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The Spectrum of Violence


Little things and big things. A sparkly little girl proudly showcases how she can count to ten in Spanish and is shot down, deflated, by indifference or ridicule. Another is gang-raped by soldiers with machetes.

Violence occurs on a continuum of severity. We experience disrespect on cold city streets; we are silenced or ignored by decision makers; we are screamed at and kicked; we are hunted in ethnic cleansing campaigns; we are left to starve. Violence hurts all over the world, in all our households, in all our hearts. Teachers, tutors, students, learners—we are all working in the wake of interpersonal violence.

In order to consider how the impacts of violence might play out in learning environments, we need to analyse what counts as violence. Possible frames for analysing violence are based on where it happens (both privately and publicly), what happens (sexual, physical, emotional violence) or who it happens to (and where they are located socially). People of all backgrounds and lifestyles experience violence, but those who are marginalized by systemic and institutionalised forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, classism, ableism, ageism and heterosexism are disproportionately affected. Current violence may be compounded by legacies of violence such as war, slavery, colonization or genocide. Historical oppressions—so often interwoven with current economic poverty—are in themselves forms of violence.

We all experience violence differently, in different settings, because we have different vulnerabilities (for example, a disabled person to caregivers, an immigrant to sponsor, the homeless to threats on the street, or girl children in a climate where virgins are believed to cure HIV). We also have different perceptions of violence and assumptions about its meanings. Our behaviours are framed by the dominant culture’s definition of what is normal and what constitutes aberration. One person’s reaction is viewed as a normal or reasonable response to stimulus, while another’s is an overreaction that finds them accused of hysteria or hypersensitivity.

For example, a learner totally breaks down upon being spoken to sharply (say, for lateness) by a teacher. If, however, this feels like the millionth time she’s getting the message that she’s a screw-up in school (perhaps she failed as a child and her parent called her stupid and beat her every time she brought a report card home); and if she is coping with other exacerbating factors (maybe she is late because she was terrorized by her husband all night, her husband who frequently tells her she is worthless and mocks her attempt to go to school), the scolding may just be the final straw.

She may drop out, unable to cope with it all, even as, sadly, the institution subsequently judges her as “lacking motivation.” In any event, if her freakout is perceived as “imbalanced,” it will only further transgress her integrity and dignity, and her chances of learning successfully in the future.

What’s more, an individual may be impacted by a broad range of violences. These experiences set each other up and build on each other; for example, when a person has been abused, this may lead to mental health problems, then to hospitalization, which in turn may lead to more violence against him, then maybe to self-harm. Check out “Behind Closed Doors” in the Violence in our Institutions section.

As far as learning goes, these experiences affect what that person needs in terms of access, curriculum, method of instruction, and materials. Learning is supported when instructors, tutors, indeed everyone responsible for the learning program, make a profound and thorough commitment to non-violence—in tone and action. A greater understanding of violence, and a deeper awareness of how its impacts fit together, will help us make that commitment in all our work with learning.

To that end, here is a discussion of many forms of violence, by environment. Pervasive, systemic and interlocked problems can’t be defined too precisely nor divided up too neatly into categories; nevertheless, naming forms of violence in a straightforward way will help us recognize and acknowledge it.

Heather Lash

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The violence of systemic injustice based on racism, sexism, classism, ableism, ageism and homophobia, can push us out - excluding us from material and emotional comforts. All forms of violence can lead us to feel like we are set apart, separate from the rest of the human race.

See how marginalization can feel here.

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The Spectrum of violence is very broad. Discrimination is people being treated badly because they don’t fit a certain idea of normal, whether it’s a different skin colour, an accent, a big nose or a disability.

Read about what its like for women who have facial differences. (PDF file - 991k)

(Publication provided by AboutFace: 1 800 665 FACE/ www.aboutface.ca)

When Taryn Green was a little girl she wished she looked like everyone else. Watch her story:

See the many faces of Lindsay Fisher who says her face is not just a first impression:

Live a day in the life of Pete and see how people react to him:

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Poem about my Rights, by June Jordan

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Women’s eNews
Provides reports on a broad range of violences against women

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