October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. According to the US Dept. of Justice, domestic violence is described as “… a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. …physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.” This definition is an “area of focus” as part of the “Office on Violence Against Women.” Why is it there? Not once in that definition is gender mentioned. That means that this abusive behavior can be perpetrated by anyone. Now, I would like to point out that I am a woman. I have been on the receiving end of sexual, emotional, economic, and psychological domestic violence. I survived. I got out. Now I look at this conversation from another side and see that we need to alter the way we talk about domestic violence.
More than 830,000 men are victims of domestic violence every year. It is very difficult to find current statistics on domestic violence where a woman is the aggressor. It is even more difficult to find statistics on domestic violence that separate the orientation of the people who are the victims. Yes, I’m talking about women being the aggressor towards men and other women. I’m also talking about men being the aggressor towards other men. Think about every graphic, article, news report, or statistic that you’ve seen recently about domestic violence. Do you recall seeing one where a man was the victim? What about seeing something where one man was abusing another man? Or seeing one where a woman was abusing another woman?
Right now, our society is in the midst of sweeping reforms in the way we view intimate relationships. In the majority of the United States, same sex couples are now allowed to marry. Antiquated laws about cohabitation and racial mixing are being struck from the public record. If we’re going to talk about gender equality, then doesn’t that equality extend to our conversations about victims’ rights? We need to start thinking of everyone as people and put an end to our us vs. them mentality. We need to stop assuming that women are the weaker sex and realize that regardless of gender or orientation, all people have the potential to be abusers, and all people can be victims of abuse.
I vividly recall thinking that something was wrong with my father’s relationship with my stepmother. (I can’t go into detail about all of this because of pending legal actions, so forgive the generalizations.) Looking back on those years he was married to her, I have to ask myself, why did he stay? Was he scared that his masculine identity would be undermined by reporting his wife to the authorities? Was he afraid that no one would believe him? Was he scared that his career in the military would be jeopardized? How did he think his family (parents, siblings, children, etc.) would react? I wish he would have said something. I wish he would have understood that no matter what the outcome of his coming forward was, it surely would have been better to out her as an abuser than to put himself and his children through the tragedy of the way their relationship ended. If he could have seen into the future, would he have made different choices?
In no way do I want to downplay the seriousness of domestic violence against women where men are the aggressor. Instead, I want people to open up the conversation. We need to speak openly about this in order to remove the stigma attached to reporting domestic violence. We need to have these conversations as a society. By talking about this openly, we can set an example for our children. I don’t want my son to think that no one will believe him if he says that someone he’s in a relationship with abuses him. Likewise, I don’t want him to think that only women can be victims of abuse. I also don’t think that we need to be teaching our daughters that they can’t be abusers. This sets them up to think that their abusive behavior is somehow different or less reprehensible then abuse that’s perpetrated by a man. We need to make sure that we stop making light of girls’ abusive behavior so that they don’t grow up to be abusive women. We also need to make sure that when we’re talking to our children about their intimate relationships that we don’t pull punches when we talk about the harsher aspects of being in a relationship with someone. They need to know that no matter their gender or orientation, they have the right to speak out and speak up. No one deserves to be abused.
If you or someone you love is a victim of domestic violence, please reach out. You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233