Monday, March 30, 2009

Book Review - A Private Family Matter: A Memoir by Victor Rivas Rivers

This past week I had the opportunity to present at the Minnesota Social Service Association's (MSSA) 116th Annual Training Conference & Expo. It was the best conference I have ever attended. Normally, I go to academic conferences and hope to attend one or two presentations that keep my attention while listening to academicians pontificate about their "astounding" research that makes no impact outside of the ivory tower, or equally as bothersome, their analysis of a topic with literally no personal research conducted or experience in the field (yeah, cynicism runs through my veins).

At this year's MSSA, I was able to attend three presentations in particular that were especially enlightening:

  • Challenges & Strategies Working with LGBTQ Youth: Addressing MICD & Sexual Orientation by Ryan Hanson
  • Bullies to Batters: The Evolution of Unhealthy Power in Relationships by Barton Erickson
  • Teen Dating Violence 201: Advanced Topics for Working with Youth Clients by Barton Erickson
There was great and tangibly useful information provided in these sessions (perhaps because most of the presenters actually work in the field on a daily basis). The highlight of the conference, however, was the closing keynote speaker, Victor Rivas Rivers, who is also the spokesperson for the National Network to End Domestic Violence, a Hollywood actor, and author of the book A Private Family Matter: A Memoir.

A Private Family Matter chronicles Rivers's life, having to cope with his father's extreme abuse inflicted upon him, his mother, and brothers and sisters. It's not the type of book that would be published by an academic press, and shouldn't be. It does, however, illustrate through a real story many of the concepts described in scholarly texts covering family violence.

Rivers describes in disturbing detail the different forms of psychological, financial, sexual, and physical abuse his father delivered on a regular basis. In addition, he points out that his father had a "Jeckle-Hyde" appearance, displaying a charming public persona in order to hide his volatile ways.

The book also shows the lack of services that were available for family violence victims in the 1960s and '70s, which influenced the book's title,
A Private Family Matter, as police at that time lacked the formal means to effectively intervene after Rivers and his mother sought assistance. Of course today, seeking help in the United States is still highly problematic, but at that time, the processes and policies were even more archaic.

A Private Family Matter also illustrates how important community members can be in helping victims of violence cope with their trauma. In addition to his siblings and mother, Rivers cites teachers, coaches, friends, and friend's parents who were absolutely critical in saving him phyiscally and emotionally throughout his life. Even after his vitimization manifested into his own violent behaviors, different community members helped him unconditionally, redirecting him down more constructive pathways.

To this end, the book is one of hope. Rivers went on to earn a football scholarship with Florida State University, almost made it with the Miami Dolphins, and embarked on a successful acting career. And as mentioned previously, he is now the spokesperson for the National Network to End Domestic Violence. As a male, and former high-level athlete, Rivers stands as an incredible role model in a field that lacks adequate male presence.

I would assign the book in a "Family Violence" class, not to use as a teaching tool from week to week, but for students to read on their own and then describe concepts learned in class through the book's content. It's a bit long at 370 pages, but it's very accessible and engaging. Some of the violence described is so graphic that students need to be warned ahead of time. Still, my guess is most students would love the book once they got started.

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1 comment:

  1. A contemporary and international example -

    "Gazan women face rise in abuse"

    The last 2 paragraphs in this article discuss a woman who was stabbed to death by a clan after she had a problem with her husband. The final 2 lines read, "Human rights groups say the law in Gaza deals with cases like this far too leniently. They're generally considered a family affair."

    All too similar to Rivers's book title.