How To Talk About Domestic Violence

Illustration for article titled How To Talk About Domestic Violence

Former sex-crimes prosecutor and novelist Linda Fairstein has written an essay for the Daily Beast called "Next Time, He'll Kill You, directed to Rihanna. The problem? She uses Nicole Brown Simpson as a cautionary tale.

Fairstein writes:

Nicole Brown was 18 years old in 1977, when she started dating the famous athlete who would take her life less than 20 years later. Shortly after their relationship began, Nicole documented the first incident of physical abuse by her lover. O.J. Simpson's charm and good looks, his celebrity endorsements, and his dazzling smile also allowed others-relatives and friends among them-to overlook the escalating violence throughout the couple's courtship and marriage.


She adds:

Like most victims of intimate partner violence, Nicole Brown called 911 to report her attacks more than eight times before she successfully separated from her husband. Police officers responded to her home on those occasions, sometimes making formal reports of their visits and often-when Nicole herself declined to press charges-left without making any record. At no point did anyone in her family or in law enforcement effect a successful intervention. O.J. Simpson was never arrested for assault, never forced to acknowledge the injury he caused his wife. He was never held accountable for any of the violence he perpetrated against Nicole.

While her point is understandable, by bringing up a decades-old celebrity-oriented case (which may not mean much to Rihanna or others her age), Fairstein makes dying at the hands of a "loving" man seem like a fluke. Isn't it more important to know that 1,232 women are killed each year by an intimate partner? It's not just something that happens every once in a while. It happens all the time. The American Institute on Domestic Violence reports that 5.3 million women are abused each year. Shouldn't we focus on the here and now, that this is happening every day, and not just a case from 1994?

Meanwhile, Raina Kelley has a piece for Newsweek in which she debunks the many myths surrounding domestic violence. "Any discussion of domestic violence should not revolve around what the couple may have been arguing about," she writes. "There isn't a verbal argument that should "spark" or "provoke" an attack of the kind that leaves one person with wounds that require medical attention." Kelley also warns against calling what Chris Brown did "a mistake."

People leave the oven on or fry turkeys in the garage and burn their house down. One may even accidentally step on the gas instead of the brake and run over the family cat. Mistakes resulting in tragic consequences happen all the time. But one cannot mistakenly beat someone up. You do not accidentally give someone black eyes, a broken nose and a split lip.


Of course, what really needs more attention and focus is the psychology of a woman who stays with someone who has hit her. Kelley urges: "Understand that those who are abused do not stay with their abusers because they want to be beaten again, or because they are really at fault; it's usually because they feel trapped and guilty." And Fairstein echoes this sentiment, noting: "Some women capable of supporting themselves tell us that they love the offender so deeply that they are unable to separate, believing that his behavior will change, or that they did something to provoke the attack and bring it on themselves." Yet, the most recent comment on Fairstein's Daily Beast essay? From "sonofloud," who comments on Rihanna: "If she's stupid enough to stay with someone who beats her, she has no one to blame but herself."

Next Time, He'll Kill You [The Daily Beast]
Domestic Abuse Myths [Newsweek]

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Now that I have kids I understand the impetus behind abuse a lot better. I'm fortunate enough to have been raised without ever being hit or spanked, and feel deeply grateful that I've never gone there, but I have absolutely felt out of control of my anger towards my kids. There is this feeling that comes up that you want to use your power to gratify that impulse of rage, almost like a sexual urge. I can see people who have shitty backgrounds not being able to control that impulse. An incandescent moment of rage is when people shake the baby, throw the toddler across the room, punch the pregnant wife in the belly. I'll bet it feels so good while it's happening, and so, so horrible afterward. I think to address the problem, people need to learn to work with their anger, to both minimize how often it happens and what they do when it does. You bring down the level of anger, you stop the abuse.