As part of the changes coming, which I wrote about in December, are ideas for a program and a book based on the model of the site here. I’m cooking up some slogans for that model. One I like that’s making sense for me is: No bad guys. No monsters. No angels. Thoughts?
You’ll recognize this one quite quickly, I suspect. This is the one where the abuser is always horrible, always abusive, and probably ugly, while the victim is some angelic being incapable of ever doing anything wrong, and as innocent as the wind-driven snow. This comes from the over-extension of some true principles — abuse is ugly and horrible, and those who are abused aren’t responsible for their own abuse. But the way the myth works out is that one subscribing to it can talk about how much they hate abusers while giving free passes to many abusers because they don’t fit up to the stereotype. A couple of examples of where this can go astray is the case of noted film director Roman Polanski, whose sexual assault of a teen-aged girl was described by comedien Whoopi Goldberg as “not rape-rape,” or the recent under-sentencing of a child molester because the judge thought the case didn’t fit the profile of a molester. Real molesters, like all abusers, are human beings. They aren’t monstrous — the abuse they commit is monstrous. People we know and like commit abuse, as do some of us. Too many of us.
But what about the Immaculate Victim? Avoiding victim-blaming is a good thing, but the problem with this one is that if the one who was abused can be shown to not be perfect, then they aren’t really worthy of sympathy, and their abuse can be ignored. Sometimes, abused people make bad choices, including, sometimes, being violent in response to violence perpetrated against them: fighting back. I don’t advocate fighting back, as retaliatory violence is still voluntary violence that isn’t self-defense, which I see as a bad thing in all cases. But being in an ugly situation can prompt the best of us to make bad decisions, and those who have been abused need our support and help, not our judgment and condemnation.
The purpose of these myths is that they enable us to ignore abuse that we see. What we want to do is to not have to see it, because it is ugly, and if we see it, we might need to do something about it. Doing something about it is the better choice, because that’s the only way we change things. And the first thing we need to do about it is to be clear with ourselves about what we are seeing, and that it is abusive (when it is). After that, we can refuse to collude with the denial system that those involved may be caught up in, and support them in making good choices to break out of the abuse and into healthier abuse-free lives.
As I prepare to begin responding in this space to news stories about domestic abuse, I’m finding things I need to talk about before I can get back into current events on the topic. Some of them I’ve already talked about around the site, but I need to say some additional things about them.
It’s been quite a time since I’ve written anything new around here. I’ve had more experiences, and my approach has developed in some particular directions. As always, I’m about challenging people’s assumptions and presuppositions about abuse and related things. But I’m seeing that I’m going to have to do so in ways that might piss off people who might have been allies in the past. My priority here is in being about the realities of abuse as a way of helping people involved in abuse come to grips with what their options are to find their way into abuse-free life. I am particularly concerned about those who want to use the issue as part of a political agenda. Not just because I’m probably on the other side of the aisle politically from that agenda, but because I think it’s too important to help people find abuse-free lives to burden that process with anything else that might get in the way of safety, recovery and healing.
The mythological view of domestic/relationship abuse begins with the term “domestic violence,” which you may have noticed that I avoid. I do so intentionally, because I think it gets in the way of clarity. It implies that all that matters is violence in the home, which I do not at all agree with. When I was in ACT, they taught us that “Abuse is any actions, words or attitudes which hurt, threaten or humiliate others,” and that goes far beyond violence that happens in the home. In the work I’m going to do on adolescent relationship abuse, the term gets in the way, because the abuse there isn’t necessarily happening in a home-life context, and may not include violence.
Beyond that is the standard expectation that DV means men beating women. As my main page has made clear since I wrote it twenty years ago, anybody can be abusive, and anybody can be abused. No one is demographically immune to abuse. I have taken heat many times for challenging the assumption that this is a gendered issue. This is a place where I see political agendas getting in the way of fixing the problem. I once sat in a meeting with DV Perpetrator Treatment Providers where one of the providers boasted that he referred women convicted of DV for victim services “all the time.” It wasn’t the first or last time I was appalled by statements made by treatment providers who put their agendas ahead of the needs of those who came to them for help. I was later able to cofacilitate a program that helped women convicted of DV address their own choices and behavior so they could learn to live abuse free. We did not assume that they had never been victims of abuse, nor that their victims were angelic beings who could do no wrong — just as we did not assume thus in the men’s program.
And then there are the Urban Legends related to the issue. LIke the one that there are more 911 calls on abuse during the Super Bowl than any other time of the year. I’ll be shortly writing about a PSA the NFL will be running during the Super Bowl, which I suspect is based in belief in that UL. Or the one that English Common Law allowed a man to beat his wife with a stick no bigger around than his thumb, and that’s where the phrase “rule of thumb” comes from. That one is silly because Common Law provided no particular penalties for a man beating his wife with a bigger stick than that — women were their husbands’ property until relatively recently in the English legal system (still are in many parts of the world), and because “rule of thumb” as we use it has nothing to do with violence. It has to do with the practice of measuring with the distance between the tip of the thumb and the first joint as an inch, or a rough and ready measure, which is more like how we use the phrase.
Those are all that come to mind at the moment, but I might talk about others as they come up going forward.