Interview with an expert psychologist in cases of gender violence.
Psychotherapist Patricia Ríos explains her experiences in treating victims of abuse.
The issue of gender violence is still very topical. Year after year, society laments the scourge of physical abuse within families. Although in the last decade the number of fatalities has been timidly decreasing, this beginning of 2016 is being particularly dismal: eight women have been killed by their partners or ex-partners in the first 28 days of January. in the first 28 days of January.
Source: Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality, Government of Spain.
Interview with psychologist Patricia Ríos
This situation of permanent violence has generated a social and judicial effort that still does not seem to be bearing the necessary fruit. The victims of abuse are often people who feel helpless and invisible. It is for this reason that we found it very interesting to be able to talk to Patricia Ríos. Patricia Ríosa clinical psychologist with an extensive curriculum and who has specialized in the treatment of abused people.
Bertrand Regader: Good morning, Patricia. Tell us: what is your professional background in the field of gender violence?
Patricia Ríos: In my private practice I have come across several cases of gender-based violence, mainly women, but also men and even adolescents.
I have also been able to come into contact with the other side of the equation, working in group intervention with a group of men convicted of crimes of gender violence. And I must say that it has been an enriching experience.
B. A.: Gender violence, domestic violence, sexist violence, intrafamily violence.... What nuances does each of these terms introduce and which one do you prefer to use?
In gender violence we should include all violent acts exercised by one "gender" against the other, so that it is no longer only the man who exercises violence and the woman who suffers it, but it can also happen, and in fact does happen, the other way around: it is the woman who exercises violence and the man who suffers it. In the latter case, the abuse is usually of a psychological nature, although physical abuse by the woman against the man also exists and occurs.
Male violence is the aspect that refers only to the violence exercised by a man towards a woman, usually when they have a very close relationship.
Domestic violence is a type of violence that goes beyond the type of aggression perpetrated by men against women and women against men, and includes violence between family members of a household (and not only between partners) or even between people who, without being family members, live under the same roof.
Finally, intra-family violence is that which is exercised within a family among its members. Where the children are always the most harmed.
As you can see, all of them include the same common factor, violence between people, whether they are of the same or different gender, race, sex and/or age. If we take into account all the variables, the current typologies of violence are scarce, since none of them talk about violence between people of the same sex. So personally and collectively, I like to call it interpersonal violence.
B. A.: Psychological abuse is also a form of violence. What forms does it usually take?
Psychological mistreatment is perhaps the most common type of violence, although it is still a taboo subject in society, keeping it as a kind of mute, silent and invisible violence.
Like all types of violence it is also based on power, domination and coercion, ranging from belittling and verbal abuse to much more subtle forms such as control of the economy, the way of dressing, the frequency of social activity, and control by the aggressor in social networks and technologies.
B. A.: It can be the prelude to, let's say, physical violence.
Yes, I would like to point out that psychological abuse, certainly, is often a prelude to physical abuse; it is the aggressor's way of making sure that his victim will not attack him. Therefore, psychological abuse is neither less serious nor less alarming, but it is or should be, at least, a warning that something is wrong.
B. A.: Based on your experience dealing with these cases, do you consider that there is still a certain cultural bias that justifies violence within the couple? Or do you think that people are gradually becoming aware of this social problem?
More and more people are becoming aware of this problem although, unfortunately, it is a problem that continues to be stopped late. The environment overlooks many signs, out of sheer ignorance, and the people affected do not always have the courage to say so, much less if the victim is a man.
The cultural baggage you are talking about still exists, and I believe that there is still a long way to go before it becomes history. Older people keep it out of shame and guilt, and young people, often out of ignorance and fear.
It is also not uncommon for public bodies to continue, to a certain extent, to blame the victim, although this is becoming less and less the case. In my professional experience I have come across cases in which the victim is dissuaded by the workers themselves from making the complaint viable, due to comments such as:
"You must have done something".
"That's what you get for not listening to her"
"Don't be a pussy and set the record straight."
It is never an easy task for a victim of abuse, whether male or female, to face their own fears and shame and take legal action. Much less so when the response received is along the lines of those discussed above.
B. A.: What is the state of mind and psychological state of people who have been abused and come to therapy?
The state of mind is always low, too low. Victims of maltreatment have lived through extreme and very shocking, if not traumatic, situations. The severity of the effects depends on the type of violence suffered, its intensity, its intention, the means used and also the characteristics of the victim and the aggressor.
In general, these are people with a very damaged personality, who show great insecurity, poor self-concept, mood swings and a high level of distrust. Some people often manifest symptoms of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation and even failed suicide attempts.
The most common comments made by victims of abuse are "I deserved it", "He loves me but he got out of hand", "I behaved badly", "He had no choice", "If I ask for help they will laugh at me/they won't believe me".
B. A.: What is, broadly speaking, the psychotherapeutic and legal intervention that a psychologist performs in a case like this?
It is quite complicated. Psychologists are obliged to maintain confidentiality with our patients, but also, like any other citizen, we have the legal obligation to report any type of crime. Although putting these two obligations together in the health professions is always a double-edged sword.
The first thing that comes to mind is to report the case to the authorities, and that is a very wise decision when we are talking about minors. However, when we are talking about adults or even mature minors, help should always be the first option.
We must not forget that any person who confesses a case of violence is opening the door to a very difficult secret and as we have already said, silenced, in action or omission by the environment.
The easiest option is to agree with the affected person the limits of our confidentiality and to make it very clear that it will be broken without prior consent in case any life (our own or that of third parties) is threatened. Once this has been established with the victim, there is a long process where issues such as self-esteem, social skills, self-esteem and knowing how to set limits, among others, are worked on.
B. A.: What points do people who abuse physically or psychologically have in common? Can we speak of a typical profile or are there very different abusers?
Excluding mental pathologies, they are people with low emotional intelligence, they share a really low self-esteem, and therefore, a high level of insecurity, the assumption of responsibility is external, with low tolerance to frustration and a low level of emotional management and empathy towards themselves and others.
In my experience I could see that they feel bad about themselves, some even hate themselves, and the more they hate themselves and the worse they feel, the more likely they are to commit some kind of violence.
B. A.: Deaths due to gender violence seem to be on the rise in recent years. In fact -as we have seen the table provided by the Ministry of Health- so far this year there have already been eight people killed. What measures should the incoming government take to minimize this phenomenon?
Providing information on how to approach complainants would be the most important, because as I mentioned before, it is not uncommon for public bodies to blame the victim.
Leaving that aside, there have been great advances in this issue, now there are more means such as telephones to call anonymously and totally free, there are numerous support groups and judicial measures, although not as much as before, the origin is still forgotten. Information and prevention of this problem from the early years in schools.