Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 2(2) (1994) 25-28
This program on family violence is presented in the context of a window into the life of a formerly violent young man and the assistance he is receiving from the Everyman Centre in Brixton. The Everyman Centre offers free group and individual counseling to violent men under the sponsorship of the local health authority. Michael has sought help at the Centre after his arrest, conviction, and placement on two years probation for causing grievous bodily harm to his wife, Bernice. The program integrates statements from Michael, Bernice, and Luke, his counselor, among scenes selected from Michael's daily life, counseling sessions, and a visit to the probation office.
The video raises several significant issues about family violence and provides an example of a specific counseling technique for violent men. Each of these makes a good starting point for discussion. The topics are adequately segmented in the video so that little discussion time would be lost in identifying and delimiting them. These topics might apply within any course addressing family violence, spouse abuse, violent men, or counseling techniques. The video would also be useful for public education efforts by family violence agencies or for professional staff training exercises.
The issues raised include violence as a learned behavior originating from Michael's descriptions of childhood experiences living with a violent father. Michael's memories of a father who physically abused his mother, his siblings, and several other women who lived in the home after his mother fled clearly supports and introduces the cycle of violence theory. In contrast, Bernice's surprise at her partner's violence is tied to the absence of violence in her childhood home. The complex emotions that a violent man may need to work through are exemplified by [End page 25] Michael's rage, disgust, and pity for his father, deep sense of loss related to his childhood, and guilt for his assaults. The destruction spouse abuse causes in formerly loving and trusting relationships is examined by contrasting the present perspectives of the marriage partners. Michael expresses strong confidence in his ability to change, professes continued, sincere affection, and is very optimistic that a reconciliation will occur. However, Bernice sees her loss of trust in him as an insurmountable barrier, is convinced that he will not be cured, and believes the relationship has already terminated. The trust issue also helps to raise questions surrounding the children living in a violent home and remaining with one parent after a break-up. Michael's concern for his child growing up without a father in the home is well countered by his own childhood experiences and the fears expressed by Bernice over his potential threat to their child.
Luke's counseling technique at the Everyman Centre is demonstrated in both a group and individual session with Michael. The counselor is portrayed as a guide or facilitator who assists the client in working through the healing and growing process. The counseling technique is based on acceptance of responsibility for one's violence and development of rational commitment not to be violent in the future. Michael is assisted in seeking the roots of his violence through examination of his past. Luke intentionally encourages Michael to express his anger and rage at his father through physical interaction. This involves pushing and shoving against Luke while verbally expressing the anger. The counseling method encourages men to physically express emotions and support though the holding of hands, embracing, and crying. The counseling technique is demonstrated, but little in the way of analysis or rationale for these methods is provided. Those who oppose the use of any violence in counseling to reduce violence will find this technique troublesome. Yet, as a tool to provide contrast and support discussion, the individual counseling session may be the best segment of the program.
The video should be rated a 2 on the gavel scale. This rating is based more on matters of style than on subject matter. While it has much to offer the classroom and would make a good addition to a video [End page 26] library on family violence, it lacks both the emotional impact and analytical depth which may be achieved in videos of this type. For college classroom or professional training use, the shortage of analysis reduces the video's usefulness. While the counselor provides some rationale for his techniques, neither he nor the narrator offer connections or contrasts between Michael's and Bernice's views, tie their opinions and behaviors to theory, or relate Michael's behavior to the counseling techniques. The viewer is given a window through which to view Michael's experiences, but is not provided guidance toward understanding them or relating them to other things.
The video's weak emotional impact mitigates audience interest or the development of lively discussion. Michael, Bernice, and Luke often appear wooden and unemotional in the interview segments. The detachment displayed seems improbable given both the violence and significance of the emotions and personal issues described. A greater emotional impact might move an audience to discussion and the provision of its own analysis of the issues and connections. Without help from either the analytical/substantive or emotional content, a teacher or discussion leader may have difficulty starting and maintaining discussion on this video.
The camera angle used in the filming contributes to this perception. For the most part, a low camera angle is used and is effective in focusing one's attention to the individual who is speaking. This angle and the use of close-ups of the speakers' face are effective in eliminating background and side distractions. However, in the intense individual counseling session, the low camera angle conceals the participants' faces too much behind backs and shoulders. Thus, one is unable to get the full effect of the emotions at play.
The visual quality of the video is consistently good. The camera work as the participants in the counseling sessions move about or receive attention keeps focus very well. However, sound quality is not as well managed. Soft voices fade in volume and make some statements difficult to hear, especially from the counselor or when emotions begin to take effect. Even with setting a high volume level on monitors, this will cause some difficulty in a classroom setting. [End page 27]
The lack of sound quality compounds a difficulty faced by the use of videos produced in a foreign country. Some American audiences will experience difficulty with the variation in word use, pronunciation, accent, and occasional colloquial phrase found in an English production. It is as much a problem of hearing as understanding. This should not be a barrier to the use of the video. While these things may require an instructor to make clarifications, they provide a route to discussion of spousal abuse in a comparative context. The program's usefulness in demonstrating the similarity of family violence phenomena across cultures is a greater advantage than any problem generated.
This cultural issue is a bonus which can be added to the family violence issues and counseling technique which are covered in the video. It adds another reason to consider Pulling the Punches as a useful tool for priming classroom discussion. For this use, it merits serious consideration.
Philip W. Rhoades, Ph.D
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi
College of Arts and Humanities [End page 28]