The media and the public are acting so shocked about Eric Schneiderman. How could a man with such a great public image, and a women’s rights advocate even, turn out to be a vicious batterer?
I wish people weren’t so surprised. Those of us who work in the domestic violence field have been trying for decades to get people to stop being fooled by how abusers come off in public.
Here are some key points I’d like to bring to people’s attention (actually I’d like to scream them) about this case:
One of Eric Schneiderman’s victims, Tanya Selvaratnam, describes him as a “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” personality. This public vs. private split in the conduct of men who batter women is the norm, not the exception, and it’s time for people to stop acting surprised about this. Those of us who work and do research in the domestic violence field have been talking and writing about this split for over thirty years. Most abusers cultivate a positive public image, leading repeatedly to cases where observers say, “Oh, I doubt it, he doesn’t seem like the type at all.” Putting on a good public face is the type.
How does Schneiderman live with the hypocrisy of casting himself as a women’s rights crusader, making such rousing statements as, ‘If a woman cannot control her body, she is not truly equal”?The answer lies in some key aspects of how abusive men think, including:
— Seeing himself as special and above it all, so his own behavior doesn’t count.
— Feeling that women owe him gratitude, service, and obedience in return for anything positive he has ever done for them
— Convincing himself that, in his case, women love being abused, even though he professes outrages when other men do it
Again, what is most stunning about these attitudes is how ordinary they are; Schneiderman is joined in these ways of thinking by almost all men who are violent or sexually exploitative towards women.
Alcohol is not the cause of Schneiderman’s violence and abusiveness. His former partners are describing how he would assault them for saying no to sex; how he would belittle them intellectually; how he would pressure them to change their bodies to make themselves more pleasing to him; how he would threaten to kill them if they tried to leave him. These are not drunken eruptions; they are deeply ingrained abusive behavior patterns that he was using day in and day out. Alcohol can’t make a man suddenly start to view his partner as an owned object whose entire life should be subjugated to his — which is how Schneiderman operated.
Alcohol is a frequent excuse among men who batter, and that’s exactly what it is: an excuse. There are plenty of alcoholics who don’t assault women.
Schneiderman just drips with entitlement, and that is well-established as one of the core characteristics of men who abuse women. Abusers think that they’re justified in treating women the way they do, and they invariably blame their victims. That’s why they’re so shocked when they end up facing actual consequences, whether from the legal system, or from their employers, or from public opinion. When abusers do get held accountable, they always insist that we aren’t being fair to them. Schneiderman’s outrage is probably genuine — but that’s because he feels so disturbingly justified in what he has done.
Despite how overwhelming the evidence against Schneiderman already is — and plenty more is bound to come out — he still believes he can manage it through denial. Abusers think that if they say the problem doesn’t exist, then it doesn’t exist. The media and the public tend to put too much weight on such denials; abusers are comfortable and skilled at telling lies about anything related to their history of assaulting, sexually abusing, or psychologically attacking their partners. And the thing is, it usually works; if they just sound sincere, they can tell the most outrageous falsehoods and succeed in getting people to discredit the victims.
A fake denial and an honest denial usually sound exactly the same. We have to assess the evidence — including the huge weight of multiple credible victim reports in this case — and not think we can tell by judging the sincerity of the denials coming from the accused.
In high-profile abuse and sexual assault cases, it generally turns out that other people in important positions have been covering for the offender for a long time. There are already signs of this tricking out in the Schneiderman case. As a society we need to impose consequences on the influential people who covered for the offender, not just on the man himself. Otherwise we’re not going to succeed in stopping violence and violations towards women.