When did we decide to recognize domestic violence? Probably not soon enough


One of the criticisms often lodged toward Black History Month is that February doesn’t have enough days to do it justice. Twenty-eight days – 29 in a leap year every four years – cannot encapsulate centuries of African-American contributions to U.S. history.

That is true.

October, in addition to being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, is also Domestic Violence Month. It’s not a celebratory time. It’s more a period of reflection and remembrance, a month to point the laser beam at what is arguably one of this nation’s most painful, pointless and powerful criminal acts.

Time constraints often play a hindering role. Not only does domestic violence awareness advocates have to massage their message into 31 days, they have to do it at the same time as Breast Cancer Awareness, Alzheimer’s and a host of others too numerous to name take up the public image messaging.

At some point, all of this becomes overkill but understated. To compound matters, at the end of the month, they all must compete with Halloween.

Which is a tragic segue way into the entire domestic violence issue. It is a frightening event. It is as scary for the one on the receiving end as any scary movie. Issue may be too kind of a term but other terms elicit equal outrage, from shame to tragic to revolting.

Those, perhaps, better explain what domestic violence is all about.

Over the years, much as we have evolved on other societal ills, so, too, has the public gotten a better grip on the entire domestic violence malady. People are more inclined to contact law enforcement authorities when they’re aware of a relationship that has become abusive. Families are more inclined to intervene when there’s a family member involved. Law enforcement and the U.S. justice system have taken, by most accounts, a zero toletance approach. But we’re not there yet.

The fact we’re talking about domestic violence in such stark terms illustrates how it has become a product of societal indifference and, tragically we might add, societal acceptance.

Consider the excuses we’ve used to rationalize, if not justify, such abhorrent behavior.

Remember when people use to claim the reports of domestic violence going through the roof on Super Bowl Sunday? Men who watched their team – sometimes their game wagers – go up in smoke were more inclined to strike their wives or girlfriends on the day of the world’s most watched sporting event. That couldn’t have made Super Bowl parties any fun.

Or how about the notion that law enforcement officers and professional athletes were often the primary perpetrators of domestic violence because their jobs were too stressful. Or this one, where law enforcement often turned a blind eye toward domestic violence.

Whether the data supporting such claims are valid misses a salient point. A violent game such as football, where men inflict pain and punishment on each other, now has an accomplice in the face of born again losers – men who employ intimidation and fear to exert power and control.

Here in Maine, a common expression points a finger at “the wife beater shirt,” ostensibly, the undershirt men wear under their regular shirts. For women, it’s a tank top. For abusive men, it’s a wife beater? In Maine, according to the group “Safe Voices,” more than 7,000 women are assaulted by a partner each year. And now we have a uniform for it?

All of this mirrors a flawed picture, and a very disturning description.

There was a time when some people swept the entire domestic violence dilemma under the proverbial rug, dismissing it as someone else’s business, or begging the question, “Why doesn’t she leave.”

Their own sense of self empowerment or misguided analysis never allowed them to ask this question: Why does he do that?”

Pyschiatrists, marriage counselors and social scientists have long asked the very same questions, with hardly any success. That may be because the answers are elusive ones, trapped inside the psychosis that permits someone to think by wielding a strong arm and their own perverted sense of force, they can control another human being into their way of thinking.

In the movie, “The Color Purple,” Oprah Winfrey remarked that Harpo (which later became the name of Winfrey’s production company) was never going to lay a hand on her the way Mister (Danny Glover) did to Celie (Whoopi Goldberg). And he did not. For their part, moviegoers salivated at the possibility that Goldberg would use that razor in a way Glover’s neck was not designed to endure.

But it was just a movie based on a novel. And that was not the answer then, nor is it the answer now.

For starters, the conversation about domestic violence must be a 12-month dialogue that criss crosses every dimension, whether it’s economic, ethnic, cultural or religious. Inlude the entertainment and sports worlds in the discussions. It should also be a debate not over why someone employs such barbarian methods but how do we as a society nip the abuse signals in the bud before they have a chance to spawn, be nurtured and later mature.

A woman – or a man – doesn’t ask to be abused. But the abuser almost always believes they are justified, for whatever warped line of thinking they employ.

Violence permeates many facets of American existence but that doesn’t validate the propensity to strike another person with force.

When all is said is done, domestic violence is the literal epitome of home grown terrorism. It is paramount to the person who uses force and intimidation to wreak havoc on another individual or individuals, not because they have to but because they can.

When a group of women decided to do something about drunk driving, a movement was born. Penalties grew harsher, people were forced to get smarter and society has benefitted. We still have drunk driving. But it remains on the radar 24/7/365.

That kind of vigilance is what’s required for the cessation of domestic violence. The message must be focused, forceful and forever. And this time, let those at the head of the pack be men, men who are bold and brave enough to say, “Oh, no you don’t.”

The Advertiser Democrat Editorial Board