Thursday, July 13, 2006

Where is Justice?

(or "Since I've already stepped in it, in for a penny, in for a pound...")

Yesterday I posted a provocative letter I had received after the letter-writer had read an off-handed comment I had made on Colossus of Rhodey. My letter-writer had written in defense of corporal punishment for men who abused women. We had much correspondence back and forth over a couple days discussing the issue. I am still not clear where I stand on his proposal because I do abhor violence (although I must admit I really do enjoy seeing the violent bad guy who picked on the weak and innocent get it back in spades in the movies). I've certainly been wronged in my life in various ways, and I have never sought revenge. It's not my way. Then again, I have never been physically assaulted.

Nevertheless, as I had mentioned in passing yesterday, I am the repository of many truly troubling stories and the secrets and hurts of many people. Being one of few outstanding skills who will probably never be anyone "important" in this world, I've found the one thing that I can give to others is my ear and my compassion. So what if I can't sleep for a couple weeks after hearing yet another horror story? If my listening and accepting someone who feared no one would care brings some measure of healing into her (his) life, who am I to turn her away?

I remember:

The friend who was regularly beaten, subjected to indignities I won't repeat, and even raped by her husband who, knowing he would probably try to kill her if she left, finally drummed up the courage to do so because she didn't want their little boy hurt or to grow up in that way. Never was there a sweeter, less argumentative little person than she. How someone could harm such a soul is a mystery, or a nightmare.

Another who was threatened with death regularly by her husband, who was being strangled and was rescued by a police officer. Once the police officer thought he had the situation under control, he turned away momentarily only to find the man again strangling my friend. Even after hearing the policeman's testimony, the judge, in her wisdom, ordered them to family counseling. So much for automatic prosecution by the state helping an abused woman. It didn't do much for her though it certainly wasn't the fault of the cop who testified on her behalf. She finally escaped, through drastic means, to secure a safe and happy life for herself and her son. She still shuts down out of fear when someone becomes angry with her rather than defending herself because of her conditioning.

A friend whose mother confided in me that my friend had never been quite the same since she was raped* and that that was, in her opinion, why she never married.

Another who refused to let me walk home in the dark because "bad things happen in the dark".

Many others who have confided to me that they as children or teens or that their own children were the victims of sexual assault by trusted relatives or family friends. I simply cannot tell you their suffering, a couple rivaling Sybil for grotesqueness. Twelve have immediately sprung to mind.

Another friend's husband had her up against a wall, fist cocked ready to slam into her face. She cried out, "You do and I'll tell my father and brothers, and they will get you." He shook with rage, she recalled, because she could see in his eyes how much he wanted to, but knew that her particular father and brothers did not fear police or prison sentences and would make him pay dearly.

There are so many others. My head hurts as their stories and faces swirl in my brain. I've had to pause to compose myself many times so far, but I have spared you the goriest details so as not to sensationalize the issue. However, I think I've made my case that there is a real problem of abuse towards women (and children) however secret it might be. Any one who has read my work for any time knows that I do not hate men**, nor blame them indiscriminately for the ills of society. My goal is merely to demonstrate that there is a real need for justice and that we have not achieved it.

Paul Smith pointed out in his comment yesterday that he would not mind if a woman's family knocked some sense into an offending male. I wouldn't either. Many women, however, lack fathers or brothers to come to their aid. Others fear telling, knowing that their loved ones could end up in prison should they seek to avenge them. Furthermore, one of the first things an abuser does is to isolate his victim, cutting her off from family and friends. Then he daily undermines her self-confidence, like Chinese water torture---drip...drip...drip.

I recall a relationship of my own that could have headed down that road. While in high school, I dated a reincarnation of Adonis. He was studying psychology in college and liked trying out little theories on me. He worked to undermine my self-esteem, whittling away with carefully placed comments and criticisms. After we had broken-up, I visited with his brother whom I still considered a friend, as he had requested that I help him with something. He confided to me his great pleasure that we had broken-up--because he truly believed that I deserved better than his brother. He confessed that his brother used to beat a previous girlfriend right there in their home. I was surprised, but not that much. It made sense as I had witnessed cruelty in him. To what I owed my good fortune in having escaped relatively unscathed, I cannot be sure. Perhaps my unspoken vow to never be a silent victim, to never allow a man to physically harm me and get away with it was evident to him. Or perhaps it was my mother who wore combat boots and could reduce a young man to a whimpering mass of flesh with her evil eye that declared no one would hurt her girl. Or at least that's how one male friend described her to me. Anyway, the mind control clearly precedes the abuse in most cases of ongoing victimization.

Most men are not abusive. Many become righteously angry when those weaker than themselves are harmed. I've seen that anger in their eyes at injustice. I believe that that masculine propensity to protect begins early on. I recall visiting a cousin a couple years older than myself when I was a kid. Every night around one or two in the morning, the yelling and the hitting and the crying would commence in the apartment above us. I would reach for the phone, poised to dial 9-1-1 but be forbidden to get involved. My cousin would rail against the "ninety-eight pound weakling that should have the crap beat out of him". He was old enough to want to protect, but not big enough to do anything about it. We tried to help her one morning as she was still weeping after he had left for work. We'd certainly heard it all. We begged her to leave, to see a doctor, to press charges, anything, but she was thoroughly brainwashed. I wonder what my cousin, as a grown-up man, would do.

To be sure, a strong male presence can avert danger. I myself have been the beneficiary of such a defense. A too ardent admirer insisting that I go out with him instantly disappeared once I latched onto an acquaintance who was providentially at the right place at the right time.

But what of my friend's acquaintance? She works at a restaurant and one of her regulars, a great guy, wound up in jail for a year for having the balls to defend a woman being accosted in a parking lot. A year in jail! For doing what a man is supposed to do! I have heard of rapists being freed after three years because of time off for "good behavior". Three years in exchange for ruining a woman's life! No wonder many won't press charges. To go through all that humiliation only to know he may not face much of a real punishment? Why put oneself through it?

With courts sentencing habitual wife-beaters to family counseling instead of treating them as the criminals they are, judges trying to repair families where sexual abuse has occurred instead of getting the perpetrator the hell away from his victim forever, often far too light sentences for rapists, and real men being sentenced to jail for being...real men--well, is there justice? I honestly haven't seen much.

No wonder men like my anonymous letter-writer suggest corporal punishment to put some fear into the souls and bodies of abusive men.

*Please note, of my over a half dozen friends who have been raped, none of them are he said/she said stories or of the date rape variety. There were no murky circumstances involved or misunderstandings or any other such thing. That's not what I'm talking about and that would be a whole other post, I'm sure.

**To be fair and in the spirit of full disclosure, I've had a couple of male friends on the receiving end of relational violence. In both those cases (and in a third which was second-hand information), I'm proud to say that they used their greater strength and size to de-escalate bad situations, and not to inflict harm on little people who didn't know how stupid it is to pick on someone bigger. Therefore, this post is not to be taken as an anti-male screed.


At 7/13/2006 8:41 AM, Blogger gutshot said...

My point from the other comments was this...if a man in a parking lot says something that makes another man pissed, he should expect to get a beating. A woman also needs to understand that primal reaction that any person, man or woman, can have.

Granted that an idiot will be more likely to hit someone that is weaker than them. Still, women have learned to work the "nag" button very well over the years, and probably even better since the invention of domestic violence penalties (i.e. I'm not going to feel pain over nagging Bob because he goes to the bar twice a week).

Here's a suggestion: next time a wife decides to confront her husband, bring catcher's equipment. Or a knife.

At 7/13/2006 12:10 PM, Anonymous Andy said...

Great post, Anna. I think a little bit of the problem is that men who become abusers have a tendency to appear masculine and thus lure in a subset of women long enough to trap them within a cycle of abuse, whether verbal, physical, or both. If you ask me, real masculinity centers around strength of will, not muscle or bravado, but I don't think culture teaches that at all.

At 7/13/2006 4:02 PM, Blogger Anna Venger said...

"Here's a suggestion: next time a wife decides to confront her husband, bring catcher's equipment. Or a knife. "


I have to tell you that your comment was disturbing to me. I hope it came out quite differently than you had intended.

My whole post this morning was about true cases of awful abuse which I had made clear were not the result of the actions of two equally culpable people. You in effect commented that if a woman is nagging or confronting her husband over going to a bar a couple times a week then she had better be prepared to come to the discussion with a knife.

First of all, bad behavior ought to be confronted and not passively, fearfully ignored. In a marriage relationship, your time really isn't fully your own anymore, and you and your spouse become accountable to each other. Neither partner should be running around here or there without checking the partner's schedule.

Are you looking for a partner to love, honor and cherish and to share your life with? Or are you looking for a passive, little serving girl/prostitute to service your needs?

If a guy is stopping off at a bar after work for a few hours a couple times a week without any regard for his wife's schedule and needs, I think a wife left at home with all the responsibibities and no equal time for herself has a reason to be a little miffed. I've worked full-time and I've also had a stint of being home full-time with highly energetic, difficult little people. Working is easier.

Do you really mean: ladies, don't try to resolve any issues with your husbands, because men have the right to do as they please and answer to no one, so don't start what you can't finish? Because that's kind of what your comment sounded like to me from where I'm sitting.

At 7/13/2006 5:09 PM, Blogger gutshot said...

It was meant facetiously. I just figured cut out the middle want a public flogging, let's just cut to the chase and hack him up with a meat cleaver.

It's the paradox of a free society. You allow people to marry whomever they want to, and yet if the husband is a wife-beater, the wife also has free the will to leave or stay. Is it the government's responsibility to protect a wife? It's like a quarterback with a history of concussions deciding yet again to suit up and play. The NFL isn't going to say that he has to hang up the cleats. It's not their place. It's the QB's place, just like it's the wife's place to get herself out of there.

And of course the psychologist will argue that the beater has a spell over the wife many times. If that's the case, then the wife needs as much counseling as the husband. Just like the nutso QB needs his head examined.

I apologize for taking my rhetoric a little gruesome in the earlier comment. Domestic violence is a shame. I wish that it didn't happen, but it does, and you're right, people tend to hide it. Maybe someday it will go sure makes a mess of marriages and families.

At 7/13/2006 5:38 PM, Blogger Anna Venger said...

"the wife also has free the will to leave or stay. Is it the government's responsibility to protect a wife?"

Not so fast. I know too many women who were threatened with death if they left. And when a woman chooses to leave is when she is in the most danger. Sorry, but I've had a friend chased by her husband who ran her off the road into a ditch for daring to leave. Another friend's husband hired someone to follow her and scare the crap out of her. Another was told regularly, "If you leave me, I WILL KILL YOU." Another girlfriend of mine had a sister slain by an ex-boyfriend of the mentality that if he couldn't have her, then she couldn't live. They found her body in the Delaware. (The last two didn't make it into my post, btw)

Unless the government is willing to turn a blind eye to a woman or her family killing the man if that's what it takes to leave with her own life intact, then YES it IS the government's job to protect a wife. I don't think you or anyone else wants murder to be the only recourse left to a woman wishing to flee an abusive relationship.

At 7/13/2006 6:21 PM, Blogger ColossusHube said...

GS: A man should never strike a woman unless assaulted with some sort of weapon. If she comes at a guy w/mere hands or fists, that still doesn't mean the guy should hit. He's strong enough to restrain her. And "nagging" or "confronting" is never an excuse to hit.

If a woman (or wife) pisses you off royally, the best thing to do is leave the house for a short time until you both cool off.

At 7/13/2006 10:39 PM, Blogger gutshot said...

Hube: I have never condoned violence towards women. No action by a woman justifies hitting in my book, barring a serious threat to one's life.

I shouldn't have played Devil's Advocate on this issue. I apologize if this hurt anyone's feelings. I guess I was trying to prove that perhaps a sane man could be driven to that type of behavior. That's not the point; the point is that it degrades women at the very least, and in many cases ends up in death.

As I said, I wholeheartedly believe that men who hit women are scoundrels. End of discussion from my end. I pray for families that endure this type of abuse, and hope that they get the help they need to reclaim their lives.

At 7/13/2006 11:53 PM, Blogger AnonymousOpinion said...

Wow, there is an awful lot of testosterone on this post's comments...

Facetious or not, there are things that men take for granted that a woman can't. I don't know if a man can even come to the table on this issue unless he's had a close friend or family member in this situation.

Being of the weaker sex, one has to be aware of a few things.

Male readers, ask yourself a few questions: Have you ever been concerned to go to your car at night? Have you ever been followed in a department or convenience store by someone twice your size who did not work there? Have you ever been tailgated for fifteen miles on a road where you cannot make a u-turn? Has anyone ever tried to force you off the road? Have you ever had to discard a nearly full drink at a bar because it was out of your sight when you went to the bathroom?

I'm what one might call petite. I've experienced a few of the above and it's not paranoia.

I think it's hard for a man to ever imagine himself as being an easy victim. It's easy to ask why women don't get out of abusive situations.

If anyone ever strikes me, I assure you, I will do everything in my power to make sure there will not be an opportunity to do it a second time.

The key phrase here is everything in my power.

So, back to the original topic, what to do with men guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of this kind of behavior?

Should they be made to stand on the corner with a sandwich sign, "I beat a woman." Is that humiliating enough? Or, "I beat a woman half my size until she was in the hospital."

Perhaps the best deterrant to this crime is shame and humiliation.

At 7/14/2006 12:08 PM, Blogger Paul Smith Jr. said...

Some friends of mine while they were in college attended a "Take Back the Night" rally and handed out NRA Women's Self-Defense fliers, which upset the organizers of the rally. My friends couldn't understand why: what's more pro-woman that to say a man who assaults one should be shot?

Also, given the height and strength differentials between men and women, a gun may be the only weapon that can close that gap. A man might be able to take a hit or two, especially from a small woman, even if she has a weapon of some sort.

I like AO's suggestion of public humiliation, which was part of the argument that may have started this: that the whipping post was an effective form of humiliation. I think we can accomplish that without the vviolence associated with the post in the manner AO pointed out.

At 7/14/2006 12:27 PM, Blogger Anna Venger said...

Thank you, Paul and A.O. This was more the discussion I was going for. What are reasonable ways of measuring out justice?

At 7/14/2006 3:48 PM, Anonymous Andy said...

I don't know... I think public humiliation could actually create a more dangerous environment for women, particularly the ones suffering from the abuse that leads to the sentence.

I could easily see a man prone to abuse taking out his anger for being humiliated on the same woman he originally abused. I'm no expert, but I get a strong sense that many abusers have an overly inflated sense of pride. Wounding that without somehow simultaneously preventing any subsequent contact between the same people could be disastrous.

I'm going to have to think about constructive solutions. The only things that come to mind are to create a list along the lines of the sex offenders list, or to institute harsher mandatory penalties for those convicted of abusing women.

I have a question. As the power of women has increased nationally over the past 40 or so years, have the levels of reported abuse decreased, increased, or stayed the same?

On the one hand, I could see a decrease on account of our education system helping children to understand this issue more clearly than in the past. Then again, women as a group might be reporting more due to increased awareness. Just wondering in any case.

At 7/14/2006 7:09 PM, Blogger Anna Venger said...

Maybe, maybe not. Women used to be very afraid to press charges, fearing retribution. Now it is out of their hands in most places and if police are called in and find that someone appears guilty they have to press charges regardless of what the woman says.

It has had some positive effects. It's come a long way from the time when my a friend's mother was beaten regularly and later thrown out of the house. She was without money, without hope and didn't see her kids for years even though she hadn't done anything wrong. I've met her; sweet lady. And she is yet another one who I didn't get into my stories.


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