Domestic violence is a global epidemic impacting more women than war and cancer combined. Yet misinformation and misconceptions are actively fuelling this injustice. If we’re to eradicate domestic violence, we must first end victim-blaming. Here’s why.
We like to imagine that the world has grown more enlightened about domestic violence. It is no longer legal – in many countries, at least – for a man to beat or rape his wife. Some nations, such as the UK, have gone one step further in pushing to make psychological and emotional abuse (coercive control) a criminal offence. We live in a time in which there is unprecedented awareness of domestic violence / abuse and arguably greater social rejection of this devastating crime than ever before.
Yet domestic violence remains a global epidemic, present in every culture and community worldwide:
- Women aged 15-44 are more at risk from domestic violence and rape than from car accidents, cancer, war and malaria
- One in four women will experience severe domestic violence in their lifetime
- Between 2001-2012, the amount of American women murdered by current or ex male partners was almost double the number of US troops killed in the war in Afghanistan and Iraq
- More than 38 million people have experienced intimate partner violence
- The overwhelming majority of male-on-female homicides are carried out by current or ex partners.
Despite relentless education efforts, the picture for women remains both bleak and grave. Where there are laws designed to tackle domestic violence, only a fraction of incidents are ever reported to the police. Untold numbers of women remain trapped in violent relationships, whilst others face huge challenges in order to get free and keep safe once they have escaped.
“Question : What do mules and women have in common? Answer : A good beating makes them both better.” Spanish riddle
Victim-blaming is fuel for domestic violence
A major factor in preventing women from seeking help – and much-needed constructive dialogue – is the implicit and explicit victim-blaming ingrained in public perceptions of domestic violence. Here’s what that looks like in action:
- When CCTV footage emerged of sportsman Ray Rice knocking his then fiance unconscious, public opinion erupted. Sadly, the furore focussed on Janay Rice’s decision to marry the footballing star after the incident. As people called on Janay to justify herself, it took the amazing hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft to educate the outraged masses about the dynamics of abuse. There were no hashtags demanding an explanation as to why Ray decided to beat the woman he claimed to love.
- When Charles Saatchi was caught on camera grabbing the throat of TV chef Nigella Lawson, the media decried it as a dramatic, two-sided bust-up. As lurid headlines and gut-wrenching photos sold newspapers, the general public wondered vociferously why a strong, successful woman such as Lawson put up with such a husband.
- Leaked mugshots of a battered Rihanna after boyfriend Chris Brown attacked her sent the media-money machine into overdrive, and disturbingly, saw an outpouring of victim-blaming aimed at the singer, who the public deemed to be failing in her ‘duty’ as a role-model by continuing an on-off relationship with Brown.
Violence is accepted as an unpleasant norm
Society appears to accept violent men as the (albeit unpleasant) norm. Rather than examining what makes men violent, and lauding the many males who do not choose violence, victims are pressurised to examine their own inadequacies and faults. Earlier this week, I read a preacher advising women in violent relationships to look inside themselves to understand what is wrong with them that they ‘accept’ violent men. It made me hopping mad.
A comment on this site, where a man suggested domestic violence is an “equal opportunity gig” sent my blood pressure soaring. Such opinions serve only to reinforce the dynamic of abuse, in which perpetrators rely on making their victim feel ‘less than’ and therefore deserving of emotional and/or physical violence.
“A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy. Boy and girl are not equal.” Mukesh Singh, sentenced to death for his part in the horrific gang-rape and murder of Jyoti Singh in Delhi
Imagine, for an individual going through the traumatic experience of a violent assault – likely just one incident in an ongoing abusive relationship – how does it feel to have your actions scrutinised and judged, rather than the perpetrator’s? You’ll probably feel ashamed, though you are not at fault. You’ll guard his secrets. You’ll stay in the relationship because you’re fearful of being judged. You’ll find it hard to realise that you are stronger than your abuser.
And if you do leave, you’re unlikely to be open about what you experienced – and so you will miss out on services and support to help keep you safe and to help you heal. The perpetrator endures no such consequences, and gets to continue evading responsibility for the decision to abuse.
Victim-blaming takes responsibility away from the perpetrator
Think about these typical responses to domestic violence, and all the assumptions they contain:
- Why doesn’t she just leave?
- She must have no self-esteem whatsoever to put up with that.
- It was a ‘crime of passion’. He loved her so much.
- I would never stay with a violent man.
- Women who don’t leave are stupid.
- She brought it on herself.
All these responses reinforce exactly what the perpetrator wants their victim to think. That the victim is to blame, and they are not. This is how it looks when we switch those around:
- Why doesn’t he just stop beating her?
- He must have no self-esteem whatsoever to do that.
- It was an evil crime. He hated her so much, but he used ‘love’ as his excuse.
- I’ve been lucky not to end up with a violent man.
- People who abuse others are stupid.
- She is not to blame.
It’s time to end the injustice of victim-blaming. It’s time to place responsibility for domestic violence squarely where it belongs: on the shoulders of those who perpetrate it, and nowhere else.
What do you think are the biggest dangers of victim-blaming? Have you been on the receiving end? How did it make you feel? SHARE in the comments.