One of the age old myths about a man’s use of violence against a woman is that the woman must have done something to make her male intimate partner angry enough to hit her. This myth that she did something to provoke his violence has been summarily taken to task and dispelled over the last two decades by those who advocate for battered women. A search on myths about domestic violence on internet will bring up a plethora of sites with information ever reminding us that there is no excuse for physical violence against a women i.e. Instead of asking, “What did she do to make him hit her?” remember that no one has the right to inflict bodily injury upon another; The question, "what did she do to make him hit her?" is an almost instinctive response ingrained in the fabric of our society, and on that ultimately places the blame on the victim. Unfortunately, the assertion that domestic violence victims somehow "provoke" batterers has been repeatedly used to both justify domestic violence and reduce the culpability of the perpetrator; What did she do to make her husband angry? This question blames the victim for the abuse and excuses the abuser. However, what about when the victim is a man and the abuser is a woman? Recently a video on youtube.com (which is an excerpt from an ABC news show) titled, "Reaction to Women Abusing Men in Public,” was shared on a Facebook wall. The ABC news show asked the question, “How will people react when they witness a woman abusing a man in a public place?” Over 160 people went by as a female [actress] berated, slapped, kicked, shoved and pulled the hair of her male [actor] partner as they were sitting in a park on a bench. Most who went by just looked over at them and kept going. One woman looked and as she was passing them she made hand gestures and smiled as if she was cheering the abusive woman on. Only one group of five women showed any concern for the man being abused, one of the women in that group confronted the abuser and another called 911 and reported what was going on. An off duty cop walked by and looked on as the woman was shoving, pushing and yelling at the man. He kept on walking without saying a word. When the reporter asked the cop why he didn't do anything the cop basically said he felt that there wasn’t a problem, however, he said had it been the man hitting the women he would have approached them. He said that he was raised to believe that you don't hit women. The woman that made the hand gestures of approval told the reporter that she assumed he was getting what was coming to him because he cheated on her or something.
One of the comments made on the facebook wall about this video brought to mind one more huge hurdle male victims must face on top of how to prove that they fear their abuser (see previous blog entry for the discussion on that issue). The facebook commenter pointed out that in order to assess the situation properly i.e. the woman beating up on the man; we needed to look at intent. The commenter went on to say that while all physical violence is wrong, since the woman asked the man “How could you do this to me” during her tirade that indicated that he did something to cause her anger and physical violence.
The commenter and the woman gesturing, “Hip Hip Hooray” for the abuser in the video are not alone in their thinking. While some continue ignore female on male violence, as many of the onlookers did in the video, there are a number of advocates, researchers, academics, law enforcement officers, and people who work in the court system who surely believe the myth of, “he must have done something to provoke her physical violence against him.” Researchers have written articles and published papers discussing the need to look at women’s intent when they use physical violence against their male partners. These articles and papers were written in mostly in response to studies that indicate that women are as equally violent as men.
The same myth that advocates worked so hard to dispel for female victims still persists and haunts male victims. When a man physically abuses a woman his intent has no bearing. It's taken for granted that men make conscious choices to be violent towards their intimate partners. However, when a woman uses of physical violence we are told that we must look at her intent before determining if she is the aggressor or the victim fighting back or making a preemptive strike against her abuser.
A great deal of effort and money has been spent to dispel the myths surrounding violence against women. I agree that intent is an important thing to question in some instances of domestic violence such as when one partner has a history of arrests for domestic violence and/or a partner has sought medical attention for injuries that appear to be domestic violence related even when the victim reports otherwise. In those situations there is reason to believe that a victim may be defending themselves or striking out preemptively. However, if we are to consider intent we should do so without bias.
Domestic violence in LGBT relationships is as prevalent as it is in heterosexual relationships. Do we ask the question, what was her intent for physically assaulting her female intimate partner?
Male helpline callers have reported instances where their exits have been blocked, they have suffered excruciatingly painful kicks to the groin and been assaulted with everything from kitchen knives to vehicles in unprovoked attacks by their intimate female partners. In those situations a man has the right to defend himself, however, if he does and he leaves any red marks on the woman’s wrists, arms etc it’s highly unlikely that law enforcement will consider the man’s intent before they haul him off to jail.
We need to make room for the fact that some women use unprovoked violence against their intimate partners and some men are victims of those unprovoked assaults. We seriously need stop making excuses and blaming men for all of women’s violence so that abusive women can get the help they need to change their abusive ways and abused men can trust that the system will work to protect them.