Domestic Violence

We call it “domestic violence” as one way of segregating out violence against women (which it largely is). Thirty five percent of women in America have experienced rape, physical violence or stalking by a partner. Although this problem is concentrated in poor and minority households, it is not unknown throughout the culture (1). Around the globe, 30 percent of all women have suffered intimate partner violence – including physical and sexual attacks.(2)

Each year there are 552,000 nonfatal violent victimizations (rape/sexual assault, robbery, or aggravated or simple assault) by an intimate partner reported to the police. Many more assaults never get reported. Then there are the non-assaults (which don’t get counted either): things like emotional threats, physical threats, economic pressure, stalking, threats with weapons and most recently, cyberstalking. Those add a staggering number to the total.

Regarding fatalities, in 2007 14% of all homicides in the U.S were committed by intimate partners. (The total number was 2,340; 1,640 were females and 700 were males.) (3) In the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan 6,614 American soldiers were killed, a truly sad number. During that same period, almost twice as many (11,766) women were killed in the U.S. because of domestic violence. And if there is a gun in the home the likelihood that a woman will die a violent death increases by 270 percent.

The point is, there is a lot of domestic abuse!

Most abuse begins in relationships between people who both have lousy self-esteem. They don’t just want relationships, they need it to fill the hole they feel in themselves. Things go pretty much downhill from there. That is not to sanction abuse, but to explain the conditions which foster it.

If a man who grows up in a household where there is domestic violence, he is likely to be an abuser: 3 to 4 times more likely. And about half the men who abuse women will also abuse children.(4) And where abuse happens in about 10% of homes, it happens in 40% in the homes of police officers.

Domestic violence has an insidiously long half-life. Women who left their abusers five, 10, even 20 years ago and believed they had closed that chapter of their lives, now face far higher than normal rates of chronic health problems including arthritis and hormonal disorders, asthma, diabetes, hypertension, chronic pain, severe headaches and irritable bowel syndrome.

To be fair, some women are provocative. Some of them will invite or endure abuse – because they think they deserve it. Other women live on conflict and they will select partners that they know are explosive. Some live on the excitement of keeping a potentially violent man at bay. Others are afraid to be alone and believe that this is all they deserve. Then there are most women who are simply victims. Sadly too, there are those who for various reasons, will go back to their abusers.

There are the men (consciously or unconsciously) who look for women they can abuse. Ones who will “take it.” Abuser’s look for women with low self-esteem. A woman who was violated as a child projects a different energy than a non-abused woman. And an abuser’s radar can pick that energy up across a room. It isn’t fair, but if you know that, it may help you avoid a difficult situation.

Then there are guys who choose women they know cannot be trusted, women with questionable histories. These guys actually look for provocative women. It keeps the relationship exciting!As with so many other things, the vast majority of people would never hurt another, but then there are the explosive ones . . . The point is:

Domestic violence should not happen to anybody. Ever. Period.

The simple solution is for guys to learn to walk. In the ideal, when a guy finds himself reaching that flash point, he needs to turn around and head for the door. But as you’ll see in a minute, that can be very difficult. Some guys were abused as children and have very short fuses. They respond to life violently because they were treated badly. But one thing that everyone should remember is that abuse is actually an expression of powerlessness.

If a person feels they have a modicum of influence over a situation, they will use that influence to try and manage it. But if they feel powerless, either because of their childhood conditioning or by the circumstances of the situation (in most cases both), some guys will snap into an explosion of rage (not anger).

Think about a caged animal, that’s how it feels on the inside. That may not be how things are, but to the abuser, that’s how it feels. His motivation is to protect an insult to his personhood, his sense of self, his dignity as a person (real or imagined). He feels that he has been stripped naked and his worthlessness exposed for all the world to see. It may be completely irrational, but to him it is real. In that moment, he really is a wounded animal.

Notice that how, when confronted with a situation, the abuser does not leave. He cannot. That is to admit not only defeat, but the thing he fears most. He feels he must punish the one he feels has (unjustly) wronged him – to lash out at what has been done to him – and that can include the whole world! He’s not interested in the facts and he doesn’t want a discussion. In his confused mind he’s trying to rescue what’s left of his dignity.

His methods of course, are totally counterproductive and that tells us a lot. He doesn’t want resolution. He needs to close the hole he feels has been ripped in the fabric of his self, to cover up the shame and punish the gross aggravation he feels has been done to him . . . In all likelihood, someone close has confirmed his worst fear – that he really is a worthless piece of slime. And he doesn’t have the skills to cope with the situation. He has allowed himself to become trapped.

A note to women for your survival: If you are in a relationship with an explosive man, the first question you must ask yourself is, “Why are you there?” “Is this really what you deserve?” “Is this really love?” On a practical note, talk to him about the problem at a calm time. See if you can get him into some kind of sensitivity or self-awareness training. He will resist, but deep down, he knows that something is wrong inside. If he refuses, you have to ask yourself why you stay.

Once you start down the path of his rage, it’s way too late. Self defense training, although very good for confidence building, for this purpose is pretty much a waste of time. This isn’t going to be some stranger in a dark alley, this is your partner or boyfriend and your feelings for him will prohibit you from doing what you need to do to protect yourself. And unless your defense is devastating, you run the serious risk of escalation. By the way, if there are other people nearby, learn to scream for help. It’s one of the best defenses you have and surprisingly few people use it. If you see a storm coming, get out of the house or apartment to where you can enlist the help of neighbors or even strangers.

Unfortunately his violence is reinforced by a violent culture (or sub-culture) with a sick gun fetish. In the twenty year period between 1955 and 1975, the Vietnam War killed over 58,000 American soldiers. As appalling as that statistic is, Americans with guns kill more people than that every two years.

More than 39,000 people died by suicide in the United States in 2011. Homicide claimed another 17,000 people. Most of those deaths were by guns. Americans are twenty times more likely to die from gunshot than citizens of other countries.

Street gangs roam freely in some of our cities. Drive-by shootings are frequent. In Chicago over the fourth of July, 82 people were shot, 14 of them fatally. The PTSD from those shootings affects thousands of people. And the NRA wants us all to carry guns to “alleviate” the problem. Although city shootings get media attention, in rural areas twice as many people die from self-inflicted suicide.

Ray Rice has become the poster boy for domestic violence, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell the lightning rod for institutionalized insensitivity towards women. And both deserve the public scorn they have received. But we live in a culture of violence. Football, the nation’s most popular sport, markets violence. Football news is a compilation of whose bodies have been too badly damaged to play next week. The concussion problem in the league is massive. Boxing, pro wrestling, NASCAR and hockey are sports of incredible violence. Even once tame basketball has migrated into a sport of violence. It is argued that sport offers outlets for public aggression that might manifest in other ways. If that is true, then I say to the public, “It’s time to grow up.”

Expecting a young – and often immature – man who is paid hundreds of millions of dollars and receives great public notoriety for his excellence at violence on the field to just turn it off when he walks off the field, is asking a lot. To their credit, that’s exactly what the vast majority of sportspeople do. Unfortunately there are those few, and it’s always the ones with false pride, who cannot leave the violence on the field.

Joe Biden’s 1994 Violence Against Women Act is a good beginning, providing help and support for women after the fact. Unfortunately it’s re-approval this year faced stiff Republican opposition because it included support for battered gay people as well as women. But if we are to deal with this problem, as with crime, we need to pay a great deal more attention to the family circumstances of our young people. Particularly, young men in dysfunctional families. Until we do that, domestic abuse will continue.

1. 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.
2. (UN study)
3. US Dept. of Justice, Female Victims of Violence Report, 9/2009
4. American Psychological Association, Violence and the Family, 1996.

copyright©Blue Lotus Press 2016

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