Wong: On breaking the silence surrounding domestic abuse

With the current focus on Halloween and all things pumpkin spice, many people don’t realize that October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

When asked to personally define domestic violence, senior Tara Davidson stated, “To me, domestic abuse is any manipulation used by a partner to control the other partner. There are many ways that this could happen—it can be physical, emotional, mental, social, monetary or through threats.” A psychology major and member of Alpha Delta Epsilon, Davidson is helping to raise awareness of domestic violence through the sorority’s One Love Escalation workshop on Friday Oct. 23 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. in Newton 209.

Imagine the potentially positive impact if more people put aside their social prejudices, educated themselves about the pervasiveness of this often “silent” crime and acknowledged that its victims do not bring abuse upon themselves.

A few telling statistics underline how widespread this type of violence is in our country alone. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, one in four women and one in seven men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner. Additional research has shown that in the United States, more than 3 million children witness domestic violence in their households—violence that typically goes unreported and unpunished. These children may then become adults with behavioral and emotional issues that could potentially turn them into abusers themselves, thus continuing the poisonous cycle of abuse.

It is not surprising that most people aren’t aware of these statistics. Victims frequently fail to report incidents of partner abuse because they fear that their abuser might not be legally punished. Additionally, victim-shaming is an even larger perpetuating factor.

Conventional attitudes towards victims of domestic abuse tend to characterize them as weak or deserving of the violence because they are somehow morally, intellectually or emotionally “lacking.”  The victims may internalize these shameful depictions and not report the violence to avoid being stigmatized by society.

This association of shame is probably even more significant and damaging for male victims who would traditionally be viewed as the abuser rather than the victim in a male-dominant society.

“It’s really unfortunate that people immediately assign a man as the perpetrator in a domestic abuse dispute, but statistically, men have more often been the perpetrator,” Davidson said. “Men are expected to be strong, dominant and to go after what they want and this is how it’s interpreted.”

In the case of a violent assault or robbery on the street, we wouldn’t blame the individual who was harmed in the process of the robbery—we would fault the perpetrator. There would also be empathy for the victim regardless of their gender. Reporting such a crime would never incur feelings of shame or inadequacy in the victim. Thus, we should question why those suffering domestic abuse are made to feel undeserving of the same right to personal safety simply because the abuse was inflicted by a domestic partner.

Not only do we need to stop and take the time to educate ourselves on this issue, but we also need to stop stigmatizing domestic abuse victims. We need to acknowledge that they are—simply put—victims of violence that need our help. There needs to be a change in the way we respond to all victims of domestic abuse. We are long overdue in overhauling archaic gendered assumptions about domestic violence.