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.