October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and this year, the issue of domestic and intimate partner violence hit particularly close to home. My friend’s daughter’s allegedly abusive boyfriend shot her in the head several months ago. I say allegedly, as the court case is still pending. That he shot her isn’t in dispute, though. He’s admitted to that. Thankfully, she survived. But her recovery, though miraculous, is long and arduous.
But this column isn’t about my friend’s daughter, or any one of the many cases I learned about this year. Rather, it’s more about we respond to these stories.
Here’s what I mean: at the beginning of the month, I shared a story on my Facebook page about a mother of three young children who’d recently been murdered by her husband. One of my FB friends, a man whom I deeply respect and admire, commented “This is horrible! Where are the brothers on this? We men really have to teach our girls what to do when a man puts his hands on them!”
His heart was, and is, in the right place. In fact, he’s one of the few of my many male Facebook friends who publicly speaks out against domestic violence. But I think his response to the story I shared, though a common one, was a little off, which I gently (I hope) told him in my reply. I said, “How about the brothers teach boys and men how not to be abusers?”
You see, he’s not alone in his assumption that the onus is on girls and women to prevent abuse. Just like the outdated thinking that a woman can prevent being raped based on her choice of clothing, this mindset completely absolves the abuser of any responsibility. As the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) says on their website, “it is solely the choice of the abuser to abuse.”
You’d think that in 2017, we’d be past counselling an abused woman to modify her behavior so that her husband or partner won’t hit her. Sadly, we’re not. Too often, the person being abused is blamed for their torment, especially when it’s physical.
As the NCADV further states, “unfair blame is frequently put upon the victim of abuse because of assumptions that victims choose to stay in abusive relationships. The truth is, bringing an end to abuse is not a matter of the victim choosing to leave; it is a matter of the victim being able to safely escape their abuser, the abuser choosing to stop the abuse, or others (e.g., law enforcement, courts, etc.) holding the abuser accountable for the abuse they inflict.”
That’s not to say that the person being abused doesn’t have a responsibility for their own health, safety and well-being. But it’s not their fault they get beaten or otherwise abused. The fault and blame lie squarely on the shoulders of the person inflicting the abuse. Period.
Besides, it isn’t always a matter of “just leaving” an abusive situation. There may be financial barriers, child custody issues, and other legal impediments, as well as a general lack of resources and somewhere to go that may prevent someone from leaving.
And there is the fact that the most dangerous time for a person being abused is from the moment their abuser even suspects they’re planning to leave up to one full year after they do leave. This is when most domestic violence homicides occur because abuse often continues even after the survivor escapes. Abusers will continue to stalk, threaten, harass, and try to control the survivors, even when the law says they should leave them alone.
Consider these statistics: one-fifth of homicide victims with restraining orders are murdered within 2 days of obtaining the order; one-third are murdered within the first month.
Further, 20% of intimate partner homicide victims weren’t even the ones being abused! They were other family members, friends, neighbors, law enforcement responders, or even innocent by-standers! (NCADV)
So “just leaving” an abusive relationship can prove deadly, not just for the person being abused, but anyone who tries to help. That’s why escaping domestic violence requires careful planning and should involve the experts.
And escape is a must. Domestic violence kills, and grows deadlier every year, largely due to the proliferation of guns. When a gun is present in an intimate partner violence situation, the risk of homicide increases by 500%! And while men can be abused, statistically, more women tend to die. For example, 72% of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner; 94% of the victims tend to be girls and women. In the United States alone, there have already been 484 gun-related, domestic violence fatalities as of October 10, 2017. (NCADV)
Guns aren’t the only problem, though. Only 34% of people injured by an intimate partner get the medical attention they need for their injuries. I suspect this is a conservative estimate (from NCADV), though. It’s almost impossible to measure who doesn’t seek medical treatment for abuse. Also, untreated injuries can, over time, can lead to life-threatening medical problems; not to mention how the psychological effects of repeated trauma can (and often does) shorten a sufferer’s life.
Still. Despite these statistics, which are available to anyone with access to an internet connection, the knee-jerk response seems to be how we need to teach our daughters, nieces, sisters, etc., how not to be abused. Just like we (and by “we”, I mean all of us) police the behavior and fashion choices of girls and women to prevent them from being raped or sexually assaulted, we place the onus of being safe on those statistically more likely to be harmed rather than on those statistically more like to do the harm: men.
Why is this? I recently saw a social media post which raises this issue. I can’t remember the exact wording of the post, but it basically pointed out that we know all the statistics about how many women are abused (see all my above stats), harassed, assaulted and raped, but hardly any of the statistics about how many men commit these crimes.
I can cite many of the stats I’ve listed above in my sleep. What I can’t do is tell you what percentage of men commit rape. I’m not familiar with how many men sexually harass women in the workplace. I don’t know how many young men, 18-24 years old, have engaged in intimate partner violence; but I do know that young women, 18-24 years old, are the group most commonly abused by an intimate partner.
So I’m just as guilty of not holding men accountable for these crimes as anyone else. And that’s a huge problem. I believe that we absolutely must focus on helping, healing and saving the millions of girls and women who get abused. Of course we must also focus on helping, healing and saving the many boys and men who get abused, too. But we also have to do better about holding the (mostly) men responsible for committing these crimes accountable. We need to focus more of our energy on teaching boys and men how not to be abusers in the first place, despite their backgrounds, upbringing and everything they’ve been taught about manhood and masculinity.
I, for one, am totally over reminding men that they have mothers, daughters, wives, sisters, etc. to get them to actually care about issues like domestic and intimate partner violence. Honestly, that it takes a man having a daughter to realize that girls and women are actually human beings deserving of respect makes my stomach hurt. And it makes me realize that we (again, everyone is culpable here, including me) do a horrible job of raising men if they don’t recognize a woman’s humanity until they have a daughter of their own.
We have to do better.
In the meantime, we need to be intentional in our efforts to involve men in the fight against domestic and intimate violence. Keep talking to the boys and men in your life about this issue. Don’t limit your cautionary tales to girls; include the boys, too. Teach them how to treat girls and women with respect and basic decency. Free yourself from the mindset that it’s only on girls and women to control how men treat them, and teach boys and men to control themselves.
One of my Facebook friends, a man, suggested that just like we have a sex crimes registry, we should also have a public registry for anyone convicted of domestic abuse. I “loved” his post, of course, because I wholeheartedly agree. That’s a good place to start, anyway.
What do you think? How can we do a better job of raising boys into men who don’t abuse? What can the men you know do? Leave a comment below, please. We’ve got to get to work quickly!
Photo Credits: Essence.com, SwagHer.com