Domestic abuse has no excuse
Miguel Angel Núñez
Mirjana Lucic was just 16 when she won for her native Croatia the fame of being an internationally recognized tennis player. She was placed 50th in the women's world tennis competition. When she came to compete in the U.S. Open, she played well, and after that, she requested asylum for herself and her mother and siblings. The reason? Her abusive father. Mirjana stated that he “beat me more than you can imagine. Sometimes it was for a lost game or a lost set, or for a bad day. I don't even want to talk about what happened if I lost a tournament.”
Fourteen weeks after marrying Paul Gascoigne, the British soccer star and player of the Glasgow Rangers, his wife was photographed coming out of the hospital. She had a broken arm, bruises on her face, a black eye, and cuts on her nose. Many feminist organizations asked for Gascoigne's dismissal from the team. The team management's answer was a case of classical indifference: We hired a soccer player, and have no interest in his family life.
Joe Carollo, the mayor of Miami, spent a day in solitary confinement in jail for beating his wife. He was set free the following day with the condition that he should stay away from his wife and children.
These cases could have gone unreported except for the celebrity status of the people involved. The truth is that millions of people go through similar trials, but their experiences don't get in the news.
What is domestic violence?
Domestic violence is every act or series of actions “that make use of abusive force to achieve dominion over another person, attacking their autonomy, integrity, dignity, or freedom.”1 Likewise, an abused woman is “one who receives intentional mistreatment emotionally, physically, and sexually from a man with whom she has an intimate relation.”2
To define domestic violence in these terms is to admit that most of the incidents of physical and psychological violence occur within the framework of relationships that are expected to be protective and comforting.
Violence takes on different manifestations. Although violence is often taken to mean physical aggression, it manifests itself in more complicated ways. We talk of abuse when there is:3
Physical violence–the most visible form of violence; its effects are easily seen.
Sexual violence–considered less common because most victims do not talk about it.
Psychological abuse–considered less damaging, although research reveals the contrary. Constant exposure to emotional abuse erodes the personality to the extent that many victims have a very hard time recovering from it.
Destruction of personal property or pets: Many abusers prefer to destroy with malice aforethought objects that are highly valued by their victims, or their pets, knowing that this will produce great pain in the owner.
Whatever the dynamics of violence in an interpersonal relation, they will hinge on the type of abuser, the moment of abuse, the culture in which this takes place, the beliefs and myths surrounding them, etc.
A global reality
It is estimated that 95 percent of the victims of intra-family violence are women.4 According to data from the United Nations Fund for Women, one in four women in the world suffer domestic mistreatment, which leads to the chilling figure that at least 300 million women suffer some kind of abuse.5 Every 15 seconds there's an incident of domestic violence somewhere on Earth.6 This is frightening when we realize that only 10 percent of such victims report their problem.
It is estimated that six out of 10 couples experience some kind of domestic violence. Thus, the existence and pattern of violence does not recognize any cultural or economic variants.
The pattern of violence
Is there any justification for violence? The question is not asked when the victim is a man. In many countries domestic violence against a woman is often considered a private family matter. But sociological honesty must force us to recognize that the problem that in one way or another belongs to all of us.
Many experts on domestic violence hold that women's tolerance of violence perpetuates this kind of behavior. And then there's the longtime idea that a woman should be punished when her conduct goes outside the role that society has assigned to her. This implies that the problem of mistreatment of women is not restricted to one geographical area or culture. It's so widely accepted in society that many victims just give up.
This creates a domino effect where new generations reproduce the wrong example, resulting in absence from work, poor performance at school, illness, and “accidents” that end up being paid for by all. There is research showing that children from homes where mothers are systematically abused tend to truancy, drug use, psychological deformity, repetition of violent scenes, and social delinquency.
Sons and daughters from families where the mother was subjected to abuse tend to reproduce the same patterns witnessed in their homes. It's a mistake to assume that what happens inside the home does not affect the home's environment.
Evidence also indicates that women who are victims of physical or psychological abuse will be inhibited from developing normally in society and in the home. Their productivity at work, their role as mothers, their personal development, their qualifications as citizens will all be affected for the rest of their lives until they can stand up to affirm their personal dignity and/or leave the abusive situation.
Myths surrounding domestic abuse
Myths relating to domestic violence are so rooted in certain cultures and patterns of thinking that eradication of abuse becomes almost impossible. It is therefore important to understand and destroy such myths in order to face both individually and corporately the menace of domestic violence. Consider some of these myths.
Domestic violence does not affect many people. In fact, it does. According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice, in the United States a woman is attacked every 15 seconds. Attacks inside the home are one of the principal causes of women's injuries–a higher number than highway accidents or other accidents.7 It is estimated that 50 percent of households suffer or have suffered violence within the family.8
Ill treatment is the result of a moment's rage. The truth is that abusers are in the habit of abusing. It is not a momentary flash. It's a reiteration of a repeated behavior. Many women victims of aggression report that they have been mistreated repeatedly through the years.
Abuse happens only among the poor and in substandard neighborhoods. This is a widely held misconception. People who use violence against spouses or girlfriends belong to every social and educational strata.9 The list of abusers, according to a Boston study, includes doctors, psychologists, lawyers, clergy,10 and chief executive oficers.11 Another study reports that there was a higher level of aggression among couples with college or graduate degrees than among people with lower educational achievements.12
Violence is limited to shoves, slaps, or fisticuffs–actions that do not cause serious damage. The fact is that many women have incapacitating injuries, permanent scars, and may even die from encounters with abusive husbands or boyfriends.13
It's easy for a woman to flee from abuse. Many women are so psychologically enslaved or codependent with the abuser that they find it difficult to distance themselves from abuse. In fact, one of the sequels of the problem is a psychological damage so deep that it's almost impossible to escape without external assistance.
Most aggressors against women are strangers. Many would like to believe this myth, but the reality is that 95 percent of aggressors belong to the family circle: husbands, fathers, brothers, fathers-in-law, close friends. One report indicates that 70 percent of victims of violence were attacked in their own homes, generally by a spouse or an intimate friend.14 A woman is more likely to be murdered by a man with whom she has an affectionate relationship than by a stranger.15 The home, which should be a haven of safety, becomes in practice a hell on earth for many women and their children who are passive victims of violence.
Domestic violence is the result of some kind of mental illness. This myth allows many to excuse, explain, or tolerate physical and psychological abuse against women. But the fact is that only 10 percent of abusers seem to have some psychopathic disorders.16
Violence and love cannot coexist in a family. Most episodes occur in cycles. According to Corsi, “love coexists with violence; otherwise there would be no cycle. Generally this is an addictive, dependent, possessive love based on insecurity.”17
Emotional abuse is not so serious as physical abuse. However, the truth is that “continual emotional abuse, even without physical violence, produces very serious consequences in the victim's emotional stability.”18 The problem is that psychological and emotional effects are less visible in the short run, whereas physical damage shows up right away. Actually, it is possible to terrorize a woman and abuse her without resorting to physical violence.19 The rehabilitation of a person who has received only emotional bruises is as difficult and traumatic as that of one who has been physically attacked.20
Violent conduct is an inherent characteristic of human beings. This is what zoologists, ethologists,21 and many investigators rooted in evolutionary thinking have been saying for years. The reality is that “violence is behavior learned from role models in the family and society who define it as a valid resource for conflict resolution. The use of violence is learned in the family, in school, in competitive sports, through the media.”22 A learned behavior can be unlearned.
Intra-family violence does not happen in the homes of committed Christians. Many violent male abusers attend church regularly. Tragically, a sexist interpretation of certain biblical passages leads some men to believe in their pre-eminence over women, and this attitude is the basis for justifying violence against wives.23
Everybody is aggressive, both men and women. Some men contend that it's an exaggeration to talk of men abusing women, and that women are also the attackers. But that's not quite so. Abuse by men is more common and notorious.24
Women often provoke men to attack them. Most aggressors want to believe this myth.25 Even some women, evidently those who had not been the victims, tend to believe in this. Nevertheless, all the research about violence shows that violent men attack without reference to what women do or say. Aggression in any form, especially physical, cannot be condoned, and verbal defiance by a wife does not in any way constitute a justification for abuse.26
Domestic abuse, particularly against women, is endemic in society, and this inhumane behavior must not go unchecked. Civilized human behavior, as well as other ethical and core Christian principles, require that we take every possible step against abuse.
The Creator never intended that anyone should be treated in a humiliating manner. The Bible says that God “hates him that loves violence” (Psalm 11:5, RSV). The Lord invites married men “to love their wives as their own bodies” (Ephesians 5:28, NIV). The logical assumption is that no normal person wants to attack his/her own body.
No one should remain indifferent to violence against women. The Lord warns those who ignore injustice and mistreatment: “Don't try to disclaim responsibility by saying you didn't know about it. For God, who knows all hearts, knows yours, and he knows you knew! And he will reward everyone according to his deeds” (Proverbs 24:11,12, TLB).
Miguel Angel Núñez (Th.D., Universidad Adventista del Plata) teaches theology and pastoral psychology at Universidad Peruana Unión, in Ñaña. Perú. He is the author of many articles and books, including Amores que matan, from which this article was excerpted. His email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. D. Weltzer-Lang, Les hommes violents (Paris : Cote -femmes, 1992), quoted by Luis Bonino Méndez in “Las macroviolencias y sus efectos: Claves para su detección,” Revista Argentina de Clínica Psicológica 8 (1999) 3:223.
2. Graciela Ferreira, La mujer maltratada (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 1989), quoted by Jorge Corsi, “Una mirada abarcativa sobre el pro-blema de la violencia familiar” en Violencia familiar: Una mirada interdisciplinaria sobre un grave problema social (comp. Jorge Corsi; Buenos Aires: Paidós, 1999), p. 35.
3. See Marie Fortune, “Calling to Accountability: The Church's Response to Abusers,” in Violence Against Women and Children: A Christian Theological Sourcebook, eds. Carol Adams and Marie M. Fortune (New York: The Continuum Publ. Co., 1998), p. 453.
4. This is a global estimate. Marta Irene Stella de Gasparini, in her book Violencia familiar (Posadas: Editorial Universitaria, Universidad Nacional de Misiones, 2001), p. 119, uses different percentages of family violence: 2 percent against men, 75 against women, and 23 percent of mutual violence in families.
5. Sara Lovera provides this estimate in “Comunicación e información de la mujer,” obtained online: www.cimac.org.mx/noticias/01may/01051711.html, consulted June 28, 2003.
6. El País, Bogotá, Colombia, March 6, 2004.
7. From Uniform Crime Reports, FBI, 1991, quoted in “Myths and facts about domestic violence,” www:famvi.com/dv_facts.htm, consulted February 2, 2001.
8. Corsi, p. 36.
9. UNIFEM, “Violênce contra a mulher nâo tem classe,” Maria Maria, 1(1999): pp. 7, 8.
10. See Fortune, “Is Nothing Sacred? The Betrayal of the Ministerial or Teaching Relationship,” in Adams and Fortune, pp. 351-360. See also Fortune, Is Nothing Sacred? The Story of A Pastor, the Women He Sexually Abused, and the Congregation He Nearly Destroyed (Cleveland: United Church Press, 1999); Stanley J. Grenz and Roy D. Bell, Betrayal of Trust: Confronting and Preventing Clergy Sexual Misconduct (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2001).
11. Massachussets Coalition of Battered Women Service Groups, Boston, MA, 1990, quoted in “Myths and facts about domestic violence,” www.famvi.com/dv_facts.htm.
12. M. Schulman, A Survey of Spousal Violence Against Women in Kentucky (New York: Louis Harris Associates, 1979), quoted by Barbara A. Carson and David Finkelhor, “The Scope of Contemporary Social and Domestic Violence,” in Carmen G. Warner and G. Richard Braen, eds. Management of the Physically and Emotionally Abused (Norwalk: Capistrano Press, 1982), p. 11.
13. David Adams, “Identifying the Assaultive Husband in Court: You Be the Judge,” Boston Bar Journal (1989), pp. 33, 34.
14. Carson and Finkelhor, p. 9.
15. R. Ressler, Whoever Fights Monsters (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993), quoted by Graciela B. Ferreira, “Clínica victimológica en casos de violencia conyugal: Prevención del suicidio/homicidio,” Revista Argentina de Clínica Psicológica 8 (1999) 3:222.
16 Corsi, p. 36.
17. Ibid., p. 37.
18. Ibid., p. 38.
19. Catherine Kirkwood, Cómo separarse de su pareja abusadora: Desde las heridas de la supervivencia a la sabiduría para el cambio, transl. Isabel Jezierski (Buenos Aires: Gránica, 1999), p. 59.
20. Ibid., p. 69
21. Konrad Lorenz, founder of modern ethology (the scientific study of animal behavior), maintained that violence is present in all species, including humans, and must be accepted as part of adaptive behavior and evolutionary development.
22. Corsi, pp. 38, 39.
23. Renita J. Weems, Battered Love: Marriage, Sex and Violence in the Hebrew Prophets (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995). Weems shows that it is possible to misuse certain Bible passages written in a metaphorical-symbolic context to justify spousal abuse.
24. Neil Jacobson and John Gottman, Hombres que agreden a sus mujeres: Cómo poner fin a las relaciones abusivas, trans. Carme Castells and Agueda Quiroga (Barcelona: Ediciones Paidós Ibérica, 2001), p. 39.
25. Jacobson and Gottman, p. 52.
26. Ibid., p. 54.
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