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Dealing with disagreements

Disagreements or quarrels are often the precursors to violence. Life is full of unexpected events and overwhelming tasks that can cause arguments, that’s something that we can’t control. We can however control how we react when disagreements arise.

If we feel that a disagreement is making us agitated, then a good first step is to breathe deeply and count to ten before we react.

Aggression

When we are very agitated we can become aggressive, and want to attack the person that we associate with our feelings. Aggression is a defence mechanism. It’s common for it to emerge when people experience a feeling of helplessness and want to gain control of the situation. There can be many kinds of strong emotions underlying this feeling. By gaining control of our aggression we gain control of our violent behaviour.

Here are important steps for gaining control of aggression:

1. Know the symptoms and what triggers them

When aggression flares up many things happen in the body: muscles tense, blood pressure rises and pulse quickens. All of our reactions intensify. Most importantly, our ability to think and understand decreases and all of our attention is directed at the thing or person that we believe has caused us to feel bad.

2. React appropriately

When we feel like aggression is taking over we have the chance to realise what is happening and step back. We can sit down, lower our voices, and take a deep breath. We can also decide to leave the situation. Aggression is like fuel on the fire, it evokes the same reaction in others and makes a bad situation worse. This is why it’s important to stop it. It sounds simple but it takes a lot of practice.

3. When we don’t succeed, take responsibility and do better next time

Learning to recognise the signs and change how we react doesn’t happen automatically or overnight. Sometimes we won’t succeed. When the storm has calmed it can be easiest to pretend that nothing happened but in doing so we maintain the cycle of violence. It takes courage to admit what we’ve done and face the consequences. We have to take responsibility in order to break the cycle.

Why do people commit violence?

Violence is a learned behaviour. Some learn it through their upbringing, others from their environment, culture, or due to systemic power imbalances in society. External influences such as alcohol, drugs, and stress can incite violence but they are never the cause. Each and every individual can always decide whether or not to commit violence.

Possible motives of violence

  • To control another person, what they do, and how they feel.
  • To get one’s way.
  • To feel like one’s feelings and needs have priority over others.
  • Fear of losing respect if one doesn’t hold the power.
  • A belief that it is normal behaviour.
  • Ignorance of other ways to deal with anger and disappointment.

Though it may be possible to find a motive for violence it’s never justifiable and is always the fault of the person who commits it.

It can be difficult to unlearn this behaviour and change one’s perspective. In order to do so, it’s first necessary to have the will to change and then to take responsibility for one’s behaviour. It can be good to get support from a psychologist or Heimilisfriður, which specialises in treatment for those who commit violence in intimate relationships.

Treatment for those who commit violence

Heimilisfriður offers treatment to perpetrators of domestic violence of all genders. The only thing required is the desire to change one’s violent behaviour and address one’s issues. Heimilisfriður offers treatment for all forms of violence, such as emotional, physical, and sexual. The treatment is based on individual counselling but couples counselling is also offered if applicable.

Tómas’ story

Tómas is not a real person but his narrative is built on interviews with those who have committed violence in intimate relationships. Those who commit violence can change by seeking help.

Legal repercussions

If you commit violence in a relationship it can end with the police being called. Physical assault, sexual assault, threats, property damage, violations of child welfare law, and fraud all fall under the police definition of domestic violence. It does not matter where the violence takes place rather how the perpetrator and the victim are connected. This is why domestic violence is also called intimate partner violence.

The first intervention of authorities

 The police make a visit and call a detective to the scene who continues the investigation. If you or your partner do not understand Icelandic an interpreter is brought in.

Child protection and social services

  •  If there are children in the home, staff from the child protection agency and social services go to the location.
  • If the children are connected to the inhabitants, a social worker goes to the location and the child protection agency is notified.
  • If no children are registered at the home the inhabitants are offered support from social services.

Investigation at the scene

The police will either order you to leave the scene or arrest you. Injuries and property damage at the scene are photographed if applicable. The victim and witnesses are interviewed. The police can continue to investigate the incident or request that a restraining order is placed on you even if the victim withdraws charges or does not want to assist with the investigation.

You have the right to a defence lawyer who can be present during questioning by police. If a restraining order was filed or expulsion from the home was ordered you will be informed of what that entails. In some cases, a written declaration is made where you agree to the same rules of a restraining order or expulsion. The declaration does not have legal consequences but if you break the rules a restraining order or expulsion can be filed against you.

Follow-up

Police

You can expect the police to call you and encourage you to seek support through programs such as Heimilisfriður or Taktu skrefið. If you want to seek help you are eligible to receive financial support.

Social services

If considered necessary, social services will visit the home accompanied by police to look into the conditions and the state of the inhabitants. The victim is interviewed and examined for new injuries. If you still live in the home you are interviewed as well. If a restraining order was placed on you or you were expulsed authorities will investigate whether you have complied with the order.

 

Child protection

If there are children in the home, the child protection agency will be involved in the case to ensure the children’s safety and provide them with support. Child protection is responsible for investigating the environment and wellbeing of children in domestic violence cases and that is done in part by talking to all family members. The child protection agency will summon you to an interview where the domestic violence and state of the family will be reviewed in order to determine the appropriate response and resources for support.

Child services most common support measures in domestic violence cases are:

  • Support for the perpetrator to attend specialised psychological treatment that addresses violent behaviour, such as at Heimilisfriður.
  • Support for the victim to attend psychological counselling.
  • Psychological counselling for children where they receive education and support due to domestic violence.
  • Family or couples counselling with a family counsellor.

Case outcome

When the police investigate a case it can conclude in two ways:

1. The case is dismissed

The police can stop an investigation if there is no basis to continue it. If the police conclude the investigation and forward the case the accuser can drop the case if they consider the evidence insufficient or the case unlikely to result in a conviction.

2. Charge

If your case is considered likely to lead to a conviction then a formal charge is issued. Then you are required to appear before the district court and stand trial. After the court procedure, a sentence is issued. That can be an acquittal or a conviction. A conviction for domestic violence can be a suspended sentence or a prison sentence and compensation.

Resources

Heimilisfriður

Heimilisfriður offers therapy for people who have abused someone in a close relationship.

1717

The Red Cross Helpline 1717 is a dedicated phone and webchat for those who need someone to talk to in confidentiality. They are open 24 hours, and it's free to call.

Reykjavík City Service Centres

Reykjavík City Service Centres offer social- and family counselling for children and families. There you can get support due to abuse.