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Colonization and domestic violence: Strategies

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Social Work
Wordcount: 2980 words Published: 11th Apr 2017

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The correlation between colonization and domestic violence is undeniable given the plethora of scholarly and historical data. The main misconception that exists in this area relates to the belief that the violent aspects of colonization and its associated abuse lay directly at the feet of Westerners or other outside cultures and influences. Domestic violence, in its many forms, is forced upon men, women and children from many sources including people in their own society.

In addition to the definitions and correlations of colonization and domestic violence, this paper also discusses the colonization, social structure and abuse of Aboriginal Peoples including the Maori tribe of New Zealand, Native Americans, and the First Nation communities of Canada as well as the diseases thrust upon the colonists by the colonizers.

Also examined are the relationships between modern abuse related to colonised cultures and its possible prevention.

Domestic Violence

The United States Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women provides a definition of the various types of domestic violence:

We define domestic violence as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone. (2014)

The types of domestic abuse include physical, sexual, emotional, economic and psychological abuse. Domestic violence is not limited to any particular race, religion, gender, age, educational or socio-economic factors.

For the purpose of this paper, domestic violence is categorized as violent behavior that has been inflicted on one culture by another since colonization took place. Oftentimes the victims are the colonists who are subjected to abuse in its various forms by the colonizers but eventually that abuse transfers into abuse between members of the oppressed culture. The reasons for the abuse may disappear but the behavior can last and even accelerate through future generations.


The term colonization comes from the Latin for “to inhabit”. Colonisation most often refers to an outside group moving into a previously inhabited area. Ever since man learned to travel, he has desired to conquer new lands either by developing a profitable relationship with the indigenous peoples or, more commonly, by taking over the land and other resources through a threat of force or through direct violence. Colonisation can be beneficial if it is done with respect and cooperation of the inhabitants. Some regions, especially underdeveloped regions, may benefit significantly from colonization by an outside culture. These regions may experience in an increase in world knowledge, medical care, economic growth and more. There are instances however, that show the dark side of colonization and the domestic violence with which it has often been associated. History is filled with tales of forceful colonization despite the language used to describe it – exploration, eminent domain, settlements.

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More often than not when a territory is colonised without the express permission of the colonists, violence ensues. The violence may come in the form of a direct attack or through cultural oppression. The colonists may be imprisoned, raped or beaten into submission. This form of abuse lasts much longer than the life span of the abuser and abused. It is carried into future generations through culture, belief systems and trauma, often causing particular cultures to be more prone to the violence committed against their ancestors or, worse, become the abusers.

Correlation between Colonisation and Domestic Violence

People intent on colonizing new lands or infiltrating existing cultures typically held the strict belief that their religion, politics, education and culture were far superior to that of the indigenous people therefore it was common practice for the new settlers to impart, often forcibly, their culture and belief systems on the indigenous peoples. As a result of this effort, the indigenous peoples were required to take on the characteristics and culture of the invaders, usually due to the threat of violence. Because indigenous people were often less educated than the invading population, they were seen – and treated – as an inferior society.

This is not to say that the indigenous cultures were perfect before they were infiltrated by the colonizers. Each culture has its own unique set of beliefs and circumstances. The difference may be that there is limited, if any, knowledge or documentation on the culture of these peoples before they were colonised.

Colonization and Patriarchy

Patriarchy, the cultural practice of revering the male gender as the head of society, including the family structure, can be directly linked to colonization and the mistreatment of the female gender. Historically speaking, cultures with a patriarchal view held little regard for the female gender which often permitted substandard treatment of females. This treatment often led to various forms of domestic violence. A patriarchal belief system is common even in the modern world although great strides have been made to protect women and children from violent males often taught to be dominant by colonizing cultures.

While the majority of the invading people held a patriarchal view, that is not without exception. Many indigenous cultures are matriarchal in nature, particularly the Native American and First Nation communities of Canada. The shift in leadership from matriarchal to patriarchal often caused women to be viewed as inferior as men were taught not to respect women as they once had. As a result, women in many cultures were viewed as little more than property allowing the male population to treat the women in any way they saw fit, including a cycle of domestic violence that would remain in place for generations.

According to Kanuha (2002), there are several strategies for claiming superiority over another gender or culture. The first is to convince the colonists that their ways are superior.

The second strategy is to create a delineation between the colonizers and the indigenous peoples through segregation including the separation of men and women. The third strategy of colonization is to use domestic violence to control the colonists. This may include any and all forms of physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological abuse.

The fourth strategy is to take control of the colonists’ economic resources including natural resources.

The fifth strategy is controlling the culture and limiting outside resources of knowledge and information. In some cultures they are permitted to see only media images of women that were created by men; images that often objectified women. Another form of control is to prohibit the use of native language and education as well as to deny the colonists the opportunity to decide or vote on their own futures.

While patriarchy is undeniably tied to colonization, it must be mentioned that men also suffered from these same issues. While men may have been seen as dominant, the colonists were second to the colonizers and therefore often suffered from the same abuses as women.

Colonisation and Disease

One form of domestic violence is to deny one appropriate health care. During the colonization of many regions of the world, indigenous peoples were exposed to and infected to new diseases brought by the colonists yet were denied adequate care. In fact, many of the colonizers were often quarantined from the recently exposed natives to protect them from diseases they brought to the region. The belief was that the natives, unable to withstand any number of exotic pathogens, were biologically inferior.

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It was the development of world trade routes as well as the desire to conquer new lands that encouraged Europeans to cross borders into previously unexplored territories. As a result, they infected entire cultures with disease, namely tuberculosis and small pox, two diseases responsible for killing the majority of Americans and Europeans in the 18th and 19th centuries. Additionally, the colonizers tended to bring with them newly domesticated animals which added another level of potential disease to the natives. As the mortality rate of the colonists rose, the colonizers were able to increase their presence and domination over the remaining people and their lands.

Colonisation of the Maori, Native Americans and the First Communities of Canada

The Aboriginal tribes of the South Pacific, particularly the Maori, have a long and violent history of being colonised by Western Europeans. The Maori were once the colonisers of New Zealand, taking over the island through force and causing the genocide of the island’s indigenous peoples. The Maori began to trade with Europe in the 1700s, bartering fish and land for beads, cloth and other items. When potential invaders attempted to invade New Zealand, the Maori embraced violence and beheaded the infiltrators. They often participated in cannibalism rituals which led to a reputation of the Maori as being brutal savages. The shift toward colonisation began when missionaries arrived in New Zealand with the hope of converting the Maori to Christianity. The missionaries traded goods for land and built New Zealand’s first church.

The Maori began to trade in muskets which created an arms race between New Zealand and its neighbors. Violence escalated. Although the Maori and the missionaries tended to remain separate, many Maori began to convert to Christianity. Relationships between Britain and the Maori strengthened. Britain wanted the Maori to pledge its allegiance to the throne in exchange for a guarantee that no one would attempt to rob the Maori of their lands. While many Maori refused to link themselves to the Queen, 46 chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi, hoping to end the violence.

While the Maori as a whole did not willingly shift to British rule, the region began to thrive from the relationship. Eventually, the British established a new capital in Aukland and the country continued to thrive.

The history of the Native American tribes is well documented in most school texts. Christopher Columbus believed he had discovered a shorter route to China when he landed in the Bahamas. Columbus, eager to prove that he was a superior explorer sought only three things in his travels – to educate people about God, to gain glory for his explorations, and to gain fame and fortune from the gold, spices and other resources the trip would provide. Due to these factors, Columbus’ arrival in the Bahamas was ill fated for its people. Columbus and his crew pillaged the land and were, in essence, responsible for the deaths of nearly 60,000 inhabitants of the islands over a period of the next 30 years.

Upon arriving in America, Columbus discovered that there were people living on this new land. This contact encouraged other people to travel to the New World. The infiltration of Europeans was not welcome by many of the 160 native tribes. While some tribes were friendly with each other and with the Europeans, many were not. Wars ensued. A large percentage of Native Americans were wiped out by the arrival of small pox, diminishing its population by as much as 70%. As the colonisation of the Americas continued, the Europeans began to outnumber the “savages”, forcing them into more remote areas of the country. Violence continued to escalate between the Europeans and Native Americans. Although it was the Europeans that began the barbaric practice of scalping, the act was solely attributed to the Native Americans who often retaliated in kind. The reputation of the Native Americans as uncivilized savages grew and along with it, any respect for their culture all but vanished.

The legacy of the First Nation of communities mirrors that of the Native Americans and, in fact, they are in some way of the same family as their lands were stolen in the name of capitalism and racism.

Throughout 100 years of violence between the Europeans and native cultures, the natives continued to be pushed back until eventually the majority of tribes were relegated to reservations. The segregation and loss of their culture created a wider gap between the cultures. Missionaries continued to attempt to colonise the natives by preaching and introducing modern ways into their culture. Domestic violence between factions continued as women were abused, men were beaten and killed. Women and children were also sold into the slave trade as sexual objects.

Prevention of Domestic Violence in Colonised Territories

It has been stated that the abuse and objectification of indigenous peoples carries with it a dark stain that has permeated generations. In addition to carrying that sense of shame and continued chain of abuse, each individual in the culture also carries with him a sense of being inferior. This sense of inferiority and the legacy of abuse are two of the reasons that indigenous peoples tend to have a higher rate of abuse as well as suicide.

The prevention of domestic violence in colonised territories, despite the location, begins with education. In modern society it is known that abuse in any form is morally and ethically wrong as well as being illegal. Still, incidents of abuse occur every day and perpetrators are often allowed to wander free while the abused suffer.

Some domestic violence treatment programmes may give special consideration to the history of trauma suffered by a particular culture, particularly those that have been colonised and show a marked increase of substance abuse or number of psychological issues. One such programme, popular in the United States is the Duluth Model in which the abuser is treated based on his history of trauma, beliefs in victimization and power over the abused as well as the shame factor. The programme has been used in the education and court systems to decrease the percentage of abuse, particularly by men.

Smith (2006) states:

Researchers are beginning to confirm what common sense dictates: that violence between individuals, while influenced by social and cultural variables, is more parsimoniously explained by an examination of individual characteristics, contexts, and functions of behavior. Not surprisingly, empirical research is beginning to identify shame, individual stressors such as substance abuse and trauma history, and personality characteristics as main contributors to violent behavior in intimate relationships.

Smith also intimates that while there are many programmes and models that claim to have the best recipe for preventing abuse, it is not clear if one has any superior efficacy. Smith asserts that domestic violence activists and agencies will see the most success when treating the individual ascribed to the abuse.


The correlation between colonisation and domestic violence has been proven through myriad scholarly articles, texts and studies. Research has shown that the oppression of the colonists by colonisers creates deep inner turmoil that must be expressed. Since the anger, indignation and shame usually cannot be expressed directly at the abuser, the victim may turn those feelings inward which may result in depression, substance abuse, and even suicide. However, some victims will take out those feelings on others that may be weaker than they. In this case, it is often women and children that may suffer from physical, emotional, psychological, financial and verbal abuse. While many social programmes exist to combat domestic violence, they are often not designed to address the underlying trauma of the victim or the abuser.

When one culture has been oppressed by another, a sense of inferiority is instilled. The oppressor intends to take what it wants from the oppressed whether it is land, money or even its own women and children. The oppressor often uses whatever means necessary to achieve his goals and will subject the oppressed to various types of violence and abuse. The oppressor may begin to believe that the violence is justified and that belief, that victim or abusive mentality may remain and perhaps even escalate throughout future generations. As women are objectified due to their cultures and perhaps beaten or raped, they tend to believe that the behavior is “normal” or perhaps even earned. Combatting those emotions and putting an end to domestic violence among the colonised cultures goes much deeper than the formulation of any law or social programme, no matter how valid. The issue must be addressed at the deepest level – the level of one’s belief system. While many programmes may treat only the victim or the abuser, it is imperative that both sides of the conflict be dissected and examined. The history of one’s culture can shed light on personal behavior even if the history seems far removed. Learning one’s history as well as becoming educated on healthy forms of communication and interaction are the only ways in which domestic violence can be effectively addressed. Only then is it possible to perhaps not eradicate but at least lessen the occurrences of domestic violence in these and other cultures.


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