Domestic Violence Ad Implies Only Men Are Abusers

A men's rights group is protesting a recent anti-domestic violence PSA sponsored by Verizon. And for once, I kind of agree with them.

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The spot, issued by the National Domestic Violence Hotline in concert with the Verizon Foundation, is both disturbing and visually beautiful. It encourages viewers to offer support to friends or neighbors who may be domestic violence victims, and closes with a list of helpful resources. It raises awareness and discourages silence. However, it also implies that all abusers are male.

The ad states that "the child who lives with domestic violence isn't afraid of the dark — she's afraid of her dad." It also depicts an adult victim of domestic violence as a woman who's being abused by her male partner. The LA Weekly reports that men's rights groups are angry about the PSA's focus on male abusers. The National Coalition For Men's Los Angeles chapter is staging a protest this Saturday. The organization SAVE Services, which advocates for counseling rather than incarceration in some abuse cases and identifies stopping false allegations as one of its major goals, has issued an e-lert on the ad. An attached flyer reads, in part,

There's one word that sums up the biases found in this 2-minute video: Shameful.

"This video is particularly disturbing since the use of animation makes it appealing to children. It smears adult men as the only abusers in a household, when the fact is women are as likely to abuse their partners as men," explains SAVE spokesman Philip W. Cook. "This video is dangerously harmful to children and to families."

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The blog RoarForFreedom offered this comment on the ad:

The sick thing is, abusers have a great capacity to confuse adults and children into believing THEY are the victims! So a confused child seeing something like this, and let's say has an abusive mommy, might (subconsciously?) think to herself/ himself "It must not be mommy." or "Mommy's right. Daddy is abusive to her and us" (after getting tired of being bickered at, having things thrown at him, mentally tortured and manipulated, he stands up to her, all of a sudden, he's the abusive one!)

The MRAs are partially correct here. The ad does send the message that abusers are always dads, which could make men who are being abused less likely to come forward. It also might have the effect of discouraging bystanders from reporting violence committed by women. Men's rights activists (and plenty of other people) are absolutely right that domestic violence resources need to be available to men as well as women, and that children need to be protected from abuse by moms as well as dads.

However, that's where my agreement with SAVE and its supporters ends. Because they seem to view the PSA not as a failure to reach certain victims, but as an effort to "smear" dads. False accusations are possible with every crime, but the idea that there's an epidemic of abusive moms convincing their kids that dad is the abusive one is not based in reality. The solution to one-sided depictions of domestic violence is to produce more balanced ones — not to paint all women as liars and all men as victims.

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Women Beat Their Men? L.A. Guys' Group Mad At Verizon Ads Says That's The Flip-Side Of The Story [LA Weekly]

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DISCUSSION

MercurialGirl
MercurialGirl

All intimate partner violence is wrong. Resources should be available and accessible for all victims of intimate partner violence.

Men and many lgbt folks that are victims of intimate partner violence may feel that their experiences have been rendered invisible by normative domestic violence narratives. That is wrong.

Female victims of intimate partner violence may feel that their experiences are propped up by normative systems of oppression which cast their victimization as the extreme end of normal and acceptable misogyny. The violence they experience exists in a context that supports it in every way. Women live their lives knowing they will probably experience this kind of violence. That is wrong.

Men and women can be victims of violence. Men are very rarely victims of systematic battering in the ways that women are every day. When it happens to them, it is terrible. It is also an aberration, and though they will have a hard time finding shelters that specifically address their experience, they are also less likely to need shelters because the social structures that surround them support their physical, emotional, and economic survival much differently.

When I teach about intimiate partner violence, the issue of male victimization is always raised within the first 20 minutes of class. My students are consistently very concerned that the issue be given attention. And it should be given attention. It is given attention, every time. But I always also want to ask them why there is such discomfort in focusing the majority of attention and resources on women, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that that is where it belongs? And why are we suddenly so concerned with male victimization with regard to this issue? Why not when we talk about masculinity more generally, as the great majority of male victims of violence experience it at the hands of other men, and not in their homes at the hands of their female partners?

I think the answer is that we don't want to critically interrogate masculinity, we just don't want to talk about women for too long.