Questioning Domestic Violence

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. This violence is not confined to any one group – it is an epidemic that is affecting individuals from every background, regardless of age, economic status, race, religion, nationality, or educational background. The consequences of domestic violence seep into many areas of life and can have remarkable effects beyond the immediate act.

The NCADV released a domestic violence facts sheet in 2011 that gives a brief discussion of the issue within the United States. 85% of victims of domestic violence are women, and most of these females are victimized by someone they know. Most cases of domestic violence are never reported to the police and can have lasting repercussions – intimate partner violence is a substantial public health problem in the US. Last year (2013), the House renewed the Violence Against Women Act, which is legislation to offer protection to victims of domestic abuse. In response to the passing of the act, Obama said “Renewing this bill is an important step towards making sure no one in America is forced to live in fear.” This is a measure towards addressing the issue, but intimate partner violence is still a large problem that needs to be confronted to a greater extent.

The challenge thus remains how to most successfully prevent domestic violence. One of the greatest challenges to overcome is the patriarchal norms in the society we live in. Domestic violence, although most often perpetrated by individual men and boys, is a product of a larger system. Jackson Katz, a gender violence prevention educator, has an interesting perspective on the issue of domestic violence.  In a TedTalk titled “Violence Against Women – It’s a Men’s Issue” Katz explains how the problem of domestic violence is usually categorized as a woman’s issue, but, he says, it is time for a change.

“They’ve been seen as women’s issues that some good men help out with, but I have a problem with that frame and I can’t accept it. I don’t see these as women’s issues that some good men help out with. In fact, I’m going to argue that these are men’s issues, first and foremost. Now obviously, they’re also women’s issues, so I appreciate that, but calling gender violence a women’s issue is part of the problem for a number of reasons” (Katz, 2012).

Katz goes on to describe all the problems with calling gender-based violence a “women’s issue” – some men hear that term and tune out.

Jackson Katz

Katz uses a linguistic model to illustrate his point. The phrase “John beat Mary” changes, through a few steps, into the phrase “Mary is a battered women.” John has entirely left the conversation, and the violence that was perpetrated against Mary has become her identity. “Mary is a battered woman,” Katz points out that our whole cognitive structure is set up to ask questions about victims. What did Mary do that made John upset? Did Mary forget a responsibility? The questions continue, and they are all focused on Mary. Instead of asking questions about Mary, we need to start asking a new set of questions. “What is going on with men? And then what is the role of the various institutions in our society that are helping to produce abusive men at pandemic rates?” (Katz, 2012). The questions need to shift to focus on the causes of violence, as that is how we will truly figure out how to prevent it.

Domestic violence is a deeply rooted and systematic social problem. Katz wants to know “how can we change the practices? How can we change the socialization of boys and the definitions of manhood that lead to these current outcomes?” (2012). These questions are hard, because they rock the boat and challenge the status quo, but they are the only way to make a real change. They will be resisted, but the more people that can join the conversation and ask the questions, the more momentum gained.

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