Twitter today pointed out this horrific, unbelievably offensive article, titled 'Homeopathy for Domestic Violence and Abuse'. Hopefully, the title alone will be enough to fill you with materialist outrage, but I'm going to have a little rant about it anyway.
Trigger warning: domestic abuse
Binal Master wants homeopathy 'to be considered the first line of treatment and not merely an alternative', and this includes 'treatment' of domestic violence. Her piece on the hpathy.com site, 'Homeopathy for Domestic Violence and Abuse' celebrates how homeopathic rememdies can be used to treat both perpetrators and victims of domestic violence.
I'm going to leave aside criticisms of homeopathy itself - plenty of people have done very good take-downs of homeopathy and are far more knowledgeable about it than I am. A good introduction to homeopathy comes from Bad Science's Ben Goldacre.
I'm going to leave the criticisms of homeopathy aside, mostly because whether homeopathy works or not1, the main thing I take issue with here is the medicalisation of domestic violence in the first place.
Medicalisation refers to the process in which increasing amounts of problems and life events are transformed into medical illnesses, symptoms, syndromes or evidence of pathology that can be diagnosed and treated. The critics of medicalisation argue that everyday problems that have very real, tangible manifestations, but with a material basis in capitalism and the structural violence and inequalities it promotes (such as hunger, RSI and other work-related illnesses, PTSD as a result of warfare, and many mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, conduct disorder, ADHD...) are increasingly seen as medical problems, and treated as such. The problem with this is that it strips the 'condition' (in this case, being the victim or indeed perpetrator of domestic violence) from the social relations it exists within (and may well be a product of), and turns what could be a social phenomenon that highlights the unlivable nature of the world we live in (such as depression as a result of unemployment and poverty, for example), and individualises the issue - it's you, the sick person, who has the problem, not the world around you. Critics also talk about the 'diagnostic creep'2 whereby the diagnostic criteria for illnesses expand all the time, making more and more behaviours and 'symptoms' evidence of pathology. It makes being a 'healthy', 'normal' person increasingly difficult, and gives pharmaceutical companies ever increasing markets for their products3.
Again, medicalisation is a massive topic, and I'm not in any way trying to deny the reality of suffering from things like depression or ADHD, or trying to say you shouldn't seek to alleviate your suffering by whatever means you have available to you4. What I'm taking issue with here is the idea that you can 'treat' domestic violence with medicine - let alone medicine with absolutely no scientific grounding whatsoever.
Domestic violence is not a medical problem. Being a victim of domestic violence is not a situation you can change by taking potions. Binal Master claims that homeopathy is useful for both perpetrators and victims of domestic violence because it 'considers the person as a whole, and takes account of the physical and psychological characteristics of the patient'. She opens her piece by explaining that domestic violence can be the result of "insecurities faced in day-to-day lives, in love, relationships and work, and from feelings of neglect and isolation. The current rise in living expenses, where the cost of living exceeds one’s total income, can make it increasingly difficult to handle emotional, physical and psychological demands". Well, as a communist, I'd tend to point to wider things like the capitalist mode of production, alienation, and of course patriarchy, as the conditions that sew 'seeds of violence and abuse', but so far, so well intentioned, right?
Master goes on to cite "feelings of grief, displeasure, guilt, inferiority, jealousy and anger, resulting in physical aggression," and suggests a variety of homeopathic remedies which she claims can treat these things, thus breaking the cycle of domestic violence. There's some specific gems in there too, like remedies for fear - 'this medicine is basically for people who are always anxious, fearful, and in a state of anguish.' If you're in an abusive relationship, chances are your feelings of fear, anxiety and anguish might have something to do with the threat of violence, and not because of a lack of Aconite Napellus. I'm unconvinced that a good dose of lycopodium is going to be the solution to the loss of self-esteem and self-confidence an abusive relationship can lead to, or be enough to combat a domestic abuse victim's 'inability to stand up for oneself in a conflict'. Or next time your violent partner is 'shrieking and cursing when in rage, violent anger, abusive behavior towards partner and children, revengeful', suggest a few drops of anacardium. The remedies are all listed as suitable for both perpetrator and victim of domestic violence.
She concludes with:
Homeopathy is a safe and effective way to treat the victims as well as the culprits of domestic violence. It focuses on the way patients have reacted to events and the personality of the patient. It helps to bring complete harmony of physical, mental and social well being.
Let's put this in perspective. The Council of Europe estimate that 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. Internationally, between 40-70% of all female murder victims are killed by partners or former partners, compared to 4-8% of men being killed by former partners. In the UK, on average two women are killed by a current or former male partner every week, accounting for over 30% of all female murder victims5. Domestic violence is a very real threat to the safety of women. Master's 'holistic' treatment plan for victims of domestic abuse doesn't seem to include advice on how to deal with broken bones, burns, or any other physical symptoms of abuse. Nor, at any point, does she mention referring patients to agencies and services trained to help protect those fleeing domestic violence.
Feminist and human rights activists continue to campaign tirelessly for greater protection for the victims of domestic and intimate violence, including safe houses for women and children who leave abusive relationships. Currently, the already inadequate funding for domestic abuse services such as Women's Aid, and other specialist services such as rape crisis centres, is being cut as part of austerity measures. Abuse survivors will also suffer from drastic cuts to legal aid, which have narrowed the definition of domestic violence and excludes many survivors from the possibility of legal aid.
Domestic violence is a social problem, it puts lives at risk, it kills two women a week. It has a material basis. Being a survivor of domestic violence of course has physical and psychological effects, but it's not enough to send an abuse victim away with some arnica to rub on their bruises, or give an abuser some rescue remedy to take next time they find themselves about to assault someone.
- 1. SPOILER: It doesn't
- 2. I love this term, because it sounds like an insult for sexually inappropriate doctors, and I had to grab onto these tiny pockets of facile humour when pouring through very dry literature reviews
- 3. See, for example, Serafem - this is fluoxetine, the same thing as Prozac, which has been rebranded to treat PMDD, a growing diagnostic category thought to affect 'over 5% of American women for around 25% of their lifetime' - that's a lot of expensive pills
- 4. Smashing capitalism may be an answer to the root of many people's ill health, but it doesn't offer much comfort in the here and now
- 5. Statistics from Women's Aid 2009 http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=number%20of%20deaths%20due%20to%20domestic%20violence&source=web&cd=5&ved=0CFQQFjAE&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.womensaid.org.uk%2Fcore%2Fcore_picker%2Fdownload.asp%3Fid%3D1602&ei=Lr4VT5L9N8608QPsiKzkAw&usg=AFQjCNFTwlL8XI1m4Z82yEOutn8PFlpkXg