I remember being 12 years old when my stepfather scarred my face for the first time. He had graduated to his fists from his belt some time before, and while he usually confined himself to battering me between the waist and the shoulder blades, the non-visible portions of my anatomy, occasionally he lost control.
This particular incident (one of many) had arisen because he had found out that I had visited my sister, estranged from my mother and me for years; this betrayal of his plans for the new family unit caused him to lose control and punch me in the face, splitting my lip and knocking me out.
He waited until I regained consciousness before taking me to the hospital so that we could all get our collective stories straight, and my mother and I colluded with him in this necessary fiction. I say necessary, because I felt that I could not leave my mother alone with him and subject to his tender mercies and my brothers had already refused to return from the farms where my stepfather had deposited them to learn the value of ‘an honest day’s work.’
It felt necessary to me because I remember the horror I felt when he had turned his attention to my mother on those rare times she felt it necessary to intervene on my behalf. After three years of nearly daily beatings and interrogations, I was pretty much numb to the abuse, except when my stepfather escalated the levels of punishment or turned on my mother. I felt that horror, not because she was a woman, but because she was my mother, and more importantly, because one of my survival mantras was that if he was concentrating on me, no one else was being victimized.
I had already started to conceive of myself as a pharmakos, the sacrificial goat. Somehow, I had failed God, my family, and myself and this brutalization of me was the proper measure of punishment. I was willing to lie to doctors, social workers, and friends because I was ashamed of what was happening to me. In all those beatings that I took, the many beatings that my brothers took before their farm exile that proved to be an escape, and the several beatings that my mother took, I never once thought about gender issues in violence. Violence is violence; there were only victims and victimizers, and I was a victim and determined never to be a victimizer.
Some years ago, I was driving along Whyte Avenue in Edmonton and noticed a billboard trumpeting the message: “Stop Men’s Violence Toward Women!” I had to pull the car over to the side of the road because of the coruscating rage suffusing my entire body. Why categorize violence? Why not a message like “Stop Domestic Violence” as opposed to blaming any particular gender? I can assure you as a victim of domestic violence; I never thought to categorize the perpetrator. I just endured.
And when has pointing a finger ever led to a solution? In fact, blame and categorization do not help victims, they do not empower them. Blame and categorization make victims more likely to remain silent and endure because of the shame involved, encouraging a longer duration to the abuse. And domestic violence seems to be an equal-opportunity offender, encompassing both genders and all ages.
Domestic violence is wrong whoever the perpetrator may be. Redress of the violence should take place regardless of the victim’s gender, but this is not the case. Hundreds of millions of dollars a year are spent to redress domestic violence directed against women and virtually nothing for spousal violence directed at men. There are hundreds shelters for women to seek refuge from violent partners and virtually none for men.
A pamphlet from the Alberta government entitled Men Abused by Women: It Happens and It Matters quoted from a Statistics Canada report that stated in the five years prior to that report’s release “more than half a million men in Canada had a female partner who was violent toward them.” In that same pamphlet, it was recorded that “about eight per cent of women and seven per cent of men said that their heterosexual partners had abused them in the past five years.” Apparently, victimization rates are relatively close, numerically (probably a lot closer when one considers that males are much less likely to report spousal abuse), but victim support demonstrates a vast gulf between the genders. Should we not, as a society, support all victims of domestic violence?
And if we consider domestic violence to be violence that occurs in the home, then that violence is directed not only at spouses, elders, but children as well. And sadly, when abuse is directed at children, there is more gender inequality – male children suffer more frequent and more serious physical abuse.
Mothers, perhaps because of their more intimate involvement in the child-rearing process, are much more likely to be an abuser than fathers. If spousal abuse levels are close to even, and child abuse levels are directed more toward males, should we not seek to stop domestic violence period, rather than ‘men’s violence toward women? Is there perhaps an agenda going on that we, as a society, should be aware of?
I am certainly not denying that there is spousal violence towards women in this country and that spousal violence generally has more severe physical consequences to those women. What I am saying is that there should not be an agenda in addressing the issue, that the victim should be respected and cared for regardless of gender, and that we should not obscure the issue by pointing fingers and assigning blame.
Domestic violence produces victims: we should strive as a society to address the perpetrators without regard to gender and the victims without regard to gender. As a victim of domestic violence, someone who sees the resultant physical scars in the mirror every day of my life, I can assure you that the offender’s gender did not concern me, survival did. As a society we do not need to stop men’s violence toward women, we do not need to stop women’s violence toward men, we do not need to stop parental violence toward children – we need to stop categorizing domestic violence and stop the violence, period, full stop.
Dana Wilson is an Alberta-based freelance writer and poet and domestic violence survivor.