The Current State of Domestic Violence Services, Part 2
A few months ago, I wrote a blog post laying out a substantial set of concerns I have regarding the direction that domestic violence work has been heading in across the U.S. and Canada. I promised in that post that I would write a second post on the subject to discuss some more details, and then to propose solutions and new directions.
It turns out there’s going to be more than just a Part 2. The more I write about this, the more there seems to be to say.
By the way, I received many responses to Part 1 from other continents, with the writers reporting similar problems and trends in their own countries, so my observations seem to apply beyond the U.S. and Canada.
WE’VE STOPPED ADDRESSING ROOT CAUSES
Intimate partner violence against females is caused by systems and structures that are built into society. We can “serve” women while ignoring those causes – and those services are valuable to the individuals who receive them – but we aren’t doing anything to actually stop or lessen the abuse that women overall experience.
What are the key causes of domestic violence against women?
1) The oppressed status of women in society
The U.S. has refused to pass a constitutional amendment guaranteeing equal rights for women. (Need I say more?) Females are paid less than males; are subject to far more sexual violence, child sexual abuse, and trafficking; are given fewer opportunities for career advancement; are kept in fear in all kinds of ways; are steadily harassed, belittled, and made to feel less-than (from early in life); and the list goes on. (You might read my article “Talking Man to Man About Sexism.”)
Here is the key point: oppression both causes and requires violence.. Oppression causes violence because members of the society are taught to demean and despise members of the oppressed group, and are taught that violence against that group is excusable or even necessary. Oppression requires violence because any people whose rights are taken away will fight to get their rights back, and the only way to stop them from taking their rights back is to terrorize them with violence and the threat of violence. Without violence, men would not be able to keep women second-class and subservient.
2) The exploitation of poor and working people across the continent
Millions of abused women are trapped by the fact that they simply do not have the economic resources to make escape possible, especially if they have children. This would not be the case if we lived in societies that did not have a vast division between rich and poor. While abused women get trapped for all kinds of reasons, the economic trap is at the very top of the list.
It all pretty much comes down to these two factors, though there are certainly others that contribute (such as the overall glorification of violence, including war, that are endemic to our societies).
When we focus on what’s wrong with each individual abuser, we are ignoring the fact that he is the product of a society that has trained him, since early in life, to believe that he has the right to extract things from women – sexuality, domestic service, love, attention, ego-building, deference, you name it – and that he has the right to enforce his will if a female attempts to defend herself against his invasions.
That’s what domestic violence against women is all about: extraction and enforcement.
What I find so painful after 30 years working in the domestic violence field is that I hardly ever hear anyone talking about the oppression of women anymore, or about women’s rights, or about male domination, or about our economic system that keeps forcing women and children into poverty.
These are not “additional” issues, as in, “Well, we can’t address all those additional issues, we need to stay focused on domestic violence.” These issues are the issue. These are the primary causes of domestic violence; and if we don’t fight to overthrow these oppressive systems, we aren’t actually doing anything to change the number of women who will be living under the tyranny of male violence thirty or forty or fifty years from now.
WE’VE STOPPED ORGANIZING COLLECTIVE RESPONSES
Domestic violence work has become focused on helping individuals – which is very important – but has stopped attending to changing social structures and to organizing collective action. Agencies do occasionally organizie marches or rallies, but it’s become a smaller and smaller part of what we do. And even those events tend to be about “domestic violence awareness” which is a different message from “protesting violence against women and demanding that it stop.”
Most important, though, is that these events are just that – events. They aren’t part of a strategy of building an organization that can protest institutional collusion with domestic violence and agitate for change. We aren’t developing protest leaders, we’re developing service providers. We’ve got to do both, as I’ll come back to discuss in a subsequent post; the training of organizers, and the development of a long-term strategy for social change, can’t keep getting pushed to the side.
Coming next: Part 3: Why Did We Make These Mistakes?
Then: Part 4: Where Do We Go From Here?
I’m afraid I don’t remember where I got the third picture from — it’s a huge protest in Chile several years ago