How the cycle of domestic violence begins

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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Dr. Allison Foley joins The Means Report to help understand the mind of an abuser, the reaction of a domestic violence victim, and what we can all do to help prevent the unspeakable abuse from becoming an even greater tragedy.

Brad Means: Dr. Foley, thanks for what you do at Augusta University as an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice, as the Director for the Center of Social Science Research. You’re busy and we thank you for your time.

Dr. Allison Foley: Thank you for taking time to focus on this subject.

Brad Means: Well, we appreciate it. Glad to shine the light on it. During the commercial break, Dee was telling us about a recent trip to New York, where she was in a domestic violence house, if you will, set up to show, to illustrate, the horrors of this issue. And she met other survivors up there. And Dee was describing to us some of the evils that those ladies endured. My question to you, as a social scientist, what makes people so bad? Are they born that way?

Dr. Allison Foley: Well, that’s a very good question and honestly, I don’t think that the jury is out completely on the answer to that. We are still learning more and more as the years go on about what possible role the damage to the person’s brain, say, when they’re young and in their youth, in teenage years, we’re still learning about how that and trauma that they experienced too, victimization that they experienced, when they’re children, can affect the way that the brain develops and then that affects the way that they process information, the way that they regulate emotion, or don’t, the way then, that they behave in response to those emotions that they’re experiencing. So it’s likely that there is, sort of a biological component that is involved, but even in the examples that I just gave, those are actually environmental factors that cause that brain damage, honestly.

Brad Means: Right. So when you witness that kinda stuff growing up, the likelihood that you’re gonna become an abuser grows.

Dr. Allison Foley: It does, it does. And it could be through that mechanism of trauma’s impact on the brain or physical impact on the brain. But it is also gonna be related to what you learn, right? So even if a child isn’t traumatized during childhood, and has these impacts on their brain and then their later development, certainly, if they witness violence in their home, witness violence in their community, witness violence at school, and then they start to learn that violence is acceptable, in certain circumstance. Or violence is always acceptable. Or even if they don’t learn that it’s acceptable, if they see that it gets people what they want, and they also value those things, they’re gonna take on those attitudes, right?

Brad Means: Are you talking about video games and movies, that do seem to glorify violence? Or you seeing things on the news that glorify it that you think can shape the way these kids turn out?

Dr. Allison Foley: I would say it’s a mixture of media influences, but we find that what we learn, what children learn, and what teenagers learn, from people who are closet to them, is more impactful than what they see in media.

Brad Means: How about the criminal justice system? Do you think enough is being done to deter people from being domestic violence aggressors, from being abusers? Do they fear the punishment? Or do we need to crack down even more as a society?

Dr. Allison Foley: The system can always improve.

Brad Means: Sure.

Dr. Allison Foley: The system can always improve. Pretty much any institutional system can always improve. I think that in my experience and working, sometimes pretty closely with practitioners in the criminal justice system here locally, I’ve been here for 12 years, they work really hard with the, usually, limited, sometimes very limited resources that they have.

Brad Means: They sure do. Yeah I’ve seen that as well.

Dr. Allison Foley: Yeah. So I think that the criminal justice system, putting people in jail, putting people in prison, is not gonna always be an effective deterrent for every person out there, right?

Brad Means: No it’s not.

Dr. Allison Foley: It’s definitely more of a threat and scarier to people who have more resources, who would then risk losing those resources if they went to jail or prison. But for those who don’t have a job, for those who grow up in an environment where it’s pretty normative to see people in your family, in your community, in your neighborhood, going in and out of jail, it’s not as big.

Brad Means: Not as scary.

Dr. Allison Foley: It’s not as scary.

Brad Means: Do you think that we should do more to keep guns out of abusers hands? The stats show that if there’s a gun in the house, it’s 500 percent more likely it’s gonna be used on a victim in a domestic violence situation. Should we make it tougher for them to get guns? In other words, if you have a history of domestic abuse, you’ll never get a gun. Do we need to move towards stuff like that?

Dr. Allison Foley: Yes.

Brad Means: Yeah. I would think that.

Dr. Allison Foley: Yes. I strongly believe so.

Brad Means: I would think that that would be your answer.

Dr. Allison Foley: And thank you for recognizing that statistic, because it’s been pretty consistent over time. We have this idea that guns can be protective for people, especially victims and that if they’re being threatened by anybody, a stranger or their intimate partner, well, just go get your gun and hold it up and shoot him if you got to, right? But that, overwhelming, that’s just not how a gun functions in the home when abuse is present. It’s overwhelmingly they’re used against the victim. So there are laws that are in place. We have got to do a much better job enforcing existing gun control measures.

Brad Means: Do you hate social media? When it comes to either making a woman feel, affecting her self-esteem, or making her become a victim of abuse, via texts, or posts? We do hear a lot about that. Do you see this, especially in your life on campus?

Dr. Allison Foley: You know, what I see more, and I’m sure this all has to do with my own personal algorithms and stuff on my social media accounts, is, I see social media as a positive for spreading awareness, right? With Me Too and Time’s Up, and all of that, I think social media’s really, was instrumental in the spread of awareness of types of gendered violence. But absolutely it’s a huge concern in terms of how abusers can use technology to control, to manipulate, to further isolate.

Brad Means: Do you ever see that in your students, or the young women you interact with at AU, ever express concerns along those lines?

Dr. Allison Foley: You know what, I have to say, I have more students disclose domestic violence victimization to me than any other kind of victimization, and I can’t think of an example of where they have talked to me about the role of social media, or being monitored through technology.

Brad Means: But they’ve told you, hey I’ve been physically abused.

Dr. Allison Foley: Yes.

Brad Means: That is absolutely shocking. Because–

Dr. Allison Foley: Yeah you’d be shocked the things that I have heard.

Brad Means: Well we need to have you back and do an entire broadcast on it, because unfortunate, I’m getting the sense, and the numbers are baring this out, that victims are getting younger. And you’re seeing that first hand, and so I do hope that you’ll continue to lend your expertise to us. I told you that our time would fly–

Dr. Allison Foley: I know.

Brad Means: And it did. But I appreciate you giving us some insight into this, and sparing your time for us.

Dr. Allison Foley: Thank you.

Brad Means: Absolutely, Allison Foley, Augusta University. She will be back, we do wanna talk about what’s happening with our young people. Why those young women come to her with such grave concerns.

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The Means Report first aired in January of 2009 offering coverage that you cannot get from a daily newscast. Forget about quick soundbytes -- we deliver an in-depth perspective on the biggest stories. If they are making news on the local or national level, you will find them on the set of The Means Report. Hosted by WJBF NewsChannel 6 anchor, Brad Means, The Means Report covers the topics impacting your life, your town, your state, and your future.

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