Domestic abuse now at ‘epidemic’ levels
Domestic abuse cases rarely make headlines unless you’re somebody famous like NFL player Ray Rice, or, as in the case of the recent arrest of Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Robert Stevens, in a position of power.
The Macomb County Sheriff’s Office charged Stevens, 50, with domestic violence Sept. 7 after his wife called 911, claiming her husband pushed her on the ground of the garage floor and hit her multiple times. In a statement from the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, Maria Miller said: “On the evening of Sunday, Sept. 7th, we were made aware of Robert Stevens arrest in another jurisdiction and he was immediately suspended without pay.”
Steven’s arrest, in the midst of the ongoing NFL domestic abuse scandal, begs the question: how prevalent is the problem of violence against women? Is the uproar an isolated incident sparked by a grainy video of a sensational knockout punch to the head? Or is wife beating our dirty little secret, it’s damage swept under the rug by a culture where the oppression of women is still deeply ingrained.
“Domestic violence goes on every day in horrific numbers,” said Emily Matuszczak, director of programs at Haven, a comprehensive multi-service nonprofit serving victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse.
“If it were a disease, it would be called an epidemic,” she said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in four women will experience some form of abuse in their lifetime, be it physical, emotional or psychological. Last year alone, Haven turned away women seeking shelter 769 times, due to lack of space.
The reason we only hear about it sporadically (think: Nicole Brown Simpson, Rihanna, Robin Givens) is because we’re socially conditioned to look the other way.
“Our culture tends to minimize and deny that it is going on,” Matuszczak said. “It isn’t until it happens to somebody famous or there’s a homicide that people tend to look at it again.”
Rather than frame domestic abuse as a private issue best handled by the couple themselves, Matuszczak said it’s a crime proliferated by a culture that marginalizes women. “So long as our culture objectifies women and values them as less than, men are going to have certain powers and privileges.”
Like not being held accountable for striking their spouses.
“If a man hits his next door neighbor, or his boss, he’s not going to go to court and get it dismissed, have his charges reduced on his first offense ... But for the sake of a winning team, a man can get away with this behavior,” Matuszczak said.
Over the weekend, Twitter exploded with victims offering personal testimonials under the hashtag #WhyILeft. While illuminating, Matuszczak said: “We’re not even asking the right question. That is implying: what’s wrong with her. We should be saying: why did he do it in the first place.”
If you are brought up in a culture that stresses that women are subservient and that to be a man means to be controlling and powerful, to change that mindset requires a complete overhaul of a man’s value system.
“I believe it can take just as long to undo the things that they learned,” Matuszczak said.
Contrary to popular thinking, rehabilitation for a batterer is not about anger management.
“We all get angry. I get angry a lot, but I’ve never punched anybody. It’s what is in their belief system, what they think they are entitled to do,” Matuszczak said. “Compromise can be a challenge in the best of circumstances, but when you truly value somebody and care about them, that’s what you do.”
And while Rice and other batterers may profess their love for their spouses, Matuszczak cautioned: “Ray Rice may believe he loves his wife, but I would ask him: is love ever violent? Those two, to me, are contrary. It’s an oxymoron. Love is never a fist.”
As for assistant Wayne County prosecutor Stevens, he was released on personal bond and is expected back in court Sept. 25.
Wayne County’s Miller said: “We expect that his case will be handled the same as any other case in the criminal justice system.”