Friday, April 24, 2009

What do you think of "domestic violence"? (by Suzie)

I posted a short piece about an increase in domestic violence, due to the economy. A couple of you objected to the term. Kali said she would rather people talk about
assault, aggravated assault, homicide ... Use the same terms that are used in other cases. Just because an assault/homicide was committed by a person in the family does not make it any better. Having a separate terminology for attacks where women and children are primary targets just helps in treating these cases as less serious and ghettoizes the cases as being women's issues.

If we want to give specific attention to crimes against women, we can (and do) call it "violence against women". It would be even better to have gender-based crimes accepted/legislated as a hate-crime.
Tinfoil Hattie responded:
I'd also add that using the term "domestic" softens the impact, as "domestic" has meant things like baking cakes and making curtains and making a nice home for your husband and children. You know, it's just "domestic" violence. Not real violence.
Two weeks later, Echidne wrote that this term
serve[s] as shorthand for crimes in which you, the reader, are unlikely to be at risk. If a crime is between 'lovers' or domestic in nature then strangers are safe. But the corollary of this is that putting those labels on a crime makes it somehow less important to report on.
I argued in favor of the term "domestic violence," saying that people in the field try to raise awareness of the mindset and controlling patterns of abusers. I saw advantages in using a specific label. Because I'm no expert, I decided to ask someone in the field: Linda Osmundson, executive director of CASA (Community Action Stops Abuse) in St. Petersburg, Fla. She replied:
The term "domestic violence" was developed to sanitize and degender the work of advocates for battered women. It made it possible for domestic violence to receive government and foundation and donor funding without using the much harsher, much more political terms like battered women. It made it easier for us to talk about with men who largely controlled the funding in the 70's when battered women's programs/shelters first began to open.
Linda considers this discussion important and wants permission to reprint comments in CASA's newsletter, both pro and con for the term "domestic violence." So, in this comment thread, please say whether she can use your comment, and if so, how you'd like to be identified. Thanks for your help!