. We are also reminded of the origins of the term "Rule of Thumb" - specifying the maximum width of stick a man could use to beat his wife. Some men have a sense of entitlement, whereby they feel that they have a right to control their wives in whatever way they see fit; what happens within the marital home is a private affair and a man's own business - even if this includes verbal and physical abuse.

Much of this part looks at looks at some of the core beliefs held not only by the perpetrator of violence, but frequently by members of society at large - including members of the caring professions and the police. These "victim-blaming" beliefs lead to an unwitting collusion with the perpetrator and can in turn lead to "victim-blaming questions", further crushing the victim's self esteem. We are given examples of such statements or questions....

Better, the victim might be encouraged to ask

The perpetrators themselves have their own belief systems, as evidenced by typical statements...

The violence frequently escalates. The victim loses her self esteem, and comes to believe that there is no way out, that she is in the words of one woman "worthless, ugly, stupid, unlovable". Frequently the batterer succeeds in isolating the woman from sources of help. In the words of one professional...

"If you are surviving and living in fear for long periods of time,you learn to believe that there is no way out, you learn to believe that there is no hope, and it is this feeling of helplessness that is primarily what you do experience. You start to believe that you are not worth it, that you are not capable and that you can not do anything about it..."

We are invited to consider that the perpetrator's problem is not that of control or of anger management. Perpetrators frequently can control themselves in other situations. Rather, the violence is being used as a method of control, and is considered to be an acceptable way of solving problems.

Domestic violence is a public health issue; it is the responsibility of professionals in healthcare, social services and the police to become educated and aware of the issues; in addition they should be incorporating methods of assessment and management routinely into their protocols. Towards the end of the first part, and in the second part of the trilogy, there is emphasis on the importance of the correct response. In particular, the battered woman requires a safe environment, support in her decisions, and a door left open for further disclosure. Certain questions are particularly empowering :

So also are certain statements:

The caregiver needs a clear plan. In the middle part of the trilogy we are given guidelines about how to respond when a woman discloses domestic violence. There is not space here to enumerate more than a few of the useful list of "Do's" and "Don'ts" suggested by the video which could well be incorporated into departmental guidelines and protocols. It is, for example, important to show the woman that she is taken seriously. It is important also to assess the risk of further harm both from the abuser, and also to the abuser by the victim. The victim also needs to be assessed for risk of self harm. Therefore: is it safe to go home ? It is also important that the caregiver does not put the victim in further danger, by giving advice which inadvertently provokes the abuser.

Equally useful is the third part of the trilogy. Here, we view various role-plays showing how different professionals might respond to disclosure of domestic violence. We see scenarios involving abused women presenting in various situations - a casualty department; an antenatal clinic; a dental clinic; a psychotherapy session; a consultation with a family doctor. We are invited to recognise that many different professional situations can present opportunities for recognition and intervention.

Verdict ? The video has a wide use and appeal. It would clearly be useful as part of the training of a number of professional groups, especially in health, social services, and the police. The subject is of obvious importance in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and it will be forming part of my induction programme for trainees. Recommended.

Reviewed by
Tony Roberts

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