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Why Do So Many Men Abuse Women?

Years ago, a few of us in our community were speaking to various groups to raise money for what was to become a center to treat victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.  One day, after I’d delivered a poignant plea for funding, someone in the audience asked, Why does interpersonal violence happen?  I had no idea why, and but neither did anyone else in the room, so I blithely proclaimed, No one knows.
Everyone nodded solemnly, and I got through that event.  But my chagrin prompted me to never again not have an answer to that question.

Fast forward forty-plus years.  I certainly know much more about interpersonal violence.  I’ve had wonderful teachers and allies over the years. And I continue to learn from colleagues and victims and perpetrators.  Learning not only what to believe. Learning what to discount.

Trauma and polyvagal theory figure into why interpersonal abuse is used. Treating trauma and learning polyvagal theory and communication skills and anger management may all be a part of ending violence generally. But if we want to end specifically intimate partner violence, it is essential to understand how gender is a necessary factor in why most domestic violence is men abusing women.

If we don’t understand the dynamics of this issue correctly, we’ll expend energy and funds “fixing” mental health, trauma history, substance abuse, and other individual problems that won’t do anything to curb men abusing women. 

Again, I know men abusing women is not the entirety of all violence.  Yet men abusing women is such an important, expensive, destructive force in our society that it must be addressed apart from other violence. That means gender-neutral analyses and solutions will expend energy and funding to no avail.

Lest you think I’m blaming only our society and absolving individual responsibility, let me clarify this is not an either-or conclusion.  It’s just that I don’t think individual change is enough.  If we neglect the crucial influence of our civilization’s core beliefs about gender that exist across countries and cultures, we’ll put a band-aid on the visible scratch while we bleed out from the gaping wound that is ignored.

This is the handout where I’ve distilled the phenomenon of domestic violence for discussion in my groups this week.

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Allen Corben
Allen Corben
29 июн.

Thank you for identifying cultural, structural, social issues as the root cause of domestic violence, rather than pathologizing individual men. The framing of the issue suggests the solution to the issue. If the problem is understood as individual men ignorant of conflict resolution techniques, then the solution is mediation/negotiation classes. If the problem is understood as individual men who lack interpersonal communication skills, then the solution is self-expression classes. If the problem is understood as individual men who cannot understand or control their anger, then the solution is personal therapy. If, instead of individual pathology which needs treatment, the problem is social structures and patterns which tell men as a group that it is their right and duty to control the…

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