Portwood Case Expert Brings the Truth About Domestic Violence to TV

Amber Portwood is the gift that keeps on giving.  For anyone concerned with men’s and fathers’ rights, she’s been a godsend.  We should establish awards to be given out at the end of each year and she should definitely receive one.  By the end of her criminal and child custody cases, she might qualify for a lifetime achievement award.  Who knows?

Portwood of course is the “star” of the MTV series “Teen Mom,” who famously attacked boyfriend and father of her child Leah right there on national television. 

To his credit, boyfriend Gary Shirley offered no resistance to her seven slaps, slugs and kicks.  Neither did he respond badly when she screamed at him at a distance of about one inch from his face.  In other footage, she’s seen choking him.  Meanwhile, he never even raises his voice.

It took Indiana prosecutors months to figure out what the rest of the country already knew – that what Portwood did was criminal domestic violence.  But eventually, they got around to charging her with three felony counts and one misdemeanor count.  She was arrested and made bail, but she’s restrained by court order from having any contact with Shirley or their daughter.

Except for the astonishing time it took to charge her, all that’s appropriate as far as the state’s response to domestic violence goes.  Elsewhere I’ve argued that what she did should be addressed, not as a crime, but as the psychopathology that it is.  If we really want to reduce domestic violence, we’ll treat noninjurious DV cases (about two-thirds of all cases) as family therapy matters, not criminal law ones.

It’s one of the main problems of a DV industry that’s riddled with them, that every DV incident is considered criminal.  The fact is that what Portwood did, like the vast majority of domestic violence, was in no way injurious to Shirley.  She, like most perpetrators of DV, needs help, not jail.

But this is the way we do it, so Amber Portwood should be no exception, and so far, it looks like she’s not.

Because she attacked Shirley on television, the incident is now forever enshrined digitally.  So with each new chapter in her saga, we’re treated anew to the videos of her attack.  And each time we see little Leah’s face – the innocent two year old watching her mother slap, punch and kick her dad.

We can read statistics about domestic violence till cobwebs form but they’ll never tell the story that a single video of Amber Portwood setting at Gary Shirley does.  The pictures, particularly the live video replete with audio bring it home to us as nothing else can begin to. 

Amber Portwood has given this nation an education, and for that we should be grateful.

And the education continues here (MSNBC, 1/3/11).  MSNBCreprises the event and asks questions of legal expert Wendy Murphy and mental health professional, Dr. Gail Saltz.  Murphy doesn’t have a lot to offer, but Saltz gives viewers much valuable information about DV.

She says she hopes the incident raises awareness that DV happens to men, that women attack and kill men in DV incidents.  Saltz points out that there are no shelters for men (a slight overstatement) or systems to care for male victims of DV.  She rightly points out that male victimization has been “kept undercover,” and adds that children who witness DV by adults are more likely to be victims of it and to perpetrate it as adults.

My guess is that the last point is one of our best hopes of ever achieving some semblance of sanity in our approach to domestic violence.  If we truly come to grasp the fact that domestic violence isn’t just between two adults but can have profound effects on children and serve to perpetuate it in their adult lives, maybe we’ll start to adopt effective responses.

That would mean admitting that women commit domestic violence, a fact long known to responsible social scientists.  Until we do that simple thing, we’ll never begin to protect children from the effects of DV and we’ll never begin to diminish the incidence of domestic violence.

So kudos to MSNBC for telling the truth about DV and illustrating it with reality TV.  And let’s raise a glass to Amber Portwood who continues to do what so few have been able to – show the world the female face of domestic violence commission.

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