Saturday, September 20, 2014

What is the color of domestic violence?

A new look at violence against women


There are several definitions of domestic violence. Here is the simplest one: “If it feels wrong, it is.”

One legal definition of domestic violence is: It consists of acts committed in the context of an adult intimate relationship. It is a continuance of aggressive and controlling behaviors, including physical, sexual, emotional and psychological attacks, that one intimate partner does to another.

Historically, many studies have shown, a wife was the property of a husband, and he had the right to carry out whatever behavior to keep her in line. Experts have also noted that laws fail to adequately protect the victims of domestic violence. In recent years, many policies have been amended and have given women constitutional rights to safety and protection, but the struggle continues.

One of the problems is that domestic violence is often seen and described as a taboo, where guilt and shame make it difficult for victims to come forward.

What is the color of domestic violence?

Often the media only cover domestic violence when a rich and famous individual is abused, arrested or killed. What has happened to poor individuals’ cases? Domestic violence seems to be green.

Today, though, thanks to technology, the faces of all victims and perpetrators of domestic violence can be seen.

September 8, 2014, reminded us that domestic violence is still a cancer. A video of Ray Rice, a National Football League (NFL) player, showed him knocking his fiancée unconscious in an elevator, then dragging her out like a piece of luggage.

Within hours, the O.J. Simpson 1995 double murder case in which he was acquitted emerged on almost every news lead-in. This was not coincidental; O.J.'s name generates ratings and a platform that often divides. Most importantly, his case has encouraged more calls to domestic violence centers in general.

Despite the media's recent highlight on almost every black NFL player, there are other Ray Rices still in many games, in schools, mosques, synagogues and churches. They are co-workers in disguise. I am not minimizing his behavior. He should be punished both in the court of law and in his career.

Violence should not be broadcast to further polarize a society. Should we now keep scorecards of offenders in order to balance the portrayal of certain groups? Should we go to the archives and pull up Scott Peterson – who killed his seven-and-a-half-month pregnant wife along with their unborn only child – whenever O.J.’s name is mentioned?

Four years prior, Pittsburgh Stealers quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, was accused of three rape charges. The district attorney later dropped the charges. It was reported that alcohol played a role. Ray Rice also stated that he was intoxicated. Furthermore, can society add South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius, the disabled track star who killed his girlfriend? For victims, an assault is simply that. It is not them vs. us. This divide does not provide hope and needs to be debunked.

The reality

Violence against women is not a new paradigm. I am afraid many experts and pundits will move on soon, and so does domestic violence as it returns behind closed doors until another funeral.

We all know a victim and/or have witnessed abuse and asked ourselves why. "He was a nice person and she seemed fine". This is simply another subconscious minimization process. In these relationships the power and control wheel has been active: (1) male privilege; (2) economic abuse; (3) emotional turmoil; (4) isolation; and (5) minimization.

Today, tackling domestic violence is troubling, as stratification has created a polarized and intolerant society where socio-economic inequality, haves vs. have-nots, forced domestic violence into political debates.

In addition, giving only certain individuals airtime does not tell the full story. Many studies have shown that the homicide and victimization rates for black men and women are much higher than the national average. These pundits only provide a temporarily feel-good segment because one mug-shot is not plastered on the screen.

Directly or indirectly, violence is a community problem. Some believe Boko Haram's ideology is only a Nigerian problem. But this ideology is in the Caribbean, the USA and other countries in disguise.

Domestic violence must taken with a sense of urgency worldwide – a priority such as dismantling ISIS, containing Ebola or destroying any terrorist organization. Although one cannot order a drone strike on an abusive husband, law enforcement, policies and support have to be able to track these abusers and provide help as needed.

In the 1980s, in the United States, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) organization played a pivotal role in a grassroots movement that rewrote laws and battled cultural resignation about alcohol-related traffic deaths. The same has also taken place with gun-advocates. Domestic violence groups need to be formed world wide

What are the faces of violence?

Domestic violence affects young, old, blacks, whites, rich, poor, gay, straight, Christians and non-believers. Furthermore, not having a black eye should not discount one as a victim. Many women stay in abusive relationships for economic survival and their children’s safety. Men also get abused but statistics shows more men abuse women.

The data

According to the Washington Coalition Against Violence and other studies, at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime. These abusers are often members of her own family. One in six women and one in 33 men experience an attempted rape.

The number of children witnessing violence is over 80 million and nearly one in five teenage girls have been in a relationship where a boyfriend threatened violence or self-harm if presented with a break-up attempt. It is one of the leading causes of injury to women – more than car accidents, muggings and rapes combined

In the U.S. alone, husbands or boyfriends murder more than three women each day, and every nine seconds a woman is assaulted or beaten. This is not only a psychological nightmare for families and friends; the economic toll is extremely high. An estimated $4.1 to $5.8 billion is registered in terms of lost work days alone, which is about 32,000 full-time jobs.

In 70 to 80 percent of cases, men psychologically abuse the woman before a murder. Domestic violence cases comprise of more than half of police response calls – more than robbery, motor vehicle theft and burglary.

Need for universal policies

If all crimes become a community health problem, and the ability to drop cases is removed, treating domestic violence as what it is – a criminal act – more can be done immediately.

Why: It was late one Sunday night; I'd just gotten back from a long flight. The telephone rang and a sad voice emerged. The first thought was to say, “How did you gain access to my telephone number?” I later learned a friend of a friend provided my telephone number.

According to the victim, a criminal complaint had already been filed against her abusive husband. There was minimal sign that physical abuse had taken place, and this was about her third call for help. This time a doctor’s report was needed to make an arrest and she had to head back home to wait. The local doctor had to be paid in advance by the victim before such medical exam could be completed, to allow for a recommendation for an arrest to take place.

A few years later, I still wonder, what if the police department was led by a woman with resources at hand and a responsive system? How different would that victim’s life be today? How many died waiting? Imagine being abused and an arrest is hung on a medical assessment where the fees are the most important aspect.

Treatment modality

The law does not have to stipulate mandatory prosecution in all cases, but rather immediate intervention. Furthermore, simply relying on only physical evidence makes it less likely another will be killed or continue to be victimized. A swift adjudication process is key, as are treatment of all incidents as a criminal act and changes to ensure victims are empowered.

Domestic violence response is not just a few of weeks of treatment sessions where the offender dodges and refuses to take responsibility, only showing up because he has been caught. Especially in the poor regions, offenders must be held accountable. Outdated laws need to be amended to send a clear message from the high school to the work place that this kind of behavior will be met with stiff penalties.

Change the male chauvinist ideology where women are defined by how high their heels are and not by their work. Both sides should work together and call out violence before it becomes another “rest in peace” obituary. Developing and promoting more women to key leadership roles will not eliminate violence against women overnight, but decisions that affect women will have a seat at the table.

Laws are the first line of defense, and priority must be given to victims. The outdated ideology, “She deserved it”, has to stop, especially in poor communities where the rich and powerful often muzzle the outcome of prosecutions. If this cycle continues, it only creates a new generation that will marry someone who is either abusive or becomes an abuser themselves.


Leaders must invest in young women, who are consistently overlooked and treated as second-class citizens. Even when one is qualified, the glass ceiling still remains in place. As a society, all must move from this.


• Derrick Miller is a trained U.S. Federal law enforcement officer that has been in the criminal justice field for more than 14 years.

September 20, 2014