Forum: Be careful when applying labels in family conflicts

Increased attention from the Government and the social service sector towards family violence in Singapore is certainly welcome.

But the key to successfully addressing this issue lies in the implementation of measures - as a society, we need to ensure that appropriate help is provided to the family without "weaponising" the issue or provoking greater conflict (Have safeguards to ensure personal protection orders are not abused, by Mr Oh Ee Hoe, March 3).

Family and marital issues can be complex and delicate - excessive involvement by the state or external parties who do not have background knowledge of the circumstances or the skills to manage them could have counter-productive outcomes.

The Government and relevant stakeholders should be cognisant of one area as we think about this issue: The labelling of "victims" and "aggressors" or "perpetrators" in family violence.

The truth of the matter is that in a family conflict, it is not always a simple matter of having a "victim" and an "aggressor". In any conflict, it takes two hands to clap. And when a conflict or disagreement becomes physical, unfortunately, it is possible that both parties were in a provoked state and both contributed to the escalation.

Applying imprecise labels on the individuals without getting to the root of the problem serves only to distract and, over time, engenders a victim mindset on both sides - the "aggressor" who feels aggrieved at being unfairly labelled and the "victim" who disowns any responsibility in the conflict.

Worse, it turns the issue of family violence into a national "gender war".

By encouraging and adopting the right tack to addressing the issue of family violence, the Government and social service sector professionals can contribute towards achieving an outcome that is both desirable and sustainable for the welfare of families and the psyche of our nation.

Patricia Tan

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