Complex Issue Requires Complex Solutions
Last week, www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,144073,00.html
my column argued against renewing the Violence
Against Women Act (VAWA) because it was the wrong
approach to issues such as domestic violence (DV).
I ended by stating that a different solution was
needed. This week's column responds to questions
from readers who asked for elaboration.
But, first, to recap my objections to VAWA: it
promotes vicious myths, such as the belief that men
are perpetrators and not also victims of DV; it
creates a DV industry, with thick layers of
tax-funded bureaucracy; and, it attempts to
socially engineer cultural attitudes toward
One repeatedly asked question was whether I had
experienced DV. The implication? If not, then I
shouldn't talk about it.
I was once beaten so badly by a boyfriend that I
am now legally blind in my right eye. To some, this
means I have the proper credentials to address DV.
But standing on the wrong end of a fist doesn't
make me an expert nor does it give me a special
"right" to speak out on a social problem of general
Underlying the demand for such a credential is
the assumption that only someone who lives an
experience can possibly understand it and, so, have
any business talking about it.
The assumption may contain some truth but that
truth is being badly used. Instead of using
first-hand knowledge as a tool to increase
communication and discussion of social problems
that impact everyone, it is often wielded as a
weapon to gag certain groups. If you are not a
woman, then you should not speak on "women's
issues." If you are not a battered woman, then you
should be silent on DV.
Even battered women who express skepticism with
the standard answers to DV, as embodied in VAWA,
tend to be heckled into silence. They are accused
of 're-victimizing' women simply because they have
a different opinion of the problem and of its
What is the solution?
First of all, there is no 'one-size-fits-all'
solution to a complex and varied phenomenon like
DV. Answers will vary depending on specific
A wife who strikes out once in anger cannot
reasonably be compared to a sadist who
systematically brutalizes her husband over the
course of years. The solution for her may be a
course on anger management. A wife whose alcoholic
husband wants desperately to become sober and
non-violent might well support rehab rather than
call the police. For some women and men, the only
solution will be to leave and go to a shelter.
Only general principles can be applied across
One of those principles is that DV victims are
individuals, not classes of people, and any
solution must address them as such. The law and its
application must make no distinction between men
and women, gays and heterosexuals, whites and
minorities. Instead of socially engineering new
protected classes of people, all people should be
protected equally from violence. Rather than
introducing class distinctions into the law, those
distinctions should be stripped away. Moreover, if
applied evenly, there are enough laws against
violence on the books already.
Another general principle: long-term victims of
DV must assume some responsibility for their
victimization. Responsibility is not blame. No one
deserves a fist in the face; the person to blame
for violence is the one who commits it. But when a
fist hits repeatedly over time, then the person who
stands in place to receive the same blow must ask,
"why am I accepting this?"
The victim is one-half of any DV dynamic. To be
effective, solutions must include an understanding
of the diverse reasons a victim might decide to
stay. The simplistic, pre-packaged explanation
offered by the VAWA-style approach namely, that
battered women have lost the ability to choose does
not apply to many victims. It did not apply to me,
for example. Removing responsibility from victims
is not a kindness; it is patronizing and
perpetuates the problem.
Another principle: prevention is better than a
cure. The two most important methods by which
people can avoid becoming or remaining victims of
violence are their attitudes and skills.
"Attitude" does not refer to socially
engineering other people's view of gender through
massive tax-funded programs: that's social control
and Big Government. It means encouraging
individuals to assume primary responsibility for
their own self-defense: that's individual
Nor does self-defense mean not calling the
police when attacked or never asking for help. Both
of those acts can be examples of taking
The ideal is to control your own self-defense,
which often devolves into an issue of skill. In
some circumstances, self-defense could mean a gun
in the hands of a trained and conscientious owner.
Of course, gun ownership may not be an appropriate
solution for domestic violence, which may be better
answered by assertiveness training or other forms
of self-defense, including the act of leaving.
Neverless, the point remains: a willingness to
defend yourself and acquiring that ability is the
responsibility of every individual.
Oddly, advocates of VAWA who tend to also
embrace NOW-style feminism generally oppose gun
ownership despite its clear advantages for
It is not possible to solve DV within the
constraints of a brief weekly column. It is
possible only to touch upon new answers. The old
ones aren't working.
Those who value the safety of DV victims will
applaud open freewheeling discussion of how to
achieve that goal.
* * *
McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com
and a research fellow for The Independent Institute
in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and editor of
many books and articles, including her latest book,
Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the
21st Century. She lives with her husband in
Also, see her daily blog at www.zetetics.com/mac
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