A Holistic View on Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence (sexual assault, physical abuse, etc.) is truly tragic. There are many victims who are silenced by social complexities like fear of losing housing or other basic necessities, reputation, the cost of legal fees, or even fear of further danger. This abuse goes unreported all the time.

Most of us want this all to stop! Chances are you know someone who has been a victim of domestic violence. You might not even know it. It could be your neighbor, your brother, or your co-worker. This isn’t something people talk openly about. Not only is it embarrassing, but part of it is because it’s often not even recognized as a problem until it becomes too dangerous.

It’s easy for us to say that perpetrators should just go to prison. We somehow think that sending them “away” will solve the problem. Even most therapists think that way.

But let me offer a metaphor. Does throwing something in the trash save the environment, or does it just make your house look cleaner? That trash has to go somewhere, and it’ll still be trash when it gets to the dump. On a rare occasion, that trash gets pulled out of the dump and up-cycled into something better. But most of the time, it just sits there and pollutes the earth. Throwing it away doesn’t solve any problems because it’s still trash.

So how does this apply to domestic violence? I’ve noticed that many of us, professionals included, tend to hyper-focus on helping victims (cleaning the house) and essentially treat the abusers as trash (throwing it away). Helping victims is a noble thing and it really needs to be done! But this is only a one-sided perspective. We help the victims and send the perpetrators “away” to prison, and we keep doing that, over and over. This isn’t sustainable.

I studied criminology as an undergraduate student. I was taught a lot about how most people who go to prison get back out, after serving years, and then keep committing crimes. So by hyper-focusing on victims and sending perpetrators away, we are merely perpetuating the problem. This model will just mean we will keep having victims, which means continued domestic violence. If we want to stop domestic violence, we can’t rely on the “authorities" to reform anyone. We need to stop this authoritarian mentality and stop defaulting to mindless punishment. It’s not solving any problems.

Here’s the proposed solution, and if anything, hopefully it helps you gain a sense of compassion even if you feel like you can’t do anything about this. Looking at something holistically is to find the root cause of the problem and address it there to prevent any further issues. 

So we have to ask, what’s causing a perpetrator to engage in this behavior in the first place? Do they have a history of trauma? Are they on medications or other substances? Do they have a nutritional deficiency or metabolic health problem? Do they have a pornography addiction?

Really, there are so many questions we could ask to better understand the situation, but very few people do. I guarantee that any healthy person will not be a perpetrator/abuser. Anyone who is doing these horrible things to other people are struggling with life already, and they need help, before there are any victims.

Barbara Reed Stitt spent most of her life dedicated to this type of work (see her book Food & Behavior, a Natural Connection). Nutrition, or lack thereof, can really change a person’s mind! A deficiency or sensitivity can send the wrong signals to the brain, affecting our ability to make sound decisions. So the answer? We need better access to nutrient-dense foods. In the United States, we have access to a lot of food, but it’s not nourishing food. It’s mostly empty calories and inflammatory junk. Thinking about it that way, we really aren’t that much better off than other countries. In fact, we have more health problems than other countries for a reason. It’s because we are over-fed and under-nourished.

So we need to do something to change food policy in the US. Healthy, whole foods should be subsidized, not the unhealthy foods. Marketing should be limited to promote healthier options, not highly processed, commercial options. Healthy food should be available to everyone.

The easiest way to do this is simply to go old-school and grow a garden! Bill Mollison once said that if only 10% of the world grows a garden, the whole world would be fed. If done right, growing food often yields an abundance to share. There are various ways of growing food. Even if you live in an apartment and don’t have a yard, you could grow something in pots. Community gardens are great. Community-supported agriculture (CSAs) and farmers markets are also good options. We have got to make a change with the way we are eating and living.

So while I deeply empathize with victims of domestic violence and support getting them the help they need, I also know that as long as we only focus on helping victims (focusing on the symptom rather than the cause), the cycle will continue. Potential perpetrators need help, too, and while they may not always be willing to get therapy for unresolved trauma, they might be willing to eat a carrot or some pasture-raised steak.