Violence Conditioning

July 12, 2013

The link below is about domestic violence in one of its scariest forms.  For many years we have used similar visuals to depict the tragedy of domestic violence and bring awareness to the havoc this behavior inflicts on far too many lives, not just in the U.S. but all across the world.  I will let you decide to watch the video or not and tag it with a “Trigger Warning” for victims.

I was in this relationship 44 years ago, and left six times in order to be safe, if only for just a few hours or a couple days.  As I watched this video clip, I was propelled instantly back to 1969, the actors were me and my husband as this was a scene from my life the day I finally decided I had to leave for good. As I watched this video unfolded I already knew the outcome and tears began to fall down my face.

I have spent many years healing and eventually working in the field of domestic violence in order to assist in changing the outcomes of the lives of others and ending domestic violence.  I have served as a volunteer to provide services to victims, spoken at numerous conferences and rallies as well as working as a facilitator for batterers intervention groups for nearly 16 years. 

With all this there are visions that still have the ability to hit me in the gut and take my breath away for that split second. I have to take a moment to breathe and remember I am not there any longer, I am not that scared young women who had no idea what to do.  I am a survivor.

I believe we are all responsible for bringing an end to the behavior that tears families apart leaving scars that may never completely heal and results in countless lives ending far too soon at the hands of someone who professed to love me.

The clip is very real in its content of the act of violence and its intent is to raise awareness of the violence. While watching I began to wonder if in our efforts to make people aware are we unknowingly desensitizing ourselves and others to the very act we want them to be aware of. So many areas of our lives are filled with violence every day. The movies we watch, commercials on television, all sorts of media use violence or sex to get our attention and sell us their products. From the video games our children play to the cartoons they watch they are exposed to; things blowing up, people getting hit, and yelling. It seems we don’t associate this violence with domestic violence. This violence doesn't show daddy hitting mommy, a scared child hiding in the corner, the neighbors standing in their front yard watching one parent  be placed in handcuffs and put in the back of police car while the other is placed on a stretcher and loaded into the back of an ambulance. No, somehow this daily violence is different from the violence in “real life”. This violence is for entertainment. I suggest violence is violence.

I am reminded of the Doritos commercial two Super Bowls ago.  A gentleman came to pick up a single mom for a date.  She is running late so she greets him and walks down the hall, while the camera is posed to watch the man ogling her as she walks away. Her young son is watching this man watch his mother.

We see the boy and the man sit down on a couch next to a coffee table with a bowl of Doritos’ sitting on it.  The man takes one from the bowl and the little boy hits the man in the face while saying: “There’s two things you don’t mess with, my mom and my Doritos”.

I remember hearing people talking about this commercial and laughing because they thought it was so funny. For the victims of domestic abuse this isn't funny in fact it is very painful. If you are a child living in a home where violence happens, this commercial further instills the idea violence is okay.  However inherently deep inside the child knows it’s not okay, and it scares them.

Other products depict food beating people up, another shows grandpa being hurled out a window after taking a bite of macaroni and cheese (the taste will blow you away). Sex is used to sell everything from Drain-O to M&M’s. All these constant exposures to violence and sex serve to desensitize our responses to the violence around us.  Once we see violence over and over again, it can cause “normalization”. When something is normalized and becomes part of our daily lives it no longer has the same effect or impact it once did when we see it. It is very much like people with substance abuse problems, they typically surround themselves with others who act the same way they do, “if everyone else is drinking, and/or using drugs it must be okay”.

The “NO MORE” campaign has us focusing on “prevention” models as opposed to the “intervention” approach which has been used for a long time. In the beginning of this work intervention made sense as the lives of women and children and men had to be protected immediately. With a focus on prevention we begin to suggest the world begin to look at the violence differently and change social norms where violence is no longer an acceptable behavior, a world where all people are involved in a practice of peace and unity.

(Following is portion of a “TED-Talk” presentation by Jackson Katz, filmed in November of 2012 and posted May of 2013 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElJxUVJ8blw. In this clip he refers to the work of feminist linguist Julia Penelope.  It starts with a very Basic English sentence: John beat Mary.  John is the subject, beat is the verb and Mary is the object.  (That’s a good English sentence).  Now move to the second sentence, which says the same thing in the passive voice, “Mary was beaten by John”.  We've shifted our focus in one sentence from John to Mary (John the end of the sentence (and close to dropping off the map of our psychic plain).  The third sentence, “John is dropped and we now have, Mary was beaten”.  Now it is all about Mary.  We are no longer taking about John and his behavior we are totally focused on Mary.

Maybe our prevention movement needs to show less of the violence and more of the behavior we want to emulate?  Do we at some point reduce telling the story of abuse and violence and start telling the story of peace and love?  Do we replace those visuals of violent behavior with visions of fairness and equality? Do we replace the shouts and screams with voices of tenderness and compassion and use the words we want the world to hear? What are the images we might use to change the pictures in our heads of violence and replace them with pictures of peace? 

This all requires a new way of thinking about a very old problem.  As Jackson Katz so effectively tells us, this is not a women’s issue this is a men’s issue and we need more men standing up and saying violence is not okay.

My closing thoughts;  will you be part of the problem or a part of the solution? Will you speak up to carry the message of peace?  Will you assist in a safe and effective way when seeing violence in your neighborhoods? Will you be part of the "NO MORE" campaign?