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Norwegian Minister of Children and Gender Equality Worried About Taboo Subject of Women's Violence

The following English translation of the Norwegian article at http://www.dagbladet.no/nyheter/2007/11/26/519278.html was done by Peter Tromp and Anders Kleppe with approval from journalist Kristine Hovda kho@dagbladet.no, November 27 2007

Women's Violence is Taboo Subject

Worried: Minister of Children and Gender Equality Manuela Ramin-Osmundsen.
Photo: Jacques Hvistendahl/Dagbladet

One of five children has experienced violence committed by their mother. The minister is worried.

Kristine Hovda
Monday, November 26, 2007, 08:30 (GMT+1), updated 11:10 (GMT+1)

Seen in total, mothers beat their children more often than fathers do, says Svein Mossige. In cooperation with Kari Stefansen, the NOVA-researcher published a report on Friday on physical violence and violation against Norwegian children and youngsters. The findings are terrifying. (http://www.nova.no/?id=15747 – In Norwegian)

  • 20 percent have experienced violence committed by their mother
  • Mothers are committing equally severe violence as fathers
  • Violence committed by mothers is perceived as much worse for children

Violence by mothers

20% of the children had experienced violence committed by their mother, 14% by their father.

16% of the girls and 14% of the boys said that they had been exposed to mild violence committed by their mother. Numbers on fathers were 9% both for boys and girls. 6% of the girls had experienced severe violence, and the mother was equally often the perpetrator as the father. For the boys the numbers were 4% by mothers and 5% by fathers.

– The reasons for this might be diverse. One explanation may be that women more often are alone with their children, and often the mother is closer to the children than the father, says Mossige.

Increased risk of suicide

The research also shows that children experience the most severe problems when the violence is committed by their mother.

Severe violence committed by the father increases the risk of eating disorders, anxiety, and dissociation, while severe violence from their mother increases the risk of suicide.

In violence researcher Ragnhild Bjornebekk's opinion these results are dramatic.

– We have a perception that the mother is the loving person who protects and sees to it that children's needs are met. When mothers are hitting it may be perceived as even more dramatic than when fathers do it, says Bjornebekk. Her opinion is supported by Ingeborg Vea of the organization "Voksne for barn" (Adults for Children).

– This is very surprising reading. But it might have a connection to the fact that we don't like to think that mothers are beating children.

Adults for Children says that the issue is considered unspeakable in Norway.

– There is a lot of shame around the idea that mothers are abusive, and we find that it is difficult for people to talk about it, says Vea.

Stressed women

Bjornebekk says the findings are different from other research on family violence.

– In Sweden the findings are that fathers are beating children more often. But we need to see this in association with changes of social groups in society, she says.

Research from Sweden shows that women with higher education beat their children more often than they did in the past.

– It is possible there may be a connection to the fact that people's daily lives are more stressful than they used to be, she says.

The researcher also thinks that there may be some truth to the myth that father beats mother, and mother beats children.

– Long lasting pressure and stress on the mother can lower the threshold for committing violence, she says.

Women's violence is increasing

At the same time, all the research shows that more and more women are using physical violence.

– We have seen increases in registered cases of violence among women from the 1980's to the present. The proportion of women in prisons is increasing, and we see more anti-social women. I don't know if there is any connection between this and domestic violence, but we need to do more research on this, she says.

In 2004 Hilde Pape published a research report on violence in couple relations that shows that women are equally as violent as men.
(Comments by translator Anders Kleppe: Prof. Hilde Pape's, University of Oslo, findings shows that 6% of men had been exposed to violence from their spouse the last year, 4% of women said they had been).

– Women's violence is very taboo and traumatic subject, and is often hidden. It has been very difficult to present the facts, because until now all the research has focused on men, says Pape.

Violence researcher Sidsel Natland has researched girls. She warns that girls' tendency to become more violent increases when their mother beats them.

– Violent girls often come from homes where they were beaten by their father. But if young girls also learn from their mother that violence is legitimate, this is very serious, she says.

Not acceptable

Svein Mossige thinks we have to work to change attitudes, especially regarding mild violence against children.

– From the research we find that physical violence, whether mild or severe, is remembered by the child who experiences it. And the parents themselves are not always able to distinguish what is mild or severe violence, says the researcher. He responds to statements in the media recently, stating that slapping or spanking a child is acceptable when raising children.

– Our research shows that mild violence is relatively wide-spread, and that this kind of violence may have unfortunate outcomes for children who are subjected to it, says Mossige.

The Child Ombudsman Reidar Hjermann says it is very unfortunate that violence against children is considered legitimate.

– When celebrities like Carl I. Hagen (Former right wing politician) and AP-politician (Social Democratic Party) Aslam Ahsan appear in media and defend spanking, they give signals that mistreatment of children can be justified. This is very serious, he says. Hjermann does not believe that increased domestic gender equality will solve the violence problem.

– It might possibly decrease mothers beating, but we have to see if fathers will beat more. We need to educate parents to understand that violence against children gives the opposite result of what we want, children that make good decisions based on what they think is right and wrong, he says.

No excuses

Minister of Children and Gender Equality Manuela Ramin-Osmundsen thinks that the findings from the NOVA-report should cause real concern.

– We see that mothers often get a lot of the responsibility to raise children, and in some cases they may feel it is too much. This is still no excuse for committing violence. One can never excuse violence against children, she says.

Now the Minister wants to increase the competence in the family protection offices, and wants students and teachers at schools of education to learn more about how to detect when children are exposed to violence.

– There is too little focus on violence against children in the educational programs, but it is crucial that people close to the child have knowledge in this field, says Osmundsen.

Translation distributed by:
Jeremy Swanson

Ottawa, Ontario
Phone: 613-237-1320 ext 2438