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Domestic Violence Awareness: It’s a Good Thing

October 13, 2013
By Robert Franklin, Esq.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and that’s a good thing. When it comes to partners hitting partners or parents hitting kids, we should all increase our awareness of the problem, its causes, and how to reduce its incidence. Surely there’s little controversial about that statement.

What may be controversial is the fact that, after over 40 years of awareness of domestic violence, facts about it are not very well known. Most people, including lawmakers, aren’t very aware. That’s not because we don’t know a lot about it; we do. Indeed, domestic violence has been studied in astonishing depth and we now know more than enough to educate the public and dramatically reduce violence in the home.

The basics of domestic violence are simple. Hundreds of studies show that men and women are about equally likely to commit an act of domestic violence. Studies of reciprocal domestic violence done for the Centers for Disease Control indicate that when both partners engage in “reciprocal” domestic violence, it’s more likely that the woman initiated the violence. Men are somewhat more likely than women to inflict “severe” violence on a partner. About two-thirds of those injured in a domestic violence incident are women and a third are men. Large scale studies in Scotland and elsewhere show that about 5% of all adults will be victims of domestic violence in a given year with about 80% of those (i.e. 1% of the total) sustaining either no injury or only a slight one. Women who initiate domestic violence are by far the most likely to be injured by their partner. Domestic violence is not evenly distributed across the population, but is far more likely to occur among those of lower economic status, lower educational levels, and in unmarried relationships. As Professor Donald Dutton makes clear in his book Rethinking Domestic Violence and a recent British study confirmed, only a tiny percentage of domestic violence conforms to the “power and control” model in which domestic violence is used to maintain one partner’s control over the other. The great majority of domestic violence is either a one-time thing or an occasional one. The great majority of domestic violence is associated with factors such as drug or alcohol abuse, financial problems, relational instability and psychological disorders. Pioneer activist Erin Pizzey long ago learned that domestic violence tends to be intergenerational, i.e. children learn the behavior from parents who engage in it. As Dr. Dutton reveals, we now have effective means to intervene and treat those who perpetrate domestic violence.

That list is far from exhaustive, but it gives a fair outline of the nature of domestic violence. Sadly, it is almost completely at odds with the public narrative of domestic violence that we read and hear every day. That narrative holds that essentially all domestic violence is committed by men against women; that they do so in order to maintain power and control over those women; that if a woman does hit a man, it’s in self-defense, that men who hit women do it repeatedly; and that the police and courts offer little or no protection to women in danger. That narrative is repeated time and again by those, including Vice President Joe Biden, who have long been wrong on the issue, but who are part of a domestic violence establishment that is not eager to relinquish either its narrative or its funding. Office holders courting the “women’s vote” likewise refuse to admit the many truths we’ve known about domestic violence for so long.

In short, the popular narrative about domestic violence is at odds in almost every respect with the established science on the matter. Current events illustrate the matter perfectly. As most people know, Baltimore Ravens star Ray Rice was seen on video responding to his fiancée’s physical aggression by knocking her unconscious. No one approves of Rice’s response which was clearly excessive, but the incident brought a number of important issues into the open. Essentially everyone who commented on the matter excoriated Rice but never mentioned his fiancée’s aggression. And when sports journalist Stephen A. Smith did so and wondered why the criticism of the woman’s behavior seemed beyond the pale, he too was pilloried and suspended from his job at ESPN.

Meanwhile, U.S. soccer star Hope Solo was indicted on four counts of domestic violence against a sister and nephew who were reportedly injured in the incident. But not only did Solo’s violence receive almost no press coverage, her sports league all but ignored it. By contrast, the Ravens fired Rice and the National Football League banned him from play indefinitely.

The two incidents and the responses to them graphically illustrate the double standard with which domestic violence is viewed and treated in this country. Precisely in line with the inaccurate teachings of the domestic violence establishment over the years, male perpetration is punished in the harshest ways while female perpetration is all but ignored.

But our narrative about and response to domestic violence is far worse than simple hypocrisy; it tends to make the problem worse, not better. If we wanted to use the Rice case as a teaching moment, we’d recall what researcher Dr. Sandra Stith has said – that a woman’s initiation of violence against a partner is “a dramatically more important factor than anything else” in the woman’s being injured. We need to teach women and men in relationships not to resort to violence.  

But when commentators like me suggest the use of such an effective tool they’re met with a storm of protest by the domestic violence establishment saying that educating women is “blaming the victim.” That’s utter nonsense of course. Educating – especially – women not to hit first is just one way of many in which we can help potential victims of domestic violence – women and men – protect themselves. You’d think those who claim to be serious about women’s welfare would jump at the chance, but they don’t, a fact that speaks volumes about their true motivations.

And, since those are the very people who dominate both the public discourse on domestic violence and our response to it, it should come as no surprise that, like services for male victims, those for female perpetrators are all but nonexistent. It all but ensures that female perpetrators will continue to initiate intimate-partner aggression and continue to be injured in response. And of course, male victims have nowhere to turn to avoid their partners’ blows.

What does all this have to do with shared parenting? A lot, as it turns out. That’s because, in almost every case in which a state legislature is considering a bill to equalize parenting time post-divorce, the domestic violence establishment opposes it. That very thing is playing out now in North Dakota in the run-up to the November 4 elections. The equal parenting initiative that’s on the ballot is being opposed by the usual forces, including domestic violence organizations. That’s true despite the fact that shared parenting has been shown to reduce conflict between exes.

Moreover, although the domestic violence establishment consistently claims that violent ex-husbands can’t be trusted with their children, when the State of Nebraska analyzed its custody cases over a 10-year period, it discovered that domestic violence was alleged in only 5.6% of the cases and proven in far fewer. In short, in all but the rarest of cases, domestic violence is not a factor. But, as with so many facts about domestic violence, the domestic violence establishment doesn’t want to hear it or Americans to know it.

So, we know a lot about domestic violence. We know what it is, who does it, why and how to treat it. The “we” who know all that consist of social scientists who study the matter and a great many commentators on the issue. But if by “we” is meant policy-makers, office-holders, the news media, and the general population, then “we” know very little about domestic violence. That’s because over the decades, we’ve received a steady stream of “information” that’s misleading at best and outright false at worst. And that, of course, is why I welcome Domestic Violence Awareness Month in the hope that this year people, particularly those in high places, will make themselves aware of the realities of domestic violence and toss aside the false narrative we’ve heard for so long.

Awareness: it’s a good thing.

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