Making Psychological Abuse Illegal: Can it Be Done?
In the past, France has been identified as a country that routinely imposes (or at least proposes) laws that court a great deal of controversy. There was the law back in 2004 that banned all religious symbols in French public schools (also known as the Muslim head scarf ban) and more recently there was the ban of all television programming aimed at children under three years of age. Some of these laws can be seen as overwhelmingly progressive, while others are far more retrograde in tone. The latest French law being bandied around would make psychological violence in marriages and among cohabitating couples a criminal offense. In this case psychological violence covers any kind of insult, including repeated rude remarks about a partner’s appearance, false allegations of infidelity and threats of physical violence, and it is more or less aimed to protect women (although if it becomes law, I am sure a small percentage of beleaguered men will seek the protection of this law). If passed, this law intended to protect but poised to create a hell of a backlash, will be the first of its kind anywhere (the law, not the backlash).
The particulars of this proposed law and how it will actually be enforced are still a bit vague, but the intention is to obviously address domestic situations where the violence leaves the victims destroyed psychologically, but with no physical trace. Subtextually speaking, there is an implicit function of this law to protect the children who may unwillingly find themselves in the crossfire, and emotional collateral damage. The French government is currently running a stirring PSA revealing how exposure to this psychological violence (even second hand) leaves a defining mark on how children play, and ultimately see the world around them (view video here).
Of course there are many detractors of this proposed legislation who claim that a simple argument with a few hostile words exchanged could get you thrown in jail, and that unlike laws that protect from hate speech and harassment in the workplace, this particular law steps too far into the personal realm. These concerns aside, without passing judgment one way or another, I can’t help but wonder if a law like this one passes in France, or anywhere else, and shows some sort of modicum of success (however that may look), shouldn’t we consider similar legislation to protect children from psychologically abusive parents?
I will acknowledge the fact that a percentage of marriages and couplings, rife with emotional and psychological abuse, can begin to feel like a prison sentence with little or no options for the victim. However, this is more or less an issue of perspective between two consenting adults, whereas children, locked in abusive situations, are essentially wards of their parents, with little or no recourse unless they could prove physical abuse and or gross neglect. If this recourse was extended to children, would it be a liberation of countless children suffering under the tyranny of their parents, or a hugely problematic Pandora’s box unlocked to reveal all manner of bogus charges and vindictive attacks all around?