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Beyond the abuser: How our culture provides barriers for domestic violence survivors and what we can do about it

Posted by Matthew Facciani on April 08, 2015 at 9:17 AM

Every nine seconds a woman is beaten in the United States. Many people ask themselves why these women do not just leave their abusive relationships. Well, women are 70 times more likely to be killed in the two weeks after leaving than at any other time during the relationship. Many times the justice system cannot even protect them. Kit Gruelle is an advocate for abused women and children and appears in the harrowing documentary Private Violence. Gruelle sometimes views restraining orders from abused women as a last will and testament. “There’s probably 45 or 50 orders here, and every single one of the women who went to obtain these orders of protection was murdered in precisely the ways that they said they would be.”

Violence against women is an epidemic, but what we can do about it? Lobbying for laws which offer better protection for women is a great start. However, I also think we all need to collectively combat our culture which normalizes ownership and entitlement of women.

We are all familiar with the unrealistic relationships portrayed in the media. These stories of overly persistent men are often seen as romantic. However, bothering a woman after she tells you to leave her alone is not romantic, it’s a blatant disregard of her boundaries. Domestic abusers may have personality disorders which accounts for a lot of their violent behavior; however, their violence is facilitated by our culture which normalizes ownership of women.  

Breaking down these harmful ideas may reduce violence, but it may also create better support for the survivor. Changing our culture will make it less socially acceptable to blame the victim and we will be less sympathetic of abusers. It was incredible to see how many people supported Ray Rice after he punched his fiancé in the face, but it was also encouraging to see how many people condemned his behavior. The culture is definitely changing for the better.

Importantly, changing our culture will have immediate impacts on non-violent issues as well. Stalking and harassment will be reduced when we collectively eliminate the entitlement of women some men feel they have. Women’s boundaries will be respected more as we continue to promote gender equality.

Fighting these cultural messages benefits men as well. Violence against men can also be reduced if we combat toxic ideas of masculinity and having power over people. Furthermore, men who respect boundaries of women tend to have much better relationships. I know once I started to reject some of the unrealistic views on romance, my relationships have been much more fulfilling. Studies also suggest that men who respect women have more satisfying relationships.

Ending violence against women is going to require a collective effort on multiple levels. We need to continue to lobby for better laws which support domestic violence survivors. We need more men intervening when they witness abusive behavior because they can confront other men as peers. Men in particular need to have the courage to look inside themselves and challenge their biases.  We also need everyone to change our culture that promotes sexism, misogyny, and unhealthy relationships. If we all work together we can reduce the systematic violence of women and men and make the world a safer place.

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