Accountability is a Four Letter Word
Peaceful Paths plays a variety of roles in our community, from answering helpline calls for survivors of abuse and providing shelter to families in crisis to counseling survivors through trauma and educating youth about healthy relationships. All these roles require a commitment to speaking the truth about violence against women and the harm it causes. No one would argue that abuse shouldn’t be addressed, and there is very little controversy over the need for our work and benefit we provide to the greater community. Where our work gets sticky, and where the greater conversation fails the victims at risk, is when we raise the issue of accountability.
Penalties for perpetrators of crimes of all kinds in our society are not without debate. Recent cases of shootings involving stand your ground laws highlight our culture’s ongoing divisions around the rights of the individual versus the control of law. We want justice. We talk about the need to protect the innocent. We continue to say we value the civility that comes with personal responsibility.
So why is accountability a four letter word, especially when it comes to violence against women? Recent articles in the Huffington Post, Washington Post, ESPN, and CNN have all highlighted the difficulty our society continues to have holding perpetrators of violence against women accountable for their actions. High profile situations, such as the recent Ray Rice battery on his fiancée, emphasize the attitudes we see locally on a daily basis. Commentator Stephen Smith resorted to highly destructive victim blaming language when he described the attack as possibly “provoked”. The outcry was fierce and ESPN reacted with a week-long suspension. Really? His consequence was almost as inappropriate a response as the NFL commissioner’s two-game suspension for Rice. As advocates, our reality is that the attitude persists that says somehow, women lead men to rape and beat them. The result is that the accountability for batterers is what has become controversial, not the behavior that hurt the woman or children involved in the first place. Society has become numb to violence against women, whether it involves unconscious girlfriends or misogynistic politicians. So we keep watching NFL games where nearly every team has a perpetrator of violence against women and we re-elect politicians who treat women like objects of ridicule. Apparently, as long as their so-called “personal life” doesn’t impact their skill set, the collective “we” will turn a blind eye. Just examine the NFL penalties for drug use or team rule violations (missing practice) which can result in 4 or more game suspensions and tens of thousands of dollars in fines. Strange how we categorize actions where misogyny is involved as “mistakes” rather than the truth: choice behavior that is a high indicator of character. How people treat their intimate partners, resolve conflict, and handle their personal power in a relationship says a great deal more about who they are than anything else they do or say. Who we are in private is who we are. Period. Your world paradigm at the office can’t reflect equality and respect when you are treating your partner with power and control. Punches thrown in an elevator are far more telling than the words at a press conference.
In this work, we see the results of the lack of accountability for batterers up close and personal. The change is simple to make. Change the language when abuse is discussed from blame of the victim to a conversation about why men feel they can misuse, abuse, and disrespect women. Create meaningful programs to address batterer behavior, including incarceration for those who display the traits of lethality. Don’t ignore bad behavior by excusing it away as a mistake or a mutual disagreement gone wrong. Recognize that batterers serialize their actions and escalate their behavior. Acknowledge that your silence, your patronage, and your vote give permission for abuse to continue.
Theresa Beachy, Peaceful Paths, Inc.
National Domestic Violence Hotline: http://www.thehotline.org, 1-800-799-7233, TTY 1-800-787-3224