Domestic violence – time to drop the defence and look at the facts
Domestic violence – time to drop the defence and look at the facts
In recent times in Australia, domestic violence has dominated the headlines, and with good reason.
In 2012, it was reported that 1 in 6 women in this country had experienced violence at the hands of a cohabiting partner, and 1 in 4 women had experienced violence at the hands of an intimate partner at least once during their lifetime.[i]
In the vast majority of instances, it was not an isolated case. Of those surveyed, over two thirds, or 1 million women, reported that they had been subject to multiple cases of violence by the same intimate partner.[ii]
The report also confirmed that in the vast majority of instances, these women were assaulted by men...
This is not something as men we like to hear – if the brutal backlash by men in the comments section of any relevant media article is anything to go by.
The majority of articles that talk about domestic violence invariably come to the conclusion that the issue is predominantly one of gender – and the statistics are invariably difficult to ignore. Yet this often draws the ire of men who feel it is not fair to tar all men with the same brush; who argue that articles that refer to this problem as being one of gender are just contributing to the divide that exists in society over this issue – a seemingly fair point, on the surface at least. Such men are also quick to point out that violence affects both men and women, and that men are more likely to suffer violence as a whole.
So do they have a point, and are we barking up the wrong tree when it comes to the association between violence and men, and in particularly domestic violence and men? Should we ignore gender in the discussion?
Let us pause for a second to consider the facts:
Men are more likely to experience violence as a whole, with 1 in 2 men experiencing violence at least once in their lifetime, compared to 1 in 3 women. However, what is not often reported here is that both men and women are three times as likely to be physically assaulted by a man.[iii] A similar survey suggests that in 73% of instances of male violence, the perpetrator will be a male.[iv]
Men do experience domestic violence, and they need support. In the national Personal Safety Survey of 2012, half a million men reported experiencing intimate partner violence at the hands of a woman. However, in the same survey, 1.5 million women reported experiencing intimate partner violence, in which in nearly all cases, the partner was a male.
It may seem from the above statistics that there is not such a great correlation between gender and domestic violence. After all, close to 30% of all victims appear to be male. However, these numbers taken in isolation do not tell the story. For when you put these numbers into the context of the overall population of men and women in this country, the fact is that 1 in 20 men will suffer some form of violence at the hands of a cohabitating partner. By comparison, 1 in 6 women will experience the same.[v]
When it comes to violence, men are most likely to experience violence outside of the home. It is likely to be an isolated incident, and the perpetrator is likely to be a stranger. For women, it is most likely to occur at home, and the perpetrator is likely to be someone that they know.[vi]
When it comes to the issue of intimate partner violence, and the more one delves into the statistics, the more difficult it becomes to deny that the issue of violence in general is significantly related to gender.
It is also worth noting that domestic violence, or intimate partner violence as it is now commonly referred to, is not specific to one demographic group. It is not income specific, or linked to education, culture, or income. But it is for the most part gender specific, and it is happening across the board. No demographic is excluded when it comes to the perpetrators of domestic violence.
Perpetrators of domestic violence are white, rich, and educated. They are coloured, they are poor, and they are uneducated. And whilst certain aspects of society experience higher rates of abuse than others, the only unifying factor in the overwhelming majority of all domestic violence cases in Australia is the fact that the perpetrator is male.[vii]
This is not to ignore the fact that men can also be the victims of domestic violence at the hands of women – granted. However, in the first instance, the statistics overwhelmingly point to men as being the overwhelming protagonists in the case of domestic violence, and it is worth leaving no stone unturned in determining why it is for the most part a male problem.
This is a fact, and as men we need to start dropping our defences and our outrage and start to consider what this means.
Tackling Domestic Violence – whose responsibility?
There are obviously deeper reasons for why men are more prone to outbursts of violence against their partners, and it is certainly worth exploring the way we bring up our boys in society to become men, as well as the roles we ask both men and women to play in relationship.
But before we can go there, and before we can start to look at what the underlying root cause of this issue is, we need to first take responsibility as men...collectively so...for the way things are.
Let us leave women out of the equation for the moment, and indeed, the foreseeable future, for whatever we may imagine they might possibly do to antagonize men, nothing, and I mean NOTHING, can excuse a man from committing an act of physical, sexual, or verbal abuse against his partner.
Hold on, did you say it is our collective fault? Surely the issue of domestic violence is not our collective fault!
Now you may say – I don’t hit women. I would never hit my wife. And I will say, great, but do you ever yell at her? Do you ever verbally abuse her in an argument? Do you ever shout her down? Quite a few of you will admit that you do. And that is fine – no judgement here – just widening the definition of abuse a little here for us to consider, for all of the above is also a form of violence.
And for those who are left, I will say, do you control your wife’s finances in any way by excluding her input into the decision making process of how that money is spent? Do you act as the man about the house making all the important decisions on your own? Do you ever use your intellectual capacity to discount her opinion and belittle her when she disagrees with you? And, once again, a few of you may admit that you do, and I will then say that this is also a form of abuse.
But before we all jump up in arms here, let me got further, just in case I do not quite have your attention.
Finally, for those that are left – and here is the real clincher – I will ask if you openly tell your partner how much you love them every single day? Are you vulnerable with her? Can you cry in her presence? Do you let her know when things are too much for you? Do you communicate all that you feel when you are feeling it?
Ahhh, now it gets interesting, because there are very few of you left in the room now who cannot relate to at least one of the above scenarios. Now I am going to go out on a limb here and say if you did not answer yes to the last round of questions, then I am suggesting that even this is abusive.
What has that got to do with abuse? If things get too much, you know when to draw the line. Perhaps you leave the house. Perhaps you go and hit some golf balls to let off the tension. Perhaps you go for a drink with your mates to let off steam. But you never hit your wife.
And I would agree, you never hit your wife, and that is a blessing indeed.
Domestic Violence – The Root Cause
Before I Iose you in a tirade of defence and outrage by suggesting that not expressing all you feel is also abusive – remember, we are trying to get to the bottom of why domestic violence is such a big issue in not only Australia, but the world over, and if we wish to sort this out as a society, then we need to be willing to get very, very honest here.
Domestic violence is about control. That is pretty much an irrefutable fact, agreed upon across the board by experts in the field.
But what is it that they are trying to control, and why? Put simply, men who are prone to outbursts of physical violence against their partner are simply men who know no other way to deal with their hurt. They are trying to control life and those around them so that – perversely – they do not get hurt. In other words, it is about defence – an extreme form of defence, but defence all the same.
And in trying to control life around them, they often end up out of control.
Does this mean that they can be excused for their actions? Absolutely not. Are they responsible for the acts of violence they commit.? Absolutely, as is the man who loses control to the point of yelling at his wife.
So what is the point then, and what has all this to do with the questions asked earlier?
The fact is that often after a man hits his wife – in many cases well after the fact – and he has calmed down, he will be apologetic. He will be sorry. He will promise that it will never happen again. And he will mean it.
He will also say that at the time that he was not in control. This will also be the truth. At that point he is out of control. He is consumed by a rage that envelopes him to the point where he is no longer himself.
This, however, does not mean that he is not responsible. It is just that the responsibility for his actions needs to be traced back to well before he lost control, to a time when he chose to ignore how he truly felt.
From that point onward, when he decided that he would ignore all that he was feeling in the world, the rest is just a blurred passage through time, during which undealt with hurts and emotions get deeply buried in his psyche to the point where eventually they have to come out, or they will poison him. And for the man who has lived a life ignoring how he feels, it often ends up getting expressed in the most twisted of ways – in an outburst of violence against the one he purports to love.
Now, in light of the above, I ask, do you think that a real man just gets on with it, needs to man up when things get tough, can handle it all, does not ever feel delicate or afraid, or should never express grief in public or around others? If you believe this, then you need to consider that you – in your own way – are contributing to domestic violence and violence in general. You are choosing to support a culture that does not support men to truly feel safe enough to express all that they feel in a way that is true.
Too harsh? Once again, I hear the defences rise. I do not hit my wife, I don’t even yell at her. And I say again, do you tell her every day how much you love her? More so, do you let other men know how much you love them? Are you open? Do you allow yourself to be delicate, tender, even vulnerable in the presence of both men and women? Do you allow yourself to acknowledge how much you get hurt in daily life – whether it was by physical or verbal means?
There are not many of you left reading this now, I assume. The silence is deafening. The audience has gone quiet, but if you are still here, I commend you, for the revelation that we all quietly contribute to domestic violence by perpetuating a culture of hardened men is not one that is easy to admit.
The unfortunate truth of the matter is that the only difference between a man who buries all he feels and gets it out of his system by going fishing or surfing as an outlet or escape from the tension of life, and the man who buries all he feels, and ends up hitting his wife as an outlet for his rage, is one of circumstances and extremes.
Both men in truth are lost. It is just one has worked out a more socially acceptable and supposedly less harmful way of dealing with what he refuses to feel. It goes without saying that the former is a better way of managing one’s anger than hitting one’s wife.
So is not the answer to domestic violence to teach men to find better outlets for their rage? Perhaps they need to channel their anger into a punching bag, or find an outlet to relieve the tension such as fishing, or surfing, or taking time out?
The actual answer is yes, and no.
There are men who successfully deal with life with such strategies, and are able to relieve the tension of life successfully in this regard and avoid the extremes of behaviour that other men resort to in order to let off steam. But such strategies, no matter how “beneficial”, do nothing to deal with the root cause of the issue.
A man prone to outbursts of violence of any kind is a ticking timebomb. Management tools to assist him to relieve himself of his anger will work to a certain point – but in truth all they are doing is ultimately buying time before he loses it again.
If we are to truly address domestic violence at its core, then we need to look beyond the management tools we all rely on as men, and start to address the root cause of the problem here.
And that is that men for the most part refuse to acknowledge all that hurts them. In other words, they have given up on their ability to be sensitive to all that they feel.
Ending Domestic Violence – a Collective Choice
The reasons for the way men have allowed themselves to become are many, but it starts with the fact that society does not honour men for the natural born traits they once displayed as a young boy.
Men are delicate.
Men are deeply sensitive.
Men get hurt very easily; so easily in fact, that most men build a lifetime of walls to protect themselves from all that they feel. We call the man who can do that most successfully a true man – a man who can handle the cutthroat world of business, who can outcompete another at sport, who can make the cold hard clinical decisions needed to succeed in life.
This is the world of men we celebrate. We celebrate their muscles, their physical prowess, and their heroic actions. We celebrate their intellect, their business acumen, and their talents.
But never do we ask them how they feel.
If we are to truly tackle domestic violence, it is not enough to offer national ad campaigns that seek to shame men for their actions. They are already ashamed, and were ashamed long before they struck out at their wife or partner. That is not going to stop them. If they cannot stop when they hear the desperate pleas for help from their crying wife, then they are not going to hear what is frankly, quite a limp message – no matter the celebrity status of the spokesperson, and no matter how directly or forcefully the message is expressed.
Neither is it acceptable for us as men to gloss over this problem as being overstated, and that because we do not hit our partner, this problem has nothing to do with us. Domestic violence affects us all, and the forces that lie at the basis of all domestic violence issues actually affect all men.
That is a fact.
Some can seemingly deal with it and manage the pressure that goes with the territory of being a man. Some cannot, and it is those who cannot cope that we condemn as being weak and pathetic, rather than questioning the underlying culture that we all perpetuate when it comes to the perceived ideals we all hold of what it is to be a man of the world.
The fact is that if we were to get a little humble, if we were to truly open up as a society and drop our defences and the blame game, we may have an opportunity to arrive at the underlying truth behind domestic violence. It does not have to be the overwhelming issue that it has become. The answer is actually not that complicated.
But whilst ever we keep pointing the finger, and casting blame over the other side of the fence, then I am afraid domestic violence is here to stay
Whilst ever we limit our understanding of abuse to verbal and physical violence, domestic violence is here to stay
Whilst ever men are expected to be stoic, and not encouraged to be sensitive and express their delicate side, or feel free to express all that they feel, then domestic violence is here to stay
Whilst ever we continue to allow ourselves to be entertained by the gladiatorial exploits of our men – whether it be through war, sport, or business, then domestic violence will be here to stay.
The choice, as always, is ours – collectively so. Society is not some external construct that is beyond us. It is us. It is all of us. It is our true extended family, and when it comes to matters of family, all of us have a role to play.
Let us no longer continue to hide behind the white picket fence and pretend that all is OK, when clearly it is not. Let us no longer pretend that the myriad of ways we continually hold our love back for ourselves, our partners, and people in general do not affect the rest of society.
At the end of the day, the uncomfortable truth is that domestic violence – the silent killer that hides behind closed doors – is the direct result of the way we all hold ourselves back collectively from not only voicing our condemnation of this most abhorrent of acts, but more so the direct result of not expressing our innate love for the world and each other as a whole.