“Real” Domestic Violence

Escher 1

Indoctrinated.

Zealot.

Bigot.

Feminist.

Liberal.

Social engineer.

Man hater.

Extremist.

These are just some of the names I’ve been called over the years, including by fellow law enforcement employees, for standing up to domestic violence. I’m a Christian conservative woman who, yes, is passionate about being a good steward of the environment and is outspoken about certain social issues. But I don’t identify with any of those terms.

My friends and family fall at various points along the political spectrum; these are my beliefs, born largely of adversity and strengthened through my struggles. I believe very strongly that God intends for us to practice the kind of behavior we expect from others and to stand up for those who are being treated poorly or hurt. I’m not at all ashamed of that. It’s a mandate from the Creator that I take very seriously.

While leaving comments on another blog the other day about George Zimmerman’s most recent alleged acts of domestic violence, I was reminded of just how quickly some people rush to put labels on strong, passionate women. That’s life; it’s what happens when you speak out and try to make the world a better place. It’s just sad that some people project their hatred and discontent onto outspoken women because they feel threatened by them. I want to distinguish that from respectful disagreement coming from people who could care less whether I’m a man or a woman. 

I’ve found such attacks to be particularly acute towards conservative women. Sometimes I feel like saying, “what, I’m not allowed to fight for women and children and victims of all kinds of violence because I believe in the Second Amendment, a free market, and less government, not more? Huh?!” At times the conservatives don’t know quite what to do with me and the liberals look at me strangely because I’m involved in “their” issues but I’m not one of them. This shouldn’t matter much, though, because domestic violence is not a partisan issue nor will it have a partisan solution. These issues need warriors from both sides who can work together.

This is a good example of the odd sentiments I encounter while speaking out about domestic violence as a (gasp) conservative. The comments thread I was browsing was about Samantha Scheibe’s claims that George Zimmerman (acquitted in the Trayvon Martin case) had smashed a table, threatened her with a gun, and pushed her out of the house. I understand why people would be suspicious that this was some sort of setup to get Zimmerman back in the public eye. While I certainly don’t see Zimmerman as a hero or civil rights great, I strongly disagree with how the media and Obama administration portrayed him as a racist and got the whole country stirred up over this case. The spins on this case went way overboard to serve a freedom-restricting agenda.

George Zimmerman, however, is also a guy who has been accused of domestic violence multiple times by multiple women. When I learned this it did not surprise me. I’d been patching together a profile of him in my brain based on the incomplete information I was getting from various media viewpoints since he first entered the national spotlight. From the beginning I wondered if this was a guy with power and control issues. That doesn’t make him guilty of murder or any other crime and I don’t know the guy. What I knew raised some red flags that I would want to investigate if I were involved in any aspect of the case.

That said, try as I will to stay out of online spats, comments that Samantha Schiebe was taking attention away from real domestic victims hit a nerve. The people who said this were not ignorant or bigoted; they were concerned about Schiebe allegedly lying about being pregnant and a possible financial motivation for calling the police. I said:

Even if he’s utterly innocent in the Trayvon case, that doesn’t mean he’s incapable of committing domestic violence. We should start by believing the victim and go from there, not ignorantly declare Zimmerman innocent because of another case.

 Victims often aren’t thinking clearly during a traumatic incident. I don’t think it’s fair to call her an idiot. She also doesn’t have to be a certifiable saint or even sane to be “worthy” of having her case taken seriously by the criminal justice system…

It always bothers me to see people instantly tearing at the alleged victim’s credibility as if they know her. Many people also don’t understand the dynamics of domestic violence or why victims do what they do. 

The exchange I’m discussing was a good reminder that people define domestic violence in very different ways despite what the legal definition of it is in their state. I argued that this is an act of violence that occurred in a domestic context, therefore it’s domestic violence. There are varying degrees of domestic violence, but the so-called lesser offenses almost always escalate. I threw LifeWire’s page on types of domestic violence into the ring to show that domestic violence takes a lot of forms.

Unfortunately, there is still a widespread belief in our country that “it’s only domestic violence if it does serious bodily harm or leaves marks.” That’s a very general way of putting it, but many people want visible proof of domestic violence that can be documented in a medical facility to consider it as such. Screaming, insults, taking away one’s paycheck, forced sex, threats, a “simple slap,” name calling, and other evils committed by someone against a family member often aren’t considered domestic violence. Sadly, that’s a way of life for millions of Americans and it’s become so normal that we can effortlessly turn our heads and look away.

Here is a good introduction to the concept of domestic violence from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

The definition often varies depending on the context in which the term is used. A clinical or behavioral definition is “a pattern of assaultive and/or coercive behaviors, including physical, sexual, and psychological attacks, as well as economic coercion, that adults or adolescents use against their intimate partners.” Legal definitions across the States generally describe specific conduct or acts that are subject to civil and criminal actions, and the specific language used may vary depending on whether the definition is found in the civil or criminal sections of the State’s code. Summaries of laws for all States and U.S. territories are included.

You can visit that link to find out what your state considers domestic violence under civil and criminal law. Remember, this is not a complete list of abusive behaviors. This is what can be taken into consideration in court and, in the realm of criminal law, what you can be arrested for. This document summarizes Washington State’s laws as such:

Washington
Defined in Domestic Violence Civil Laws
Rev. Code § 26.50.010
‘Domestic violence’ means:
• Physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or the infliction of fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, or assault,
between family or household members
• Sexual assault of one family or household member by another
• Stalking, as defined in § 9A.46.110, of one family or household member by another family or household member
Defined in Child Abuse Reporting and Child Protection Laws
Rev. Code § 26.44.020(16)
Poverty, homelessness, or exposure to domestic violence, as defined in § 26.50.010, that is perpetrated against someone
other than the child does not constitute negligent treatment or maltreatment in and of itself.
Defined in Criminal Laws
Rev. Code § 10.99.020
‘Domestic violence’ includes, but is not limited to, any of the following crimes when committed by one family or
household member against another:
• Assault
• Driveby shooting
• Reckless endangerment
• Coercion
• Burglary
• Criminal trespass
• Malicious mischief
• Kidnapping
• Unlawful imprisonment
• Violation of the provisions of a restraining order, no-contact order, or protection order
• Rape
• Residential burglary
• Stalking
• Interference with the reporting of domestic violence

So when another well-meaning person online said, “hey, aren’t you stretching the definition of domestic violence?” in regards to Schiebe being pushed out the door, I asked if I was stretching things or if the law is. I added to try arguing that point of view in court in the context of the legal definition. If your neighbor pushes you, they can be charged with assault. Why, then, would it not be assault if a family member or intimate partner pushes you? And, I asked, taking this rationale much further, does someone have to be forcibly raped or beaten bloody to qualify as a domestic violence victim?

I’ve found that people like me who believe in the legal definition of domestic violence can be accused of having a skewed view of it. Again, try saying that to a judge. Everyone has a right to their views, but if those views are used as justification to harm another human being, it’s the judge you’re going to be arguing with, not the rest of us. Also, is the person you’re hurting, or your soon to be ex’s divorce lawyer, or a magistrate likely to buy the argument that what you consider “lesser” acts of domestic violence are actually “fake” domestic violence? Using that logic, that’s like saying, “hey, that guy just blew up a backpack bomb in a crowd while yelling anti-American obscenities, but no one was physically hurt, so it’s not really terrorism.”

???!!

So who is being more objective about domestic violence– people who decide arbitrarily whether or not certain acts are domestic violence or those who generally go with the legal definition of it?

On that note, I addressed a reason many shy away from this topic or want it to be a grey area:

…people often don’t want to hear the truth because it would require them to make some change in their thinking or behavior. This is true of domestic violence. Many don’t want to acknowledge its legal definition or any concrete definition of it, especially one that includes verbal, sexual, and psychological abuse. They want the definition of domestic violence to be subjective– what they think it is– rather than objective.

People don’t want to hear that the way they’re treating another human being could be considered domestic violence. It’s inconvenient. It’s uncomfortable. It would mean that they would have to stand up to it instead of call it something else and look away.

Aren’t we experiencing the same phenomenon right now politically? Truth scares people. It disrupts their reality. It can force them to choose between what it right and what is convenient. Isn’t it just easier to go along with Obama says as if he’s truly pro-America and highly moral than speak out against it and risk our liberty and safety for doing so?

God is truth and grace. We often just want the grace part, forgetting that if we’re ever to better ourselves and the world we live in, we also need to deal with the truth part. I sometimes find it strange that Americans will loudly condemn the sexual assault and mutilation of women in Muslim countries, for example, but if their neighbor down the block is stalked and violated, we hear things like, “she’s a skank,” “she shouldn’t have been involved with him,” “she should have moved out of state” and so on, as if the victim is responsible.

Victim blaming is ridiculously common. I caution against knee-jerk reactions in cases like Zimmerman’s that instantly judge the victim’s credibility or motives. Unfortunately victims in controversial cases like this are automatically condemned but the system needs to run its course. An investigation needs to be done.

I don’t want to defend a liar, but just because this woman lied about one thing doesn’t mean she lies about everything. Who knows? She might turn out to be a brazen pathological liar. But until somebody can prove that to me, I’m concerned about her safety as I would be for anyone in this situation.

Every alleged victim of domestic violence needs to be taken seriously. Do you know the name Konerak Sinthasomphone? You should. He was a 19 year-old Asian man who Milwaukee police found naked, beaten, bleeding, and intoxicated in the street in 1991. Witnesses said he was being chased by another man and after making contact, the officers realized they were dealing with a gay lover’s quarrel. They returned Sinthasomphone to his lover’s apartment. The other man did most of the talking for Sinthasomphone and officers were confident he would take care of him.

That night, after having been drugged, raped, and assaulted, 14 year-old Konerak Sinthasomphone was killed and dismembered by his alleged “gay lover,” Jeffrey Dahmer, who kept his skull as a souvenir. Dahmer was on probation at the time for sexually assaulting Sinthasomphone’s older brother.

While you might think that is an extreme example of misjudging a case based on appearances, many of us are guilty of the same kind of assumptions and tunnel vision. Is what your coworker’s wife is doing to him really that bad? Can your sister’s marriage really be that volatile if she’s only disclosed one minor incident of violence with you? Would that guy you know really follow through on his threats to kill his partner and commit suicide or do you think he’s full of hot air? Yet every day, men, women, and children die because others didn’t take them seriously and say, “hey, how can I help you?”

Sometimes we desperately want concrete, indisputable, legally admissible proof of domestic violence before we will get involved. But a great deal of the time there’s not going to be proof. Some of the best abusers don’t leave marks. They can psychologically terrorize their victims and control their finances and threaten their lives, but you might never see that victim with a cigarette burn or a black eye. This is exactly why allegations of domestic violence should be taken seriously to start with and investigated. If we required obvious proof of domestic violence just to care about it, like broken dishes or blood or hospitalization for sexual assault, we’d be back in the Dark Ages.

Another aspect of the Zimmerman domestic violence allegations I want to address is the belief that false reporting of domestic violence is very common. Says who? Google this topic and you’ll find endless websites attacking the supposed rampant false reporting phenomenon. When this has been studied by authorities in both the U.S. and Great Britain, a very small percentage of cases were found to contain false allegations. Those who waste the justice system’s time by falsely accusing someone else can be arrested for false reporting.

So why does this urban myth persist? Ask the question I like to ask about any controversial subject– qui bono? Who benefits? Claiming that astonishing numbers of women lie about their spouses’ behaviors is convenient when your agenda is to downplay your actions and minimize others’ concerns. Allegations of abuse can have a major impact on child custody cases, for example. But that is just one piece of the pie. Most of the pie has to do with– yep, how we define domestic violence.

If what you did (or claim you didn’t do) to a family member isn’t domestic violence in your book, then they filed a false report about you, right? You just punched him in the face when he told you to stop breaking things, so what? Starting a physical fight with her when you were both drunk isn’t domestic violence– how could it be? Locking him out of the apartment for not getting your way and throwing his crap out the fifth floor window couldn’t qualify as such, surely. Holding her down on the bed and forcing her to “put out” is what you’re entitled to as a man, correct?

Wrong on all counts. But many people believe that because the other party or authorities disagree with their hallowed personal opinion about their actions that the victim has “filed a false report.” They become that lying, conniving, profiteering, miserable little ___ who has nothing better to do with their time than make your life hell and ruin what’s left of it. Abusers often project everything that is wrong with them— lying, cheating, addiction, etc.– onto their victims and then paint their victims as the worst people who’ve ever lived. Being so focused on accusing someone else of what they’re guilty of gives them a reason never to take a long, introspective look in the mirror.

A final myth about domestic violence I want to discuss in this context is the widely held belief that a victim wasn’t telling the truth about domestic violence if they didn’t want to give a statement to the police, wouldn’t testify in court, or if they waited to report an alleged incident. While I want to exercise some modicum of mercy in such a post, inwardly I’m saying, “good heavens, are we really that daft?!”

There could be any number of reasons that a victim won’t follow through, namely that they are afraid for their safety, possibly even for their life. Reporting and exiting domestic violence can be a literal hell of a game of chess with potentially fatal consequences. The risk of homicide goes up 75 percent when you leave an abusive relationship.

Victims also might lose their financial support, or be faced with losing their housing or their children. A huge percentage of homeless women are homeless because of domestic violence– 40 percent in my area. Additionally, the abuser might be playing “baby, I love you and I promise I’ll be better” head games. Don’t judge a victim for dropping charges or refusing to take further action. They might feel like they’re safer if they don’t pursue the matter or could be living in an excruciating state of fear or dependency you might scarcely understand.

Conservatives, you already know that liberals have a corner on social issues when it comes to election day. They can be more open about expressing compassion for victims of crimes and human rights abuses like domestic violence. That doesn’t mean you don’t have compassion or empathy, but as a party, they’re more vocal about it. I would strongly encourage those of all degrees of political right-ness to start openly showing that they care. I know many of us do that through our churches and I applaud you for it.

Tragically, churches (of all types) hold many of the same stereotypes I’ve discussed here and need to be educated as well. They are not necessarily safe places for victims, especially those who put the blame and responsibility for change on the victim and warn them of the fires of hell or a monastic future if they leave an abusive relationship. But we need to get to a point where churches, first and foremost, are where victims start their search for help.

Similarly, we need to get to a point at which more than a few token conservatives are decrying real domestic violence and calling it out for what it is. As I said above, this is not a partisan issue. If we ever intend to reduce domestic violence statistics in America, all of us need to stand against it. We should not tolerate it in our families, in our circles of friends, or in our culture. If you need biblical support for that statement, you need look no further than the Golden Rule as stated by Jesus Himself in Luke 6:31: Do to others as you would have them do to you. It’s really just that simple.

There is a great need for people with passion and empathy to step up and educate others about what domestic violence is and how to stop it. If you are a survivor, don’t let the critics who claim that you can’t be objective about it stop you from advocating for others– that’s a lie and you know it. It’s as silly as saying soldiers who have served during a war should never be allowed to advance to decision-making positions as commissioned officers. Besides, as Charles Spurgeon said, God gets his best soldiers out of the highlands of affliction. Go forth and make your misery into your ministry.

Ladies, never let anyone tell you that you can’t be an effective advocate for domestic violence because you’re bold, brash, fearless, outspoken, strong, or any combination thereof. Discussing topics like trauma, rape, assault, and murder can hardly be done in a muted, demure way that is unlikely to offend others. While some men believe that we should be poofy, pretty little aproned things with bows in our hair carrying around casseroles and whispering our opinions only at others’ leisure, is that what God intends for you?

Girl, the hard knocks you’ve taken and the hell you crawled through before you got back on your feet by His grace can make you a mighty warrior. You can fully embrace your femininity and serve God as an activist. Never back down because of what someone else thinks you should be. You are an overcomer, a victor, a woman redeemed by the very blood of Christ, reborn and every day growing more into the image of a just Father who might well intend for you to go snatch others from the flames.

Everyone– man, woman, Buddhist, atheist, Methodist, pagan, libertarian, or socialist– can find some aspect of domestic violence advocacy that agrees with their values. When you get involved as a volunteer with a domestic violence advocacy organization, chances are you’re not going to be able to bring your personal views into your interactions with victims anyway. You don’t have to agree with my views or your uncle’s views or even the legal definition of domestic violence to make an impact on our culture. You just have to care.

Is Zimmerman guilty? I’m certainly suspicious, assuming I’ve read accurate information. But the bigger issue to me is addressing why our society is so quick to throw those who report domestic violence under the bus when what supposedly happened doesn’t fit our schema of what domestic violence looks like. Before we pronounce judgment, we have to consider all sides of the story. We need to be careful to take victims, complainants, and witnesses seriously and to ensure that objective investigations be done. We should not assume that one is incapable of domestic violence based on potentially extraneous variables.

In a nutshell, start by believing that you’re dealing with real domestic violence, and go from there.

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Anyone who has proclaimed violence his method inexorably must choose lying as his principle. -Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

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©2013 H. Hiatt/wildninja.wordpress.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninja.wordpress.com.

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