Hey, Letitia James! Domestic violence is an equal opportunity menace

On September 19, 2014, the New York Daily News ran an op-ed written by New York City’s public advocate, Letitia James, in which she presents a one-sided argument for immediate, broadened governmental missions to combat domestic violence in New York. Her flawed position is clear: that only women are victimized by domestic violence; that men aren’t; and that men are the dominant abusers. When the New York Daily News was presented with a counterpoint to James’s flawed argument, they responded that they did not have room for a response to James’s op-ed. Below is the rejected counterpoint.

Domestic violence is an unacceptable crime that exploits the deep trust between intimate partners. A partner’s violence is an abuse of the victimized partner’s commitment to preserve the relationship the two share, a commitment that in many of these relationships is made stronger, often unbreakably so, by mutual property and shared children.

The present social-policy shift in attacking this social menace is welcome and apparently quite warranted. Over the last decades we see government funds liberally flowing in massive quantity to combat this admittedly widespread syndrome. At present, the subject is a focus of national attention thanks to the actions of Ray Rice and, more broadly, the National Football League. Men need to stop beating women, and by any means necessary. Right?

Right. And wrong.

Violence is perpetrated by both sexes to each other. It is an equal opportunity menace. But the narrative that accompanies the social-policy shift about domestic violence should concern everyone because it is deeply flawed: over and over it presumes that women are the primary victims of domestic violence. Many campaigns even posit that it is exclusively women victimized by domestic violence. The best example is the federal Violence Against Women Act. The very name of this legislation specifically excludes men as victims of domestic violence.

However, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics concerning the widespread victimization of men by women in acts of intimate partner violence are readily available, and they tell a more complete and even sadder story. An astonishing 40% of all “severe physical violence” was directed at men, according to data from a CDC national survey as recently as 2010.

Findings show almost equal amounts of abuse perpetrated against men and women. But politicians and media focus the most attention on the female victims of domestic violence. Why? Men are largely silent on the issue because of the perception that men are physically stronger and should be able to subdue a female attacker easily. Those men who do report physical violence are more likely to be ridiculed—both by law enforcement and by the public—than women are. More money is spent on women’s programs, and more crusades are launched on behalf of women who are victims of domestic violence, despite the fact that men are almost equally or in some cases more likely to be victims of both physical and psychological abuse.

There are almost no state resources and services for men. There are endless services for women that empower the state.

What does this amount to? An unchecked sexual bigotry. Against men.

The bigoted narrative posits that men are immune from domestic violence, and only its perpetrators. Sadly, the prevailing narrative is about perceptions. As we see from the reaction to the NFL’s situation, domestic violence is no longer about a singular act. It is about projecting one act upon an entire sex. Weren’t we taught that if we allowed the actions of one member of a group to become representative of the group, we were guilty of bigotry?

A fine example of this bigotry is a recently published article by New York public advocate Letitia James. James seizes the headlines and wastes no time bringing out the same tired arguments about domestic violence, completely discriminating against men as perpetrators and as non-victims.

James, overlooking half of the population, states: “One study found that abused women were diagnosed six times more often with substance abuse, three times more often with depression and three times more often with sexually transmitted diseases than women who had not experienced abuse.” What about the men, Letitia?

In defending her demagoguery, she confuses cause with effect with no regard for inquiry. “Researchers have identified a host of consequences associated with this crime, including depression, isolation, suicidal thoughts and attempts, binge drinking, sexual abuse, high blood pressure and stroke.” What about the men, Letitia?

But what is most troubling from our public advocate is her position on indoctrinating—educating is her euphemism—young children. James states, “We must better educate all New Yorkers, starting at a young age.” Will this include facts about men as victims? About women as abusers too? Or do you propose to browbeat little boys the bigoted, false narrative the only men abuse women, Letitia?

And although she tries superficially to be gender-neutral, Letitia James concludes, “We can and should prosecute and shame those who hit their girlfriends.” What about the women who hit the boyfriends and husbands, Letitia? Absent—ignored—is the possibility that men are victims.

The bigoted message is convenient and clear: only men do domestic violence to women. Letitia James’s one-sided discussion is consistent with the all too familiar, all too reality-blind narrative that men are monsters and women are victims. It is time to include in this narrative the inconvenient truth that women abuse men too. And that most men never, ever abuse.

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