His Brother’s Keeper: ASK JANICE Domestic Violence Month Special

I have a serious question for all the good guys out there who know men that beat women: what have you done to stop it?  Do you ever challenge your friend to change?  Do you ever “check” him, or offer to get him some help?

Or do you look the other way, saying and doing nothing at all?

I’m not suggesting that it’s anyone’s responsibility to stop an abuser from beating women other than the abuser himself.  The abuser bears the responsibility for his actions, as we all do.  That’s not what I’m trying to uncover here.

What I want to know is whether or not other men even try to stop the abuse from happening?  If you know your friend, colleague, frat brother, cousin, golf buddy, or fantasy football league member beats his wife or partner, do you do anything?

Do you pull him aside and say, “Hey man, you need to get some help.  What you’re doing is wrong.  You need to stop, and if you can’t stop, I’ll help you”?

I started thinking about this a few months before my father died.  He was, as he had been for quite some time after his cancer diagnosis, very reflective about his long life.  One evening, he started telling me about someone very close to him (but no longer living) who was exceptionally “cruel and sadistic to every woman in his life”.  He recounted story after story about the awful things this man did, things that made me cringe.

I let my dad ramble until I finally had to ask, “Did you do anything to get him to change his behavior?  Did you ever do anything to protect the women he hurt?”

In hindsight, I feel guilty for challenging my 88 year-old, terminally-ill father like that.  He was one of the gentlest souls ever, never raising a hand or even his voice to my mother, my sister or me.  I’m sure my tone was pretty harsh and I feel bad about that now that he’s gone.

Yet he, better than anyone, knew my history.  More than two decades earlier, I’d been on the receiving end of psychological and physical abuse at the hands of my live-in boyfriend.  My dad was there when, battered and terrorized, I came running home.  He took the pictures of my bruises, himself!  He saw firsthand what this man did to me and reacted as any father would: with disbelief, anger and sadness.

My father’s sadness hurt me more than the beatings did.  I’ll never forget the look on his face when I raised my shirt to show him my bruises.

So when, 25 years after I left that abusive relationship for good, I challenged him about his own inaction towards someone close to him who was a serial abuser, I did so from a place of deep hurt.  My scars, scabbed over by years of recovery, are still there.

Dad was taken aback by my questions.  He looked surprised and even a little hurt.  Then our conversation was interrupted by one of his many home health care visits, and I left it alone.

I’d obviously struck a chord, though.  A few days later, my dad brought the subject up again and admitted that I’d gotten him to “re-evaluate some things”.

“In all honesty, I don’t think I did anything,” he told me, sadly.  “I should have.  I don’t know why, but I just didn’t.  I know I at least told him he was wrong, but that’s about it.”

My father was dying.  And he truly was a good man.  So I let him off the hook and never brought the subject up again.  But, it made me wonder about the other men in abusers’ lives and whether they ever did anything.

These questions resurfaced with this summer’s release of “Straight Outta Compton”, the movie about the rise of the rap group, NWA.  Full disclosure: I saw and enjoyed the movie.

But I also joined the chorus of voices who protested the absence of Dr. Dre’s well-documented history of violence against women.  On the one hand, I totally understand why this wasn’t covered by the movie.  If I made a movie about my life, I certainly wouldn’t put any of my bad deeds in there.

On the other hand, the complete erasure and subsequent “statements” from Dre and Apple, with whom Dre has a very lucrative business relationship, were galling.  And for me, it speaks to the larger issue of how little women are regarded not only in the music industry, because misogyny certainly transcends rap and hip hop, but in our society in general.

Did anyone try to protect Dee Barnes while Dre beat her?  Did any of his “boys” intervene on her behalf?  Did they challenge him at all on his violent acts?

We’ll never know, of course.  Only the people who were there really know what happened.  And I hope that Dre’s apology was sincere and that he truly has changed his ways.

In many cases, it’s probably too much to expect an abuser’s family to be very helpful.  After all, this is the same family that either created the abuser or grew up in the same home as the abuser, and so was probably just as damaged.

But what about friends?  Is it too much to expect the friends of an abuser to “check” his behavior or offer to get him help?  How can you just look the other way when someone you know is beating their wife or partner?

I’m not naïve.  I understand that most abuse happens behind closed doors where no one can see it.   And that’s by design.  Abusers isolate their victims from family and friends.  So it makes sense that the abused woman’s people don’t really know what’s going on in her relationship.  He’s isolated her, and she’s so beaten down by shame and fear, she’s likely to keep her mouth shut.  I know this because I was that woman.

But what about his people?  Surely, in a significant number of cases, the abuser’s friends have at least a vague idea of what he’s doing.  Do they just ignore it?  Or do they challenge it?

For the record, my abuser’s family and friends did try to help.  They did speak up and some even begged me not to go back to him after the first incident.  That I did go back is totally on me, and I’m ashamed of that fact to this very day.  But, I’ve always been grateful for their efforts to change him.

I was lucky, though.

According to statistics, about 4,000 women die from abuse every year.  Many die while trying to escape their abuser’s clutches.  I have to wonder how much that number would drop if more men close to the abusers intervened.

Domestic partner violence can never be eliminated through the efforts of women alone.  It’s going to take everyone, especially the billions of men who believe beating women is wrong.

So to the good men out there, be your brother’s keeper.  Help us eradicate domestic violence forever.  If you see something, speak on it.  Trust your instincts and act accordingly.  You just may save someone’s life.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month here in the U.S.  If you or someone you know is being abused, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is safe, discreet and available 24/7, 365 days a year.  Call 1-800-799-7233.