By Robert J. Burrowes
A recent report from Equality Now titled ‘The World’s Shame: The Global
Rape Epidemic‘ offered a series of recommendations for strengthened laws to deter and
punish sexual violence against women and girls.
However, there is substantial evidence that legal approaches to dealing
with violence in any context are ineffective. For example, the empirical
evidence on threats of punishment (that is, violence) as deterrence and
the infliction of punishment (that is, violence) as revenge reveals
variable impact and context dependency, which is readily apparent
through casual observation. There are simply too many different reasons
why people break laws in different contexts. See, for example, ‘Crime
Moreover, given the overwhelming evidence that violence is rampant in
our world and that the violence of the legal system simply contributes
to and reinforces this cycle of violence, it seems patently obvious that
we would be better off identifying the cause of violence and then
designing approaches to address this cause and its many symptoms
effectively. And reallocating resources away from the legal and prison
systems in support of approaches that actually work.
So why do some men rape?
All perpetrators of violence, including rapists, suffered enormous
violence during their own childhoods. This violence will have usually
included a great deal of ‘visible’ violence (that is, the overt physical
violence that we all readily identify) but, more importantly, it will
have included a great deal of ‘invisible’ and ‘utterly invisible’
violence as well: the violence perpetrated by adults against children
that is not ordinarily perceived as violent. For a full explanation, see
‘Why Violence?‘ and ‘Fearless Psychology and Fearful Psychology: Principles and Practice‘.
This violence inflicts enormous damage on a child’s Selfhood leaving
them feeling terrified, self-hating and powerless, among other horrific
feelings. However, because we do not allow children the emotional space
to feel their emotional responses to our violence, these feelings of
terror, self-hatred and powerlessness (among a multitude of others),
become deeply embedded in the child’s unconscious and drive their
behaviour without their conscious awareness that they are doing so.
So what is ‘invisible’ violence? It is the ‘little things’ we do every
day, partly because we are just ‘too busy’. For example, when we do not
allow time to listen to, and value, a child’s thoughts and feelings, the
child learns to not listen to themSelf thus destroying their internal
communication system. When we do not let a child say what they want (or
ignore them when they do), the child develops communication and
behavioural dysfunctionalities as they keep trying to meet their own
needs (which, as a basic survival strategy, they are genetically
programmed to do).
When we blame, condemn, insult, mock, embarrass, shame, humiliate,
taunt, goad, guilt-trip, deceive, lie to, bribe, blackmail, moralize
with and/or judge a child, we both undermine their sense of Self-worth
and teach them to blame, condemn, insult, mock, embarrass, shame,
humiliate, taunt, goad, guilt-trip, deceive, lie, bribe, blackmail,
moralize and/or judge.
The fundamental outcome of being bombarded throughout their childhood by
this ‘invisible’ violence is that the child is utterly overwhelmed by
feelings of fear, pain, anger and sadness (among many others). However,
parents, teachers and other adults also actively interfere with the
expression of these feelings and the behavioural responses that are
naturally generated by them and it is this ‘utterly invisible’ violence
that explains why the dysfunctional behavioural outcomes actually occur.
For example, by ignoring a child when they express their feelings, by
comforting, reassuring or distracting a child when they express their
feelings, by laughing at or ridiculing their feelings, by terrorizing a
child into not expressing their feelings (e.g. by screaming at them when
they cry or get angry), and/or by violently controlling a behaviour that
is generated by their feelings (e.g. by hitting them, restraining them
or locking them into a room), the child has no choice but to
unconsciously suppress their awareness of these feelings.
However, once a child has been terrorized into suppressing their
awareness of their feelings (rather than being allowed to have their
feelings and to act on them) the child has also unconsciously suppressed
their awareness of the reality that caused these feelings. This has many
outcomes that are disastrous for the individual, for society and for
nature because the individual will now easily suppress their awareness
of the feelings that would tell them how to act most functionally in any
given circumstance and they will progressively acquire a phenomenal
variety of dysfunctional behaviours, including some that are violent
towards themselves, others and/or the Earth.
So what is happening psychologically for the rapist when they commit the
act of rape? In essence, they are projecting the (unconsciously
suppressed) feelings of their own victimhood onto their rape victim.
That is, their fear, self-hatred and powerlessness, for example, are
projected onto the victim so that they can gain temporary relief from
these feelings. Their fear, temporarily, is more deeply suppressed.
Their self-hatred is projected as hatred of their victim. Their
powerlessness is temporarily relieved by a sense of being in control,
which they were never allowed to be, and feel, as a child. And similarly
with their other suppressed feelings. For example, a rapist might blame
their victim for their dress: a sure sign that the rapist was endlessly,
and unjustly, blamed as a child and is (unconsciously) angry about that.
The central point in understanding violence is that it is psychological
in origin and hence any effective response must enable the suppressed
feelings (which will include enormous rage at the violence they
suffered) to be safely expressed. For an explanation of what is
required, see ‘Nisteling: The Art of Deep Listening’ which is referenced
in ‘My Promise to Children’.
The legal system is simply a socially endorsed structure of violence and
it uses violence, euphemistically labeled ‘punishment’, in a perverse
attempt to terrorise people into controlling their behaviours or being
treated violently in revenge by the courts if they do not. This approach
is breathtakingly ignorant and unsophisticated in the extreme and a
measure of how far we are from responding powerfully to the pervasive
problem of violence in our world. See ‘The Rule of Law: Unjust and
Violent’ and ‘Punishment is Violent and Counterproductive’.
So what are we to do?
Well we can continue to lament violence against women (just as some
lament other manifestations of violence such as war, exploitation and
destruction of the environment, for example) and use the legal system to
reinforce the cycle of violence by inflicting more violence as
Or we can each, personally, address the underlying cause of all
It might not be palatable to acknowledge and take steps to address your
own violence against children but, until you do, you will live in a
world in which the long-standing and unrelenting epidemic of violence
against children ensures that all other manifestations of human violence
continue unchecked. And our species becomes extinct.
If you wish to participate in the worldwide effort to end human
violence, you might like to make ‘My Promise to Children’ outlined in
the article cited above and to sign the online pledge of ‘The People’s
Charter to Create a Nonviolent World‘.
You might also support initiatives to devote considerable societal
resources to providing high-quality emotional support (by those expert
at nisteling) to those who survive rape. This support cannot be provided
by a psychiatrist. See ‘Defeating the Violence of Psychiatry‘. Nisteling
will enable those who have suffered from trauma to heal fully and
completely, but it will take time.
Importantly, the rapist needs this emotional support too. They have a
long and painful childhood from which they need a great deal of help to
recover. It is this healing that will enable them to accurately identify
the perpetrators of the violence they suffered and about whom they have
so many suppressed (and now projected) feelings which need to be felt
and safely expressed.
You need a lot of empathy and the capacity to nistel to address violence
in this context meaningfully and effectively. You also need it to raise
compassionate and powerful children in the first place.
Biodata: Robert J. Burrowes has a lifetime commitment to understanding
and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in
an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a
nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of ‘Why Violence?‘
His email address is email@example.com
and his website is at http://robertjburrowes.wordpress.com
Robert J. Burrowes
P.O. Box 68
Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth
Nonviolent Campaign Strategy
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Anita: Songs of Nonviolence
Global Nonviolence Network