Sciencewomen

Silence is the Enemy: In my backyard

i-f875c0b07d9b3cb6229668554781b35a-alice.jpgRecall that for the month of June, a group of bloggers are trying to draw attention to the horror of violence against women and girls across the globe. Along this theme, I could write about sex tourism in Mombasa (a direct result of increased regulations in Cambodia) or the conversations about legalising sex work so that sex workers can organize , or a continuation of the discussion on mass rapes in Liberia, or the case of a waitress in China who, in self-defense, stabbed a man who, prosaically, “was trying to force himself on her”. (What the hell does that mean, anyway? Talk about euphemism.)

But instead, I opened up the homepage of my local newspaper, the Journal & Courier, and typed “domestic violence” into the search box. Here’s what came up:

As I read these stories, I think about how entirely insufficient the term “domestic violence” is. It sounds like “domesticated” – like cows. Tame violence. Not-real violence, like how domestic work isn’t real work. (This is sarcasm, in case it isn’t obvious.)

Instead of diminishing this sort of violence with what we name it, I think we need a more descriptive term for the kind of terror someone feels when the people they trust suddenly start attacking them – physically, emotionally, verbally, however. Maybe we should call it “Traitorous partner violence” or “Domestic terrorism”.

In my hometown, I found out only a couple of years ago that there was a women’s shelter on a street near my house. I didn’t know where it was, and it is the nature of such women’s shelters that they don’t exactly advertise in the phonebook. So how do women learn about such shelters? Through whispered conversations with friends, I think, or perhaps from the police… maybe the YWCA… I don’t know if there is such a shelter in my new town. I bet there are lots of places that don’t have one. So where can people go?

Jo(e) posted earlier this spring on being witness to domestic violence first hand. You should go over and read her post. And search your own local newspaper website. What do you find? What stories do you know of that never make it into the newspaper?

Comments

  1. #1 Lilian Nattel
    June 17, 2009

    Most stories never make the newspaper. Middle class abuse in the home has much more protection of privacy and in any case if children are the victim and there is a non-offending parent who stays then there is no record at all. I agree with you on the terminology. The word domestic is too soft as in domesticated. I think we should use the word crime because that’s what it is. How about “criminal behaviour in the home”?

  2. #2 D. C. Sessions
    June 17, 2009

    As I read these stories, I think about how entirely insufficient the term “domestic violence” is. It sounds like “domesticated” – like cows. Tame violence.

    I understand the marketing aspect of euphemism, but for the cops a “domestic violence” call is a major adrenaline episode — they’re apparently the most dangerous calls they see at all regularly.

    In my hometown, I found out only a couple of years ago that there was a women’s shelter on a street near my house. I didn’t know where it was, and it is the nature of such women’s shelters that they don’t exactly advertise in the phonebook.

    The ones I know about have security that would put the witness protection programs to shame. Mildly inconvenient when you’re donating things like furniture, but necessity is.

    So how do women learn about such shelters? Through whispered conversations with friends, I think, or perhaps from the police… maybe the YWCA. So how do women learn about such shelters?

    Can’t speak for other areas. Metro Phoenix has Sojourner Center, which runs several and refers to others. 911 will route calls to community referral agencies, and pretty near every charity in town will also refer victims.

    If your community doesn’t have an emergency referral program, it’s one of the best social investments a town can have. Literal lifesavers, and a great way for people to do invaluable volunteer work.

  3. #3 fia
    June 17, 2009

    I agree with D.C. (but that may be because I am no native english speaker).
    Domestic violence is very scary and often much closer than one thinks it is. It’s scary. It’s hard to know what to do. I don’t.

  4. #4 D. C. Sessions
    June 17, 2009

    I agree with D.C. (but that may be because I am no native english speaker).

    Sorry, you can’t take the credit this time — I’m a native gibberish writer.

    What I was trying to get across is that “domestic violence” is scary to people who handle violence for a living.

    It’s scary. It’s hard to know what to do. I don’t.

    A am not, by any means, an expert on this subject. Ignore me. Talk to someone who really knows what they’re talking about.

    That said, my rules for myself and my kids are:

    If you’re not directly involved, don’t become directly involved. Your chances of doing any good are very small, your chances of making things worse (including getting hurt) are very large. CALL FOR HELP. A call of “domestic violence” to your emergency line (911 in the USA) may or may not do any good, but it’s almost certainly the best shot you have.

    If you’re directly involved, leave. Do not pass go, do not collect your coat on the way out. Leave.

  5. #5 grad student
    June 17, 2009

    “If you’re directly involved, leave.”

    It’s often not that easy. To leave, that is. But also to determine exactly where someone’s behavior starts qualifying as violence.

    (And then there’s the case of verbal abuse, too.)

  6. #6 ScienceWoman
    June 17, 2009

    Thanks for breaking the silence again Alice. I’m going to counter what DC said:

    If you’re not directly involved, don’t become directly involved. Your chances of doing any good are very small, your chances of making things worse (including getting hurt) are very large.

    This may be true in acute cases (someone getting beaten right now), but in chronic cases offering the victim support, encouraging them to go to a shelter, call police, etc., taking care of any kids can make a huge amount of difference. If no one steps in, the violence will just continue and too often the victim will just blame herself.

  7. #7 D. C. Sessions
    June 17, 2009

    This may be true in acute cases (someone getting beaten right now), but in chronic cases offering the victim support, encouraging them to go to a shelter, call police, etc., taking care of any kids can make a huge amount of difference.

    Thanks for the acute/chronic distinction. Couldn’t agree more. “Supportive care” is utterly essential, especially since victims of abuse are so often systematically cut off from their support systems.

    If no one steps in, the violence will just continue and too often the victim will just blame herself.

    Bearing in mind that even with all the intervention in the world, “too often the victim will just blame herself.” You can argue whether the abuser seeks out those who are inclined to blame themselves, conditions hir victim, or some combination — no matter, self-blame is part of the pattern.

  8. #8 D. C. Sessions
    June 17, 2009

    It’s often not that easy. To leave, that is. But also to determine exactly where someone’s behavior starts qualifying as violence.

    I hope I didn’t suggest that it was easy to leave. It’s absolutely not. Which isn’t to say that it’s not the best course; just that it’s a hard one.

    (And then there’s the case of verbal abuse, too.)

    Abuse is often a case of boiling the frog slowly. Much of the time, there is no bright-line moment where “disfunctional” becomes “abusive.” The ones who start right off with frank abuse [1] have a victim who has already been conditioned to accept it.

    If I had to guess [2] I’d say that physical abuse doesn’t happen without verbal abuse. That’s how the victim learns to blame hirself, for instance.

    [1] In the cases I know of, anyway.
    [2] Remember, I don’t know jack.

  9. #9 K
    June 18, 2009

    I find myself with so many thoughts: as a male who cannot fathom that this actually happens and can barely even read through these posts (and cannot read the actual stories), I have seen two relatives and a best friend (at the time) involved. Victims? One left – eventually; one stayed with us, then went back. (Went back? Are you kidding?)

    I have seen / heard first hand stories involving kids, and just last month nearly pleaded for a family friend to tell a guidance counselor or someone about her parents since she does not deserve the verbal abuse (yes, drunken parents cussing you out and calling you worthless in the middle of the night – for starters – is abuse). It’s so unfortunate, so unbelievable, so horrific that a victim could think she ‘deserves’ this or could make excuses for an abuser.

    It seems unconscionable that a victim would return. Just leave. Just say no. Wondering if the abuse is “bad enough” to be considered abuse? Find someone to ask – tell the actual, true story and say “Would you call this abuse if the person was your daughter (1)?” Gut feeling that you should leave? Then leave (2), and don’t go back.

    Messages to actual, specific friends and relatives:
    – If you have to tell your kids “If that happens one more time, we’re out of here” – get out of there THIS time, and take your kids (2).

    – If someone hits you, it’s abuse. If you find yourself thinking “Well, it wasn’t so hard / he apologized / it hardly ever happens / etc.,” leave (2).

    – If you would tell someone, but he has told you you better not tell anyone, tell someone and get out (2).

    – Someone you “love” telling you you’re worthless (or worse)? You are not worthless. Period. You do NOT deserve that, and it’s time for you to find yourself and not base yourself on someone else. (3)

    Notes:
    (1) Shouldn’t I say he/she? There are much bigger problems to worry about.
    (2) Leaving is hard? Yes. I am so sorry that the choice is leave or continue to be abused. Your choices suck. I am sorry, and if I can help, I will.
    (3) What about messages to my relative and friend that were the abusers? My message is: you are lucky I am not a judge. If I could, the most lenient penalty I would allow would be to find an island and sentence abusers to be dropped there… now, fend for yourselves and no, you are no longer welcome to come back.

    To cultures that allow abuse in the name of religion / tradition / any reason at all: you absolutely break my heart, and you are absolutely, positively wrong. “But shouldn’t we respect religious traditions that allow women to be beaten / raped / treated like property?” Well, sorry to oversimplify, but no. Am I guilty of religious intolerance? No, it’s not a question of tolerance.

  10. #10 göğüs büyütücü
    June 18, 2009

    I hope I didn’t suggest that it was easy to leave. It’s absolutely not. Which isn’t to say that it’s not the best course; just that it’s a hard one.

  11. #11 grad student
    June 18, 2009

    “If I had to guess [2] I’d say that physical abuse doesn’t happen without verbal abuse. That’s how the victim learns to blame hirself, for instance.”

    (I really need to learn how to use HTML tags.)
    I guess the point I wanted to make earlier is to be careful not to underestimate the power of verbal abuse, even when it’s not accompanied by physical abuse (not suggesting that you do, just in general).

  12. #12 D. C. Sessions
    June 18, 2009

    I guess the point I wanted to make earlier is to be careful not to underestimate the power of verbal abuse, even when it’s not accompanied by physical abuse (not suggesting that you do, just in general).

    I can’t go into detail without transgressing The Rules — but please take my word for it that I would never underestimate the power of non-physical abuse.

  13. #13 D. C. Sessions
    June 18, 2009

    (I really need to learn how to use HTML tags.)

    Here are the easy ones that will do most things on ScienceBlogs:

    <blockquote>Quoted text</blockquote>

    <i>Text in italics</i>

    <b>Text in bold</b>

    I haven’t gotten reliable results with other markup like paragraphs, line breaks, and lists — and it seems rude to clutter up someone’s blog comments with experiments.

  14. #14 Anonymous
    June 18, 2009

    You are right that most domestic abuse stories don’t make the newspaper, but you are wrong about the reason. It’s not an economic conspiracy, and the police are involved plenty.

    I was a newspaper reporter and I covered cops. One of my jobs was to go through the police reports each day, almost always disregarding the domestic abuse ones unless the perpetrator or victim was notable.

    The reason – there were just too many of them. If we ran those, we wouldn’t have room for any other news.

  15. #15 Calli Arcale
    June 19, 2009

    I think the term “domestic violence”, while it sounds soft, is appropriate. It’s not a euphemism. It’s just a neutral, technical term. It’s violence that occurs within the family. “Domestic.” Not “domesticated”, which means made to become a part of the family (as in old times, farm animals were, though usually with an understanding how things would end for them if they were food animals). It’s appropriate that the police use the term, so they can maintain the appropriate objectivity, a very challenging thing to do under the circumstances.

    That said, “abuse” is also a good word for it, and there is no reason to limit ourselves to the technical terms when breaking the silence.

    The case that shocked us here in the Twin Cities recently happened in my home town: West St Paul. A man went out drinking with his female friend (and former girlfriend). They went back to his place. It’s unclear what exactly happened next, since he’s the only witness and isn’t talking. But from the evidence, it’s clear that he essentially raped her to death. She had injuries like those seen at the hospitals in Africa that Medecins Sans Frontier is trying to staff. He finally called 911 — after cleaning her body up (mostly) and dressing her so it would appear that she died sometime later. Rigor mortis had set in by the time the paramedics arrived. The violence of the assault is shocking, and we’ll never know why he did it. That’s true of many of these cases, though; we’ll never understand why. The abuser (male or female) may seem perfectly reasonable, and even fun and adorable, until the mask comes off.

  16. #16 Büyüler
    March 15, 2010

    I hope I didn’t suggest that it was easy to leave. It’s absolutely not. Which isn’t to say that it’s not the best course; just that it’s a hard one.

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