Research Updates: Child Witnesses of Domestic Violence in Ghana & Brazilian Prison Gangs

The criminology department at Eötvös Loránd Univeristy (ELTE) in Budapest recently invited two of its DCGC fellows to discuss their research projects. Here is a summary of their papers:

In her presentation, Child Witnesses of Domestic Violence in Ghana: Breaking the Silence, Lilian Amankwa (5th cohort) highlighted issues pertaining to ‘child witnesses’, an emerging population in recent policy debates and research on domestic violence. She started by noting how the home can have connotations of ‘haven or danger’ to different people. Locking one’s doors and windows might elicit feelings of security for some, but the opposite is true for others who suffer the daily threat of violence behind those closed doors (Issahaku, 2015, p. 67). These ‘daily threats of violence’ are experienced or witnessed not only by adults, but also by children who suffer the ‘toxic’ effects of domestic violence (Grooves, 2001) – internalizing and externalizing consequences – and yet, they have seldom been included as research informants with a relevant voice on such important issues.

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Lilian discussed the complex nature of domestic violence and the even more complex situation of child witnesses in reference to a social and cultural context where domestic violence is considered a private matter, guarded by the ‘sanctity of marriage’ and male privileges in the domestic setting, gender roles, issues of masculinities, and the patrilineal and matrilineal decent groups prevalent in Ghana. Arrangements by traditional and religious leaders and the criminal justice system in responding to domestic violence, and specifically to the issue of child witnesses were discussed.

Finally, Lilian gave some insights on her methodological approach, specifically on the use of PhotoVoice to empower and situate children as co-researchers in the production of knowledge on issues affecting them. Reference was made to the effectiveness of PhotoVoice in projecting the situation of ‘child witnesses’ and attracting support from important stakeholders due to the impact of photos taken by children themselves, thereby breaking the silence associated with ‘child witnessing of domestic violence’.

Meanwhile, Vitor Stegemann Dieter (4th cohort) gave a paper entitled ‘Riots, gangs and human rights: consequences of mass incarceration in Brazil’. He argued from a Southern Theory perspective (Carrington, Hogg & Sozzo, 2017) that ‘punitiveness theory’ (Garland, 2001; Pratt, 2002; Simon, 2007; Wacquant, 2009) could not explain two main issues related to Brazil’s enormous and unprecedented mass incarceration. First, the narrow focus on ‘punitive’ trends and its relations to economic and neoliberal politics severely underplays the real victimization and the reconfiguration of prisons and the police during the country’s democratization.

IMG_20170609_1311051Secondly, and most important for the presentation, Brazil also underwent dramatic changes in the organization of criminals inside and outside prisons in major prison gangs (see Biondi, 2006; Dias, 2013). Thus, the Brazilian case shows how agency among ‘lower classes’ (Miller, 1958), even under severe institutional and economic strains, can impact the criminal justice system and transform its structural patterns of organization.

Vitor’s research was undertaken in Southern Brazil during a 7 months period. He had access to two maximum-security prisons and one halfway house in which interviews and participant observation were collected. However, a significant amount of the research also relied on interviews on the streets with ex-convicts, ‘criminals’ and key authorities that shed light on the conflicting culture and behaviours within the ‘criminal milieu’.

 

Bibliography

Biondi, K. (2014). Junto e misturado: uma etnografia do PCC. Editora Terceiro Nome.

Carrington, K., Hogg, R., & Sozzo, M. (2016). Southern criminology. The British Journal of Criminology, 56(1), 1-20.

Dias, C. C. N. (2013). PCC: hegemonia nas prisões e monopólio da violência.

Garland, D. (2001). The culture of control (Vol. 367). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Groves, B. M. (2001). “When home isn’t safe: Children and domestic violence.” Smith College Studies in Social Work 71(2): 183-207.

Issahaku, P. A. (2016). “Policy suggestions for combating domestic violence in West Africa.” International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 36(1/2): 66-85.

Miller, W. B. (1958). Lower class culture as a generating milieu of gang delinquency. Journal of social issues, 14(3), 5-19.

Pratt, J. (2002). Punishment and civilization: Penal tolerance and intolerance in modern society. Sage.

Simon, J. (2007). Governing through crime: How the war on crime transformed American democracy and created a culture of fear. Oxford University Press.

Wacquant, L. (2009). Punishing the poor: The neoliberal government of social insecurity. duke university Press.

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