“Domestic Violence” as part of the broader issue of “Domestic Abuse”
The horrific physical violence that so many men continue to inflict on their wives or woman partners is truly astonishing, shocking, and galvanizing: slaps, punches, choking, severe shaking, being thrown against walls or down stairs, arms twisted or broken, burns, stabbings, gunshots, and innumerable other forms of physical injury. Yet there has been a growing realization, among those who work with and who listen to women who are abused, that these physically violent assaults are only a part and manifestation of a broader issue. Consider the following common examples:
- A man repeatedly humiliates his woman partner, calls her names, puts her down, tries to make her feel guilty or crazy and/or bad about herself
- A man repeatedly intimidates his partner, makes her afraid with menacing looks and gestures, destroys her property, abuses pets, smashes things in the house, displays weapons
- A man seeks to isolate his partner, controls who she sees and talks to (including her parents and family), what she reads, where she goes, and all her outside involvements
- A man prevents his partner from getting or keeping a job, makes her ask him for money, gives her a small allowance, takes money away from her, and/or does not let her know about or have access to family income and assets
- A man threatens to take his partner’s children away from her, tries to make her feel guilty about her children, uses the children to relay hostile messages, and/or uses child visitation as a way to harass her
- A man demands “male privilege,” treats his partner like a servant, tells her what he considers to be women’s roles and men’s roles, and demands to be the “master of the castle”
- A man threatens to hurt his partner or her children, threatens to commit suicide, threatens to report her to social services or to immigration authorities or to police, threatens to leave her, or threatens her in other ways
- A man denies that he has ever abused his partner, minimizes his abusiveness, says that it did not happen, or says that she caused it herself
Notice that in none of these instances is a man inflicting actual “physical violence” per se on a woman. Nonetheless, the effect on her and on her life may be identical to, or in some cases even more serious, than that produced by his physical violence.
The implicit goal of all the above behaviors can best be described as a man seeking to control and dominate his partner. While physical violence may obviously be used to gain control and domination, the “non-violent domination” tactics described above may be equally, or at times even more devastating, and achieve the same end. For these reasons, it is important to recognize that “domestic violence” is one part and manifestation of a broader phenomenon of men seeking to unjustly control and dominate one’s domestic partner, a pattern which can best be termed “domestic abuse.”
There are some practical and policy implications of adopting this broader perspective. Violence per se remains central to our focus, but is not seen as the only manifestation. Social science research approaches that typically amount to “counting the hits” need to be rethought and reformulated. Statistics now based only on “hits” should similarly be broadened in scope. Some elements of popular, traditional, patriarchal culture (“One of these days, Pow, right in the kisser!” Jackie Gleason used to growl at his TV wife in the 50’s) need to be recognized as part of the pattern of dominance-seeking of one’s partner that are Domestic Abuse.