Imagine you are “walking in her shoes.” The shoes of a woman brutalized in unspeakable ways by the man that pledged to ‘love, honor and cherish her, ‘til death do us part’. You are hit in the face, punched in the stomach, cursed, raped with a blunt object, called names that sear your mind in front of your small children.
Imagine you are her. You are the woman who reaches out for help … your face stained with bloody tears, your heart broken, and your children motionless with terror.
What would you hope for? Would you hope for safety, for comfort, for guidance? Perhaps revenge. Would you know where to turn? I wonder.
If you stayed, would it mean you were weak or liked it? Or does it mean that you are hurt, wounded, exhausted and afraid? What messages would you give your children if you stayed? If you left, how would you survive? What would the kids do without their father? What would your family think? Would you ask, ‘Where is God?’
Domestic violence is a leading cause of injury and death to women worldwide. One in five women around the globe is physically or sexually abused in her lifetime. Gender violence causes more death and disability among women aged 15 to 44 than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents or war.
Primarily, but not always, domestic violence is a crime committed by men against women. Research informs us that it is a global problem. The following percentages of women report having been physically assaulted by an intimate partner:
In the United States of America, 22.1%
In Canada, 29%
In Norway 18%
In Switzerland 12.6%,
In Turkey 57.9%,
In the United Kingdom 30%.
These percentages report physical assault, yet physical violence is only one aspect of domestic violence. Emotional and sexual violence has not been factored into any of these statistics. The numbers would increase exponentially if they were.
A Call to Respond
Now imagine that she, “this battered woman” calls you. She heard you cared about the rights of women and children. You are the one she turned to for help.
Would you know what to say? Would you know what to do? Would you know how to keep her safe? Would you know how to help her husband if he wanted to change his abusive and terrorizing ways? Would you know how to give her children hope for a better tomorrow?
What if you did know just how to respond? You knew how to tell her that no one deserves to be beaten by the one they love, that the home should be a place of safety and that it grieved you that this was not the case for her. What if you knew of a shelter that had a bed for her and her children and were able to assist them in finding safety?
What if you knew all the right things to say and do and you had all the time and money needed to help her, but …
…her husband kept calling her full of remorse and promises.
…the pastor of their church convinced her that it was her God-given duty to stay faithful to her husband, to submit to his desires, to continue to “take the abuse” and to forgive and forget.
…a family member betrayed a confidence and told the children’s father where you had carefully hidden his family before his treatment was completed.
… the judge ruled for joint custody of the children even though the father had demonstrated, over and over, cruelty or neglect of his very own kids? Now the mother was required to stay in contact with her abuser.
Would you begin to fear for your life as well for getting involved?
Domestic Violence is What Happens Behind Closed Doors
A Family Matter:
Domestic violence, in most times and places, has historically been ‘a family matter’. The notion implied in that phrase was the notion says what happens behind closed doors is nobody else’s business. It is a private affair to be handled within the family.
Quite to the contrary, what happens behind closed doors very much impacts our world. It affects each of us either directly or indirectly. To insist otherwise is ludicrous. The March of Dimes research tells us that domestic violence is the number one cause of birth defects in newborn children. Children who have witnessed violence, not been abused, but witnessed the violence at home are 1000% more likely to become our next abusers. Children who watch the victimization of their mothers are five times more likely to exhibit serious behavioral problems than other children. These children are 6 times more likely to commit suicide, 24 times more likely to commit sexual assault, 50% more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, 74% more likely to commit crimes against others and 60% of boys incarcerated for murder between the ages of 15 and 21 are incarcerated for having killed their mother’s abuser.
Imagine the impact on our educational institutes, our health systems, our criminal justice system, our neighborhoods, and the workplace. Beyond the immediate and long-term consequences for the woman and her children the costs exacted are financial, emotional and spiritual. Violence behind closed doors costs all of us dearly for generations to come.
What Is Being Done About It?
There has been an interesting evolution in the history of responses to the issue of domestic violence. Probably the first interventions attempted were focused on trying to get the ‘victim’ to be more compliant. If she would just be ‘more submissive’, ‘compliant’ or stop ‘provoking’ him, this would never happen. Women were prescribed medications for depression and anxiety, symptoms commonly found among victims of violence and abuse. This approach assumed if she would just do something different, he would change. He wouldn’t hurt her. She was identified as the ‘problem’.
Of major importance, women who tried becoming more submissive often found that it had the opposite effect. Interpersonal violence escalated. Confused, they began to speak out about their abuse. Counseling became the natural next step as women attempted to break the silence.
Family or Marital Counseling:
The next popular intervention was family or marital therapy for issues such as co-dependency, communication and conflict resolution. The assumptions were if she would stop enabling his behavior, or if they could learn to talk things over, then the ‘conflicts’ would be resolved. The result would be fewer violent episodes. If the ‘problems’ were ‘solved’, there would be less to fight about.
This intervention assumes that domestic violence is a ‘problem’ in the relationship. It has turned out to be a faulty assumption.
The reality for victims of violence in couples counseling is dangerous and unsettling. If she really tells about what goes on at home, she faces dire consequences for speaking up, for ‘humiliating him’ in front of someone else. It became apparent the price to pay for many women who confide to a counselor or a pastor was violence at home. A woman may feel encouraged by the opportunity to ‘get help’ then she shares everything, only to have it used against her at a later time, further escalating the abuse. Sadly, many men present their ‘public face’ for the counselor and save their ‘private face’ for home.
Marital or family therapy is based on an assumption of equal power between members of the couple or in the family. This is simply not the case when one party has the power to economically control others forcing them into compliance, or when one reserves the right to threaten or assault the others after therapy if they say the wrong thing.
Another problem with marital or family therapy is that the very name suggests to some that this is a shared problem, that somehow the others are responsible for the actions of the perpetrator. This starts the therapy out on shaky grounds. Unless the clinician is very skilled in this issue, it results in continued subjugation of the victim and perhaps even injury or death.
Domestic violence may well be a problem in a family, but the use of violence or abuse is strictly an individual problem. It is a problem in the abuser, and must be addressed as such if the violence is to end.
The next intervention, and a more current one, is anger management. The simple assumption is if someone can just manage this emotion, they won’t lose control and hurt others. Recognizing this, anger management became the next step forward in that the individual with the problem was sent for help, alone- without his partner. While a move in the right direction, it became apparent quickly that not all batterers use anger to control their victims. Conversely, not all men who have trouble with anger are batterers. So it became evident that anger was one of many domestic violence issues to address, not the only one.
Jacobson and Gottman (1998) found that there are at least two kinds of batterers, who they call ‘pit bulls’ and ‘cobras.’ Pit bulls are men whose emotions quickly boil over, whereas cobras are men who are cool and methodical as they inflict pain and humiliation on their partners. Interestingly, their heart rates actually went down as they were battering. They were not expressing any angry emotions at all. Additionally, Donald Dutton’s research suggests that many batterers have serious mental illnesses in addition to their problems with power and control that underlie their use of violence. Obviously, for many other men battering is a learned behavior. They have witnessed abuse, learned this behavior and learned it well. Their trauma remains. Anger management programs are not designed to meet the myriads of problems these men need to have addressed.
Mandatory arrest laws have been introduced in many states for physically assaulting an intimate partner, for making threats and for stalking. While the abuser is taken to jail, the victim is provided with referrals to shelters and services designed to provide advocacy for her and for her children. With the law taking this problem seriously, many abusers beliefs of entitlement begin to be challenged. They begin to rethink their roles, rights and responsibilities within the relationship. Consequently, many working in the field believe that an arrest and incarceration for domestic violence is the most successful technique for getting violent men to stop abuse. (Heise, 1994; Sherman & Berk, 1984) It gets their attention. Those who care about their image become quite willing to get help. Important to note, others have found that arrest can increase physical violence in some cases, particularly when the men do not have good community ties or a need for social conformity. (Dunford, Huizinga, & Elliot, 1990) The mental health professionals refer to these individuals as sociopaths.
Domestic Violence Treatment Programs
In North America, a new counseling model to stop violence in the home has developed. In concert with the criminal justice system, judges can order a batterer over his objections to attend approved counseling sessions. In Washington State, WAC 388-60 details the requirements for a Domestic Violence Treatment Program. Men entering these programs are required to attend weekly single gender groups for a minimum of a year, or they go back to jail for their crime. Those being arrested and charged with a misdemeanor as a first offense are eligible for a Stipulated Order of Continuance (SOC). If they complete treatment satisfactorily, the charge will not remain on their record.
Coordinated Community Response
What has become the most effective strategy in intervening in the cycles of violence is what is known as A Coordinated Community Response. Coming together around this issue in order to address it with a unified voice are the legal system, advocacy groups, treatment providers, health care providers, religious communities, local governments, and educational institutes. Coming together is no small feat. But it is crucial. As we come to an agreement on the definitions of violence and strategize our responses, we keep victim safety as our top priority. When we speak with a collective voice, our message will be neither fragmented nor contradictory, but a clear community call to stop domestic violence.
No Excuse For Domestic Violence
In addition to being a psychological issue, a legal issue, a social issue, a religious issue, domestic violence is a human rights issue.
If there is no excuse for domestic violence, if safety in the home is to be our basic human right, then we must come together to close the gap that exists to permit such a crime. We must provide places of safety for women and children where they feel supported and honored; places where they can regain their dignity and find self worth; places where they can heal from the degradation of their experience.
We must insist that the problem is resident within the one who does the abusing, the one who exercises power and control over another in intimate relationships. We must call the abusers to account for their actions and persist in the work of facing them with the consequences of their behavior.
We must get involved with our children so that they never receive messages that would permit them to carry on the legacy of domestic violence.
We must find ways to work together to bring hope and healing to our sisters and brothers around the world. We must walk in her shoes.
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