A recent petition featured by change.org is of grave concern to the National Organization for Men Against Sexism (NOMAS) and advocates who understand the systemic nature of domestic violence and femicide. The petition, addressed to Roger Gooddell, was featured by change.org and gathered more than 13,200 signatures as of December 15, 2012 (http://www.change.org/petitions/nfl-take-real-action-on-domestic-violence). Drafted by a therapist in Baltimore, it seems well intentioned but reinforces a common myth, thus it has the potential to cause harm and perpetuate domestic violence and femicide in the United States. By urging the NFL to “require players convicted of charges related to domestic violence to receive the appropriate counseling,” the petition perpetuates the myth that domestic violence is an individual pathology. It fails to address the true nature of domestic violence and femicide as a manifestation of sexism, deeply rooted in the history, law, and culture of the United States.
Counseling and other forms of “treatment” give a false sense of security that a man will be “fixed” simply by participating. This is a luring perspective as it provides a reasonable and predictable hope. Yet, experience and empirical evidence suggest that, to the contrary, “treatment” is not by itself effective. In fact, research establishes that the only responses that have been shown to create long-term changes in abuser’s behavior are accountability and monitoring. Not only is counseling rarely useful in addressing domestic violence, but it is harmful because the false sense of safety it creates undermines more effective responses, and often erroneously suggests that it is safe for partners to interact with their abusers. This often leads judges and partners to make decisions that place women and children in jeopardy.
A focus on “fixing”, “treating”, or “rehabilitating” men who are abusive inevitably detracts energy and resources that could be better directed at changing systems, social norms, laws and community response efforts. For this reason, NOMAS only endorses the New York Model for Batterer Programs (NYMBP), an accountability model that shifts focus from individual rehabilitation to a range of attainable, measurable individual and systemic outcomes. (Read more about NYMBP at http://www.nymbp.org/index.htm.)
Any effort to address the true nature of domestic violence must address the social and systemic conditions that are at the root of its existence and cause it to pervade in society today. There is another petition being circulated that more aptly encourages efforts that promote social change (http://www.change.org/petitions/roger-goodell-and-the-national-football-league-nfl-stop-domestic-and-sexual-violence-2).
We encourage everyone interested in ending men’s violence against women to sign this petition. We respectfully request the author of the “counseling” petition to amend it or remove it from circulation. We urge change.org not to support such misinformation by instead featuring petitions aimed at social change. We call on all members of our communities to educate themselves about sexism and other forms of oppression; disseminate information about the potential harm caused by encouraging counseling or treatment; and get involved in social change efforts that address sexism. More information about NOMAS and ending men’s violence against women can be found atnomas.org/taskgroups/emv.