October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Over the last few months, we have seen numerous stories regarding domestic violence, but despite the opportunity for real, teachable moments, there are so many things that aren’t being talked about.
There is a flaw in the way domestic violence tends to be characterized—usually in terms of gender, or the kinds of abuse we discuss. Ultimately, decreasing the occurrence of domestic violence starts with changing the way that we think about the subject, and allowing those ideas to change the way we act. I’ve got a few thoughts on some easy strides we can make:
Acknowledge that women are not the only people who get abused
President Barack Obama issued a proclamation in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month to discuss how the Administration is approaching domestic violence in terms of new policies, and recently founded organizations. My problem with President Obama’s proclamation is that it focuses solely on women.
Yes, women do have greater odds of being victims of domestic abuse, but just because men suffer less often doesn’t mean we should trivialize or simply forget the fact that it happens.
Whoopi Goldberg got a lot of flak for the comments she made on The View regarding the Ray Rice case, and while the delivery certainly needed some fine tuning, her argument was one I think anyone can appreciate: “Don’t anybody hit anybody.” That’s a basic lesson most of us learned in preschool—keep your hands to yourself.
We have to stop narrowly focusing on the gender of victims, and start focusing on human beings as victims. That means targeting the message at everyone, not just men, that unless it is in self-defense, bringing physical harm to someone else is wrong, period.
Stop inappropriately placing blame
Time writer Charlotte Alter makes the great suggestion that instead of asking victims, “Why didn’t you leave?” we should be asking, “Why did he hit?”
Much like my sentiments regarding President Obama’s comments, I take issue with the fact that Alter restricts her discussion of domestic violence to women as victims. However, she touches on something very important to the way we approach domestic abuse.
If you were to go to Google.com, and type “why do women,” the third top search option is “Why do women stay in abusive relationships?” To get an answer to that question, the Domestic Abuse Project (DAP) has compiled a list of explanations given by women who have suffered from domestic violence, and those explanations vary case-by-case.
As DAP points out, it’s fine to ask this question out of honest curiosity, but it is typically asked with an air of judgment or hostility. Domestic violence should not be viewed through the lens of, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” The abuser controls the abuse, not the victim.
We don’t look at burglary victims, and say, “Well if they had only chosen the house farther down the road, and they didn’t have such nice things, they wouldn’t have been robbed.” We don’t say things like that because they make absolutely no sense. So why is it okay to apply that logic to domestic violence?
The last time I checked, whatever stimulus there is, we are all in control of how we respond.
Bring awareness to all forms of domestic violence
When we hear the words “domestic violence,” we first tend to think of physical abuse between two individuals who are romantically involved. In reality, there are so many other ways to abuse someone.
The Advocates for Human Rights cite five categories of abuse: physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, and financial—all with their own unique set of characteristics. A person does not have to make physical contact with you in order to abuse you, and one form of abuse is often preceded or followed by another. If something feels wrong in any way, it is important to give attention to those feelings as our intuition often knows more than we consciously do.
If you need assistance, or have questions related to anything involving domestic violence (whether or not certain behaviors constitute abuse, resources on what to do if you are being abused, and even resources for individuals who believe they might be abusers), please visit The National Domestic Violence Hotline website, or call them at 1-800-799-7233. Someone will be available to help you 24/7.
Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers once said, “You can kill a man, but you can’t kill an idea.” The first step to improving the state of domestic violence is to improve the way we think and talk about it, because those are the things that endure. It begins on a small scale with you, and with me, but if we all make the conscious effort to change what happens in our microcosm, there’s no telling what difference we could make in the world.