The Continuing Tragedy of Domestic Violence

As I write this, a woman in this country is being killed by a jilted lover.

Violence against women is so commonplace that its occurrence stirs little in the public’s imagination.  Almost one-third of American women report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their life.  And well over one million women are slapped, beaten, kicked, punched or otherwise assaulted by boyfriends or husbands each year.  Conservative estimates, moreover, show about 1500 women are murdered each year by intimates.

This is an epidemic that demands broad, sustained public attention.  Yet despite the scope of this problem, our culture does not seem amenable to the sort of transformation that might end this continued open season on women’s bodies.  Many states have come a long way over the last twenty years in addressing domestic violence more seriously.  But that’s more an indictment of where states were, rather than a commendation of where they are. The hard facts of the obscene rates at which women continue to be victimized is proof of our shortcomings.

In too many instances, the handwriting is on the wall concerning the potentially deadly consequences of a victim’s assertion of self-determination. Departing the relationship; leaving the home; starting a new relationship: these acts of autonomy predictably provoke violent reactions in abusers.  It is an indictment of the law — and thus us all — that despite this probability, the law does not intervene in a meaningful way until it’s too late. We need a sustained public commitment to change that.

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4 Responses

  1. Carolyn Blakelock says:

    As a survivor of domestic violence I would like to say that it is not the law that needs to change. Rape and physical assault are already illegal, and you can’t stop someone from committing a crime if they are not deterred by the threat of punishment under the law.

    The changes need to be made in our culture. Too many women still get their self esteem from external sources and this makes then susceptible to victimization. We need to raise girls to be strong and self-confident and teaching them self defense and martial arts would probably be a good place to start.

  2. Anonymous Coward says:

    Let me first say that I agree with you on the problem.

    Now let me say that we need an empirical approach.

    The past attempts to prevent domestic violence by increasing penalties or reducing the burden of proof have proven folly — if you have made it to the point where any of that matters, you have already failed anyway. Moreover, those measures induce a resistance in men who should be your allies, because they have a significant gender disproportionality in who pays the cost of the change.

    Instead, we need measures that empirically work. We need an evidence-based approach to the problem. Maybe what you suggest in teaching self-defense would work, but let’s be careful to first understand that it does. There is the possibility that self-defense training could encourage the perpetrators of domestic violence to resort to more dangerous weapons, etc.

    We should also be mindful of who the victims are and what the causes are. Victims who stay with abusers as a result of economic dependence will not find a solution in anything other than economic self-sufficiency — removing the abuser does not remove the economic dependence, it only trades the abuse for homelessness or starvation. Neither prisoners nor deadbeats provide for their ex. But solving a lack of economic self-sufficiency is basically solving unemployment — good luck with that.

    The issue, at bottom, is that domestic violence is a symptom of larger systemic problems. But nobody is awarded the domestic violence fighting merit badge by doing something like increasing the percentage of people born into poverty (including men) who graduate from college, even if that is the single best way to reduce domestic violence. And that’s a problem.

  3. AYY says:

    What’s the source for your statistics?

    What’s the law supposed to do that it isn’t already doing? How is the law supposed to intervene earlier than it does? Isn’t there a violence against women act? What doesn’t it do that you want it to do? How about domestic violence against men? You didn’t mention that.
    Since you didn’t address any of these questions, the point of the post isn’t very clear.

  4. Marc DeGirolami says:

    Shavar, wonderful post. I agree.

    Marc