Wife Beaters Need Our Compassion
Guest Author, Anne Kass, - a retired District Judge of Albuquerque, New Mexico
O.J. Simpson! Is he a hero or a thug? Nice guy or wife beater? Once again the legal system and media are demonstrating America's favorite thought disorder: polarized thinking. It must be Either-Or. It must be All-or-Nothing.
It makes everything seem so simple. If you're a wife beater, you're all bad, and you alone own the problem. That analysis is simplistic and wrong.
In my 9-1/2 years in divorce court, I have seen domestic violence offenders who are farmers, firemen, clergy, policemen, social workers, doctors, lawyers, and others. Some are rich, some are poor. Some are educated, some are not. They are our fathers, our brothers, our friends and our neighbors. A few of them are our mothers and sisters.
Men who abuse their wives are neither heroes nor thugs. They are complex human beings with strengths and flaws. I have never yet seen an offender who was 100% thug. When you hear their life stories, you will feel compassion, unless your mind is closed.
Of course, their unfortunate life experiences do not excuse their violent behavior, but their experiences often do explain the violent behavior. We need to understand the causes of violence, before we can develop strategies to prevent and fix it.
Only after we can feel compassion for the domestic violence offender and recognize him to be a complex human being can we expect to make inroads against the tragedy of domestic violence. So long as we believe that men who abuse their wives are just plain thugs, we will do what O.J. Simpson's friends did, that is to deny that the problem exists in our circles of friends and family.
We have had some success in convincing people to accept the principle that friends don't let friends drive drunk. We need also to promote the principle that friends don't let friends abuse their spouses, physically or verbally.
We need to make it O.K. for a friend or neighbor to intervene in domestic violence by reporting it. But friends won't report it if it means society will label their friend a "bad" man. Nor will friends report domestic violence if the result is criminal prosecution. We need to know that if we "turn-in" a friend for abuse, the system is there to help.
In addition to changing societal attitudes about domestic violence, we need to respond to domestic violence with aggressive, multi-modal treatment programs that teach anger management, and address the feelings of dependency and inadequacy which drive most offenders. No one should ever be told, as O.J. Simpson reportedly was, to call a psychiatrist now and then. We need also to provide education for the victims of abuse and the children who often witness the violence.
Domestic violence is a complex social problem. Simplistic Either-Or thinking won't begin to provide solutions, nor will fixing the blame on individual men who abuse. We all own this problem and we all need to work toward solving it, beginning in our own homes and neighborhoods.
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