Do You Notice Domestic Violence?

It’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

“Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior in which someone uses physical, sexual, psychological or other types of harm against a current or former partner, an immediate family member or another relative. It can also include stalking, threats or other behaviors meant to manipulate or control someone else.” (U.S. News and World Report)

This is important. The statistics are undeniable. Every 20 seconds a woman is abused by someone who claims to love her. “Between 2003 and 2012, domestic violence accounted for over 20 percent of all violent crime in the U.S.” (U.S. News and World Report) Twenty percent. And “male victims are abused by non-spouse family members at a higher rate than female victims.” (U.S. News and World Report)

If you’ve ever been a victim, or witnessed this kind of abuse, or known a woman, man, or child who has been abused, you know how devastating this can be. Beyond the obvious. Beyond the broken bones, the bruises, the deaths that occur because of domestic violence, there is shame and humiliation, depression, suicide, loss of job, loss of relationships, wounds that can’t be seen and can’t be healed.

I believe in doing everything we can to prevent this. To eliminate it. To bring abuse into the light and thoughtfully and deliberately lessen the chances it can and will happen again.

We’ve come a long way. Haven’t we? That’s what we’re told. Women are no longer prisoners in their own homes, where society winks as men control every aspect of her waking life. No money, nothing in her own name, no access to transportation or child care so that she can pursue a job or friends or connections outside of her husband. Mostly, that’s true. Mostly, that’s not considered acceptable behavior any more.

But is it enough? No. Instead of happily patting ourselves on the back, we need to consider what else we need to do to stop this. Some things – cultural, societal, financial, litigious things are hard. They take time. It takes time to pass laws, to make cultural changes.

But some things are easy. And, heaven knows, we can do easy things. We should do easy things. There is absolutely no frigging reason NOT to do the easy things that might change our thinking and change our culture.

I write. I watch television. And I read. I read a lot. I read as a child, a teen, and an adult. I read to my baby, my toddler, my daughter, my students. I devour books. Fiction. Fan-fiction.

I will not read many types of so called “romance” novels.

I will not read books that glamorize one lover abusing another. In any way. That wink at it. ‘Bodice-rippers’ they used to call them. Where the pirate king kidnaps the uptight school-marm, assaults her, takes away her freedom and her self-worth and then she falls in love with him. No. I will never put money into a publisher’s pocket – or an author’s pocket – to promote the idea of rape as fun. As courtship. My God, I am practically throwing up thinking about it.

But it’s not just ‘dime-novel’ romances anymore, is it? Anyone read David McCallum’s novel? I’ve loved the man for years for playing Ilya Kuriakin on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. I am sorry I ever bought his novel and I’ll surely never buy another. Not when the female character is tied up and raped and decides, in the middle of the rape, that she kind of likes it. That it’s ‘hot’ to be raped. It turns her on. Violence. Holy Moses, people, are you going to teach your boys that? “Go ahead, son, rape the girls! No doesn’t mean no, it means you have to work a little harder! She’s gonna like it!”

I’m not a sheltered princess. My B.A. is in Criminology. I know what people are capable of, and what people have done to each other over the centuries. I know what’s out there in the form of “free speech.” Violent porn. Torture porn. Showing bloodied, beaten, ripped apart women – and men – to get aroused. Remember Ted Bundy? Serial killer? What did he say from prison?

“I’m no social scientist, and I don’t pretend to believe what John Q. Citizen thinks about this, but I’ve lived in prison for a long time now, and I’ve met a lot of men who were motivated to commit violence. Without exception, every one of them was deeply involved in pornography – deeply consumed by the addiction. The F.B.I.’s own study on serial homicide shows that the most common interest among serial killers is pornographers. It’s true.” (Interview with James Dobson)

He didn’t say porn caused him to be a serial killer, but that it was a jumping off point.

Of course it was. Every computer programmer knows the adage: “GIGO. Garbage in; Garbage out.” We’re worried about video game violence. Movie violence. Television violence. Why? Because the constant barrage of violence changes how you feel about it. How you react to it. How horrified or blasé you are about it.

There are a lot of people talking about porn these days, how easy it is to access, how bad it is. That’s not my point. My point is this, if people repudiate porn, especially torture porn, why aren’t we worried about other outlets for media violence? Why isn’t a book like Mr. McCallum’s, the ‘romance’ classics that feature violence, and the three-part, made into a movie nightmare Shades of Grey, repudiated as well? Why aren’t they in the same section of the bookstore as Hustler and Maxxim? Why is this being accepted as ‘art’ and ‘free speech’ and, ‘hey, lady, it’s only fiction, you don’t have to read it if you don’t want to?’ Why is any protest about these stories that promote domestic violence as fun and even sexy regarded as censorship?

Those who enjoy these kinds of things don’t consider it abuse. Nope, the bywords of that subculture are: If it’s sane, safe, and consensual, then no one has the right to criticize it.

That’s just the problem. What is sane? What is consensual? What is safe? These are adult questions, people claim, which any adult in a relationship can answer. They can walk away. They can refuse. The female in Grey could tell her boss she’s out of there. Her boss. The woman in the McCallum book? In the ‘bodice-rippers’? Well, that’s a little trickier.

But, here’s the thing: can a person in an abusive relationship walk away? Do you think the victims of domestic violence don’t refuse? Do you think they believe they have the power to refuse? The right to refuse? That they can walk away at any time? Are you a person who blames the wife because she ‘lets’ her husband beat her? Shame on you.

Have you ever heard a victim of abuse speak? Blame herself? When asked why she didn’t leave him, most invariably frown and wonder why you would ask. He didn’t mean it. He was going to change. He was a normal man, successful, friendly. He was a good man and really loved her. He just had a funny way of showing it?

It can start so innocently, can’t it? In real life, it starts when your partner ignores your wishes in favor of their own, time and time again. Or yells and screams when she gets angry. Or calls you names. “Ugly.” “Stupid.” “Worthless.” Or considers himself always, always in charge and you will do it my way or you will be sorry. Maybe it’s threats. But, hey, you know they will never be acted on, right? Or belittling. Or maybe it’s a slap. Just one. Just that one time.

Just stop it. STOP. IT. Stop buying into publishing’s fun, fun idea that smacking your partner, your family, around – verbally or physically – is hilarious and entertaining. Good natured jibes, sarcasm, okay, yes, fine. Family drama. Heck, Pride and Prejudice. But making abusers into romantic leads or well-respected good guys? No.

Not buying those books, that’s pretty easy. Let’s do that. Now.

Here’s another easy thing we can do.

Don’t allow this into your homes via television, either. The idea that it’s funny or entertaining to hurt our family members. Or righteous, that’s even worse. We allow this into our homes in little innocent steps. Don’t believe me? You’d be surprised.

Consider this exciting new television show, coming to no screen anywhere, this fall! Hoopla! I like to cook, so let’s set it in a restaurant!  And we’ll call it Gardners’ Grotto!

We’ve got a great team of people, modeled on the concept of family! Great father figure, Mr. Gardner, well-respected by the community, fantastic at his job. He stands tall and accepts no excuses for failure – sounds good so far. There’s an older man, grandfather type, with funny stories and a shoulder to cry on. Then there’s the siblings. The younger bunch. Let’s say two of each. Older brother type, handsome and charming, younger a bit of a nerd. The girls are Daddy’s darlings, always pampered and cared for, who stick out their tongues at the men over their shoulders as Daddy gives them the keys to the car.

In the midst of running this very successful business, however, Mr. Gardner enjoys smacking the oldest son. Belittling – the boys especially – with threats and commands. Threats to break bones. To throw them out of the family. He’s a control freak in every sense of the word. He also pits them one against the other for his attention. Takes away food privileges, or a place or time to sleep when they don’t follow his rules. He minimizes their losses because his life is really all that matters. He yells. He screams. And sometimes he goes quiet, gets in the oldest guy’s face, and threatens something only he can hear. Him and the audience. Hilarious, right? Because that adult kid could leave any time! He could give the ole man the finger and walk away. And if he doesn’t, well that’s his own fault!

The restaurant is a great success because the others, those who aren’t involved in the day-to-day workings, consider Mr. Gardner a paragon. He’s what they all want to be. He may not be loved by his enemies but he sure is respected. Looked up to. And, no it’s not Gordon Ramsey!

Would you let your children watch this? I mean, it’s funny and dramatic, the characters are true-to-life and the writing is good. If the subtext is that the father must not be questioned or disobeyed or there will be shaming and threatening at best and physical blows at least, well, it’s fiction!

If you say you would never watch a show like this, that they’d never even put it on the air unless it was to show how daunting, how wounding, how prevalent domestic violence can be, I have news for you.

It’s NCIS.

I can hear the criticism already. “Good grief! NCIS again? It’s television! Gibbs keeps his people in line! The head smacks are funny! The threats and screaming in the work place are normal! And it isn’t a family, it’s a job!”

Yeah. Most jobs are like that, right?

In the NCIS special features on its DVD, it explains quite clearly how this little team was written to portray a family. A wonderful family with a stern father in Gibbs and a grandfather in Ducky. Abby is the perennial little sister who throws tantrums and can do no wrong. McGee the little nerdy brother. And Tony the big brother who takes the majority of the slaps, the threats, the belittling for his family. But they are all victims of Gibbs’ anger and control issues. And it’s not funny.

I didn’t see it for years. Now I can’t stop seeing it. That’s why I can’t stop talking about it. It’s domestic violence. And it’s not okay.

This is a little thing we can change. So small it seems insignificant. Don’t turn a blind eye to domestic violence in the media – whether it’s porn or fan fiction or Shades of Grey or the most watched show on television, NCIS. Don’t shrug and say, “I’m not a censor.” We censor things all the time. We don’t buy the book. We don’t go to the movie. We turn off the television.

Think I’m crazy? Fine. Watch it and think about it. If this was your father, the father of your children, would it be funny? Would he be a hero?

Then turn it off. It’s a little thing. Let’s do the little, easy things. Let’s open our eyes to what we’re really seeing, in books, on the television, and all around us. Let’s turn our minds back on, and our hearts. Let’s remember that aiming to hurt a person – purposefully – especially when that person is a loved one, is never okay.

Let’s stop domestic violence.