Domestic abuse and rape are the only crimes in which the victim is held responsible for the behavior of the perpetrator. In a reasonable society, we do not say the 3-year-old “seduced” his or her abuser, and we do not say the people who lost all of their retirement money were “provoked” by Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. No, we hold the criminal responsible.
When domestic abuse and rape occur in our society, we ask questions such as “Why does the victim stay?” or “What did the victim do to provoke the attack?” Domestic abuse is not about losing control; it’s a systematic method of asserting and maintaining power and control in an intimate relationship or a situation involving an intimate relationship.
Batterers — the perpetrators of domestic abuse — want people to believe their bad behavior was not their fault or that they were provoked into their bad behavior. In 2009, for example, rapper Chris Brown was charged with two felony assaults when his then girlfriend, Rihanna, confronted him about a text message from another woman.
The reality is that people are physically and emotionally abusive because they can be and because their abuse gets them what they want. There are millions of people in this country who have financial problems, psychiatric diagnoses and emotional distress, and millions of people have had their phones perused and been cheated on, but they’ve never beaten or killed their intimate partners.
One of the myths about domestic abuse is that batterers have an anger management problem. They do have a problem with anger: They have a problem with their partners’ anger. If partners “dare” to challenge batterers, the response is quick and destructive. They may agree to treatment for their “anger management problem,” and they may agree to couples counseling, but very rarely will they voluntarily agree to attend a batterers’ intervention program. In Maine, batterers’ intervention programs are certified through the Department of Corrections as best practice, evidenced-based programming for those who are abusive to their intimate partners.
If batterers were unable to control their anger, they would be abusive with everyone, including their bosses, friends and neighbors. This is rarely the case. Part of the performance of domestic abuse is everyone outside of the home believes their facade of being a nice person. You don’t really know who they are because they don’t want you to know them.
If batterers were unable to control their anger, they would not be strategic in their physical abuse. If they do not want their partner/victim to go out in public, they will beat them in the face, where they have difficulty covering the bruising. If batterers want to maintain their image in their community, they will cause bruises that their partner/victim can cover with clothing.
When someone is having a heart attack or has been in a car accident, we do not send them to a parenting class for treatment. So why do we send someone who is abusive to anger management treatment? There are two reasons:
1. There is less social stigma to attending an anger management program than attending a batterers’ intervention program.
2. Anger management is paid for by health insurance, including Medicare and MaineCare, whereas payment for attending a batterers’ intervention program is the financial responsibility of the batterer.
Until society starts calling domestic violence what it is (as opposed to an anger problem), stops asking “what did she do to provoke him?” and starts requiring batterers to attend programs that address power and control, we can expect more tragedies among us.
Kathryn Maietta is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice in Bangor. She has co-facilitated more than 2,000 batterers’ intervention classes and has spoken locally and nationally about the issue of domestic violence. She recently started a blog, “Is it anger or domestic abuse?” Visit her website at www.kathrynmaietta.com.