Why domestic violence needs to be a “guy” issue

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Although I have never been the victim of physical/sexual/verbal abuse, I see the consequences of these actions in many of my patients. I try to listen, not judge and provide resources for women who are either in an abusive relationship or suffering mental/physical repercussions of a previous relationship. But more than a few times I have thought, “Why doesn’t this woman just leave?”.

Over the past few weeks, two seemingly disparate articles have made me rethink this statement. The Star Tribune newspaper published an investigative article on sex trafficking, highlighting the customers of prostitution rather than the female victims. Efforts have succeeded in many states to prosecute the pimps and sex customers and not the female victims, as the majority of these young women are the victims of violence and feel enslaved and unable to leave. They often start as teenage runaways trying to escape an abusive home life, only to find themselves picked up by an older male who seems to provide safety and love. It doesn’t take long until these young women are enslaved in a different way – to drugs, sex work and physical violence from their pimps. Leaving is not an option as they have no family to go home to, no friends who can help and they carry the societal shame of what they have done. With this in mind, new initiatives have begun to educate and prosecute the male customers of the sex trade. If demand can be decreased, there will not be a need for supply.

The second article appeared on the blog  of a former neighbor and friend. This independent, opinionated, musically and athletically talented young woman had been the victim of domestic violence dealt by her boyfriend. Her story was horrifying as she came close to death a few times while also being  psychologically abused and estranged from her close and loving family.  Why didn’t she leave?  Why did she continue to make excuses for someone who left bruises on her body? But what if we changed the “blame” game? What if we asked, similar to the prostitution story above, why is the abuser abusive? What led him to believe that he has the right to choke and punch someone that he loves? Where has he learned the words that can systematically wear down a person’s self-esteem?  Why isn’t his family recognizing the bruises, put down words and unhealthy control he exerts?

The majority of our current resources around domestic violence are geared to protecting women once they leave an abusive relationship; providing a safe place to stay, legal services and job training. This is important but will never effectively change the behavior that led to the situation. We need research to find out what exists in our society that allows men to believe that this is acceptable behavior. Only when we understand that this is a “guy” issue and not a female victim issue, will we be able to effect change.

 

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One thought on “Why domestic violence needs to be a “guy” issue

  1. This reply was sent to me in an email and I am reposting here.

    Your blog was a very accurate appraisal of a failed or inadequate system that does not lead to corrective action.

    My experiences in having an abusive father and later in volunteering as a Big Brother and, still later, as a volunteer monitor in the domestic violence court have led me to understand why abused women continue in the relationship despite the likelihood of being abused again or even killed. The usual pattern is that the woman is convinced by the man that she will fail without him supporting her. Often she is convinced that she deserves the abuse by her behavior and, further, she is convinced that separation will lead to embarrassment in her family and friends. This stigma must be erased and replaced with attitudes of courage for women to push forward to remove themselves from the relationship. The abuser should be labeled a coward and should be sentenced to a prison with only other abusers, where they can be penalized and rehab attempted. Our tolerance has been far too lenient and this must be changed with decisive and severe treatment. This in itself could be a huge deterrent.

    We must also educate friends, family members and relatives on how to identify abusive treatment and report it through an anonymous referral system equipped with specialists for intervention. Intervention by others who observe this treatment is crucial and it would be effective to warn the American public what the warning signs are. The questions now asked by caregivers regarding safety at home is a good first step for raising awareness.

    I feel strongly that abusers should be required to wear tracking technology so if they approach a woman who has a do not contact order, there is a warning and they can be apprehended.

    My courtroom experience convinced me that our judges need more training and then encouragement to exercise the power they have to sever the relationship, more severe sentencing guidelines and use of the bully pulpit to remove firearms and more clearly understood penalties for a repeat offender that led to the courtroom appearance. I would advocate also that all family members be present so there is a clear understanding of the gravity of the offense.

    Your blog hit a nerve with me as I feel we have a serious epidemic of domestic abuse in America.

    A side note: When I was being trained as a courtroom monitor, the presenter said that if you grew up in that environment you would repeat this behavior in your life. This angered me and I corrected her that it did not need to be that way. My life was changed by coaches, neighbors, relatives and friends who demonstrated a better choice than being a cowardly abuser.

    I feel that a vow should be included in the marriage ceremony to not resort to sexual or physical abuse so help me God that the couple make. My deep belief is that respect, courtesy and appreciation of women needs to be elevated. This goes far beyond the workplace but applies to women in every facet of life. Progress has been made but there is a long way to go.

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