Why write about domestic abuse and violence in a mental health blog? Especially since these two behaviors are not caused by mental illness?
I write about domestic violence and abuse here because domestic violence and abuse can result in physical injury, psychological trauma and, in severe cases, even death. The devastating consequences of domestic violence can cross generations and last a lifetime. It is a problem at the societal, organizational and individual levels. Mental health, social service, law enforcement and correctional personnel see victims of domestic abuse and violence every day.
Defining domestic violence and abuse
Both are about systematically maintaining power and control in an intimate partnership with the intent of keeping someone from doing what they want to do, making them do something they do not want to do or making them afraid.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), domestic violence is an epidemic affecting individuals in every community, regardless of age, economic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion or nationality. Intimate partner violence is often accompanied by emotionally abusive and controlling behavior, which is only a fraction of a systematic pattern of dominance and control.
Just how big a problem is it?
According to the NCADV,
- On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide.
- On average, nearly 20 people per minute are victims of physical violence by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.
- From a sociological perspective, conversations about women as perpetrators of these behaviors only distracts men from taking the level of responsibility required for their behavior and continues to condone violence and abuse by men against women. It is not to say those conversations are not important; it is just that they should not distract from men’s responsibility, and it is men’s job to see that they are not distracted.
The above numbers relate to physical abuse and physical violence. They do not take into account incidents of abuse and violence that do not inflict physical injury. They do not include behaviors such as economic and spiritual abuse, social isolation, intellectual and emotional abuse. From work with intimate partner violence victims and batterers, we have discovered that some form of these abusive behaviors have likely been occurring months or years before the hitting starts.
Domestic violence is not a one-time incident. It is the culmination of months, or years, of nonphysical abuse. The abuse is systematic and planned. It might be difficult to imagine this, yet in my five years of working with batterers in both group and individual settings, each individual was clear that his behavior was always designed to maintain and assert power and control.
Pro sports and domestic violence
Our culture has condoned the attitudes that allow abuse and violence to take place at all levels of society. The examples of this are numerous:
- Jane McManus, an ESPN reporter, observed in a recent National Public Radio Show that NFL Commissioner “Roger Goodell, in 2014, should not have to be told to have a female in the room when discussing NFL policies regarding domestic violence.”
- According to NPR, ESPN’s business model depends on pro sports. One of their reporters, Bill Simmons, was suspended for calling Roger Goodell “a liar” regarding the Ray Rice domestic violence investigation.
- Katie Nolan, another ESPN reporter, observed in a YouTube vdieo that “Sports television has relegated women to helping out their male reporter counterparts, patrolling the sidelines for human interest stories and eye candy.” She goes on to note, “The NFL and pro sports will not respect women till the media does.”
This kind of disrespectful behavior toward women goes on at all levels in all parts of our society and creates fertile ground for abuse and violence toward those who have less status and power and are less able to protect themselves, especially women and children.
On the other hand, University of Texas head football coach Charlie Strong has five core values. They are honesty, treating women with respect, and no drugs, stealing or guns. He has dismissed nine players from the team this year, two after they were charged with violence against women.
How to help
Here are some things we can do to improve the mental health of our community, our partners, our children and maybe even ourselves:
- Recognize domestic violence is every man’s responsibility to address.
- Speak up — silence condones violence.
- Challenge the “good old boy network.”
- Ask a woman how threats of violence impact her life — then be quiet and listen.
- Think about how attitudes and language support abuse of women. When you see examples of this, ask a female friend or relative how they feel or what they think about those attitudes and language. Again, be quiet and listen.
- Call 911 — domestic abuse is a crime, not only a family or personal matter.
- Boycott places, ideas and media use degrading images of women or promote violence against women.
- Talk to and teach your boys and young men about healthy relationships.
- Get help if you have a problem with physical and emotional violence against women.
- Join Men Against Violence Against Women.
- Support anti-violence campaigns in your community.
The attitudes that support abuse and violence against women affect men as well and keep us all locked into predictable and ultimately harmful ways of thinking and behaving. As individuals and as a society, we have a long way to go to address this epidemic of violence and abuse. We can each help by doing one of the above. Think of it as helping keep your daughter or partner or mother or grandmother safe. It really is personal.