Domestic Disturbance In Paradise
even in French
chain of South Pacific
islands that includes
paradise of Tahiti.
professor in Dedman
College, has been studying
the lives of the island
women for 28 years.
focuses primarily on the impact of modernization and globalization
among the women of Tahiti and its tiny neighbors Tubuai (pronounced
TOO-boo-eye) and Rurutu (Roo-ROO-two).
In the course of her work, the women also have disclosed to
Lockwood they have arguments with their husbands that can result
in physical violence. The revelations intrigued her. Psychologists
and sociologists have studied domestic abuse for decades. But
among anthropologists, she says, such research is rare.
So on her last journey to the islands in
2005, Lockwood conducted some preliminary
research with the hope of applying
for a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant. She interviewed
husbands and wives from 25 families about domestic violence.
As it turns out, those surveys helped Lockwood win a threeyear,
$128,000 NSF grant. With that funding, she will investigate
the prevalence, causes, meanings and consequences for victims of
domestic violence on the islands.
To carry out the next stage of her research, Lockwood left in
June for the rural islands of Tubuai and Rurutu, where she first
traveled in 1981 to work on her doctoral degree from UCLA. In the past three decades Lockwood has made seven trips to the islands,
in particular Tubuai.
“Because I’ve worked on this island so long, I know these families,
and they’ve already talked to me about the abuse,” she says.
The islands are a fairly gender-egalitarian society, Lockwood
says. Domestic violence is no more common there than anywhere
else. The women told her the assaults usually stop after the early
years of marriage.
That is not the common stereotype of domestic violence, Lockwood
notes. Consider Oprah’s advice this spring to pop star Rihanna,
telling her to break up with boyfriend Chris Brown because
he surely would assault her again.
“The word on the street, at least in American society, is that domestic
violence doesn’t go away; ‘Once an abuser, always an abuser,’
and that the abuse escalates over time,” Lockwood says. “But that
wasn’t the case in Tahiti. And that’s what got me interested in
looking at the issue in Tahitian society.”
Psychologists and sociologists have acknowledged the distinction
for about 15 years. They refer to short-lived domestic abuse as
“situational couple violence.” They describe it as abuse that occurs
early in a marriage as a couple attempts to work out balance-ofpower
issues and decision-making. The violence is initiated by
either the husband or wife, which then fades away.
The other kind of domestic violence is called battering, is typically
enduring, and the husband is normally the aggressor. Battering
escalates, with the husband obsessed to control every aspect
of his wife’s behavior, using verbal as well as physical tactics,
One of a few anthropologists to study domestic violence, Lockwood
says her research seems to confirm the existence of two different
“If we don’t acknowledge there are two different kinds of domestic
violence, then we’ll never understand what the causes are,”
she says. “The causes are very different, so if we wish to devise
policies or social programs, we need to be doing two different
things to address the issues.”
For more information: smu.edu/vlockwood