If I asked, “What is domestic violence?” how would you define it? The answer I usually get falls along the lines of “someone beating up their intimate partner.” My understanding of domestic violence used to be just as narrow.
Actually, domestic violence is a pattern of coercive behavior aimed at gaining and maintaining power and control over the behavior of an intimate partner. This coercive behavior consists of more than just physical assaults. It also includes patterns of the following behaviors:
1. Isolating a partner from other people or activities;
2. Name calling, put downs, and other forms of emotional abuse;
3. Smashing things during arguments, abusing pets, committing other acts to intimidate an intimate partner; and
4. Preventing an intimate partner from having any financial independence.
More that 80 percent of domestic violence victims are women. Most of these women say emotional abuse is more painful and difficult to recover from than physical abuse. Words are powerful and can leave lasting invisible bruises.
As men, we must be honest and ask ourselves, “Even though I may not hit my woman, am I guilty of these other forms of domestic abuse?” Ask your woman as well. You may be surprised by her answer.
As I watched the recent congressional hearing for the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), it seemed that most of the discussion centered around the different services that are provided for women after they have been abused. If a bathtub has a crack, drying the floor every time the bathtub leaks is hardly an effective solution. The source of the problem must be addressed. The crack must be mended.
The source of abuse against women is men. But simply demonizing, ridiculing and punishing abusive men with incarceration, only to allow them back into society without any cognitive behavior or emotional management treatment exacerbates the threat that they pose.
Abusive behavior based on the need for power and control is conditioned behavior. It’s usually learned through past experiences and teachings. Alone, harsh penalties are not enough to change distorted thinking, poor emotional management skills, and violent habitual behavior. Influencing change in abusive men’s thinking, emotions and behavior demands the leadership of real men.
I’m not suggesting that women don’t need the domestic violence services currently available, or that women are not good leaders in the struggle against domestic violence. I believe women should receive even more services and protection than they have now, and they are excellent leaders.
But the fact remains that counseling for abusive men is the cornerstone of decreasing domestic violence. And males need to learn about the role of men from true men.
The lack of men involved in domestic violence prevention programs and the limited services allocated to help abusive men is appalling. Domestic violence is just as much if not more our issue as it is a women’s issue. More men need to step up, speak up, and take a leadership role in the struggle to keep our mothers, sisters, and daughters safe. It’s time to man-up!
Speak up and check your male friends when you hear them condone domestic violence. Actively engage young men to teach them that manhood isn’t defined by their ability to dominate and strip others of power. It’s defined by their ability to empower others.
Help abusive men become aware of the error in their thinking. Assist them with examining their past experience, so that they may discover how they developed their distorted thinking. This will help them understand the traumatic effect that their abusive behavior has on others. It will also help abusive men realize that their beliefs and habits are not some unchangeable part of their true selves, and that they can manage their emotions by correcting their thinking.
True men, through their words and actions, must teach abusive men and impressionable boys that women are valuable. A woman’s worth doesn’t rest between their thighs. It doesn’t flow from her bank account. And no, it doesn’t materialize from her mind.
A woman’s value can be heard erupting from the soothing beating of her resilient heart. It can be felt from the tickle of her breath swirling graceful through her nose. The fact that she is a living being makes her valuable beyond measure.
People are not static beings. As Carl Rogers explains in his book On Becoming a Person (Houghton Mifflin, 1961), life is a process of becoming. Many abusive men want to change. And all are capable of changing and achieving their potential to become great husband and fathers. But only if they receive modeling, support and education from true men.
Hopefully this column raises awareness, encourages self-analysis, and motivates men to step up, claim domestic violence as our issue, and lead the struggle against it.
Jeffery Young welcomes reader responses to Jeffery Young #213390, 7600 525th St., Rush City, MN 55069.