Society fails to see real impact of abuse

Photo by Carly Farrell

Photo by Carly Farrell

Much has been written about the events related to Judge Willie Weaver and the alleged domestic violence incident that occurred at the home of an Albany police officer last month. We could view this as an opportunity for more grist for the mill and point fingers, hope that soon people will forget and go back to business as usual. After all, Vester Weaver claims nothing happened and she has galvanized the support of a local pastor and some of his church members supporting her in the belief that there is no need to break up families or destroy reputations.

So, several weeks into the investigation and recanting by the victim in the face of clear evidence, it comes as no surprise that there are news reports telling us that the order keeping Willie Weaver away from his wife has now been changed to allow him to once again return to his home and his family. While I am not surprised, I am appalled at the continued efforts of so many communities to minimize and dismiss the problems associated with domestic violence.

But as is the way of the world, so too is the way of Southwest Georgia and we can just add another name to a long list of abusers whose celebrity or infamy has kept them from being truly held accountable for their actions. You may not recognize them all, but here are just a few making headlines: Francisco Rodriguez, District Attorney Ken Kratz, Charlie Sheen, Jay Marrotti, Mayor Adam Bradly (White Plains, N.Y.), Mel Gibson, Judge Rucker Smith, Will Smith (New Orleans defensive end), David Johnson, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Lance Stephenson, Gov. David Patterson, Chris Brown, Rapper Anthony Smith, aka Tone Loc.

So what is the message here? Is it that assault and abasement is commonplace and acceptable behavior that should be tolerated by women and encouraged by men? Or is it that if you have status and money, you will be judged by your good deeds and be found redeemable? Or is it if you are being abused -- physically, psychologically, financially or sexually -- don't break up the family?

Or, finally, is it that a crime is not always a crime and we can pick and choose our responses?

The real message may be much more subtle. If we subscribe to the theories of Marshall McLuhan, as in his "the medium is the message," meaning that the content of the information shared by newscasts and newspaper articles or television has a social effect, then we understand that the "content" as described by McLuhan, is merely a distraction, like "a piece of meat to distract the watchdog" from the underlying message. Most of us tend to focus on the obvious, which is the content, and miss how the information, which may or may not be valuable, may be changing our values and beliefs.

Judging by the response, or perhaps lack thereof, to both abusive behaviors and resulting consequences for victims and abusers, society continues to chew on the distracting "meat" and fails to see the subtle manipulations that result in failing to hold abusers accountable and minimizes the severity of an escalating problem for victims and the children who are subjected to modeling behaviors that shape their beliefs about intimate relationships.

Myths and widely held misconceptions by the uninformed will focus on the victim, blaming her/him for what (s)he would or would not do. A victim's behavior, during or after an incident, is brought into question if it is not consistent with the expectation with how a "real" victim would behave. The reality is that the behavior of many domestic violence victims is quite different from the expected behavior. Victims often stay with their abusers, regularly minimize their abuse, recant, request the dismissal of charges against their batterers, and refuse to testify for the prosecution, or will testify on behalf of their batterers.

A victim's behavior can result from the victim's sense of loyalty to their abusers, their shame or feeling of responsibility for their abusers actions, their belief that they can change their abusers' behaviors and that they "love" them or they feel isolated and fear they will not be believed. This is particularly true if the abuser is a "respected" member of the community, they have children together and external coercion by family members and/or others connected to the abuser exert their influences on the victim.

Whatever "message" you get from my views, please understand that, as a community, we have a responsibility to assure that we are doing more good than harm when it comes to helping persons experiencing intimate partner violence. This requires a willingness to be educated about the issues of intimate partner violence and be moved to action. Liberty House has annual events and provides free education and prevention programs throughout the year. The lack of interest and participation might well be indicative of how apathetic (or fearful) the general population is regarding the issue of intimate partner violence.

This apathy infects many of the counties served by our agency and can only continue to endanger lives and do little to address the most serious cost of intimate partner violence -- (1) intergenerational transmission of violence, (2) behavioral problems and reduced educational performance of children and (3) increasing levels of child abuse.

In their analysis of family violence and abuse, Gelles and Straus (1988) assert: "You are more likely to be physically assaulted, beaten, and killed in your own home at the hands of a loved one than in any place else, or by anyone else in our society" and "Violence in the home is not the exception we fear; it is all too often the rule we live by." In 2011, when we experience eight intimate partner homicides in as many months, it appears we still have much to learn.

My hope for this community and for all victims lies in being daring enough to find solutions that resolve violence and suffering, and allows all of its citizens to live meaningful and dignified lives.