Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Victim-Blaming Domestic Violence Victims Is Never Acceptable

Thursday night Chaz and I were watching the news when the video of a New Hampshire state representative named Mark Warden came on.  What he had to say absolutely floored me.  I still can't understand why this isn't just as big a story as Todd Akin or Richard Murdock's rape comments were, so I'm going to put it out there for those of you who haven't heard.

According to several articles, the comments were made at a committee meeting to discuss a bill in the New Hampshire House of Representatives to "reduce a charge of simple assault from a misdemeanor crime to a simple violation."  Mr. Warden made the following remarks:

"Some people could make the argument that a lot of people like being in abusive relationships. It's a love-hate relationship. It's very, very common for people to stick around with somebody they love who also abuses him or her," said Rep. Mark Warden, a Republican who represents Deering, Goffstown and Weare, during a meeting of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, according to a video provided by Granite State Progress, a liberal advocacy group.
According to the video, Warden added, "Is the solution to those kind of dysfunctional relationships going to be more government, another law? I'd say no. People are always free to leave." (Source.)

It's time I lay some cards on the table, readers.  I have never experienced a physically abusive relationship but I have been in an emotionally abusive one.  I would never equate the two--the experiences of those who have suffered domestic violence are undoubtedly much more severe and horrible.  But the psychology is similar.  This man should consider himself lucky that he is able to make such flippant statements about abusive relationships.  That means he has never experienced one firsthand and doesn't understand just how off base he is.

The fact of the matter is that abusers have plenty of psychological methods at their disposal to make their victims stay with them.  Things like gaslighting, like obliterating the self esteem of their partner, like making their partner dependent on them for affection, support, money, or a place to live.  It is rarely as simple as "you can leave at any time".  While it may seem simple to a person standing outside of the relationship looking in to say "how can you do this to yourself and not leave?" it is nearly impossible to see the forest for the trees when you're standing in the middle of it.

This concerns me because I worry that many of the trends I see lately indicate a normalizing of abusive relationships.  I'm sure you've heard of this little book called 50 Shades of Grey?  Yeah, it's a bit of a phenomenon.  And yes, it normalizes and trivializes abusive relationships, even glorifies them.  For more info on that, I'm going to refer you to the amazing Jenny Trout who writes extensively--and at time hilariously--about the 50 Shades trilogy on her blog.  Are these symptoms of a larger problem?  Of a culture turning to the point where we don't see abusive relationships as a problem, we glorify them?  Or simply shrug and tell victims that it's their own fault they don't get out?

I want to emphasize that I'm not expressing an opinion about the legal aspect of this.  That's another issue for another day.  I'm talking about a cultural perception that abuse victims can just so easily walk out and be done with an abusive relationship.  I'm not trying to disempower the men and women who have been through that, but we have to remember that it is incredibly difficult to do.  Especially for low income people who will have no means of financial support without their abuser, or those who have been isolated from family and friends by their abuser (a common tactic) and have no support network.

Rep. Mark Wadern apologized, naturally.  He claims that his words were taken out of context.  I have to say that there is no context that I can dream up that would not make his statements reprehensible.  No matter what, he comes off as entirely ignorant, clueless, and not at all compassionate. 

If this has become normal in our culture it's time to meet it with a tidal wave of backlash.  Victims of domestic abuse have enough problems without having people tell them they like being in abusive relationships and that they don't need support because they can just leave.  And keep in mind, this is not just a women's issue.  There are plenty of men that are the victims of domestic abuse and violence as well, and because of societal norms that dictate men should be strong and emotionless they are even more silenced.

Please be on the lookout for this kind of rhetoric and shoot it down when you see it.  People's lives may be at stake because of these thought processes.  

Also, for some further reading on this topic, check out this piece at the Huffington Post.  Really interesting stuff. 

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