December 1st, 2011 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
As all the world now knows, Kim Kardashian committed domestic violence against her soon to be ex-husband, Kris Humphries. The world knows that because she did it on television, specifically, a show called “Kim and Courtney Take New York.” Kardashian and New Jersey Nets power forward Humphries are splitting up and so, for whatever reason, she got angry and took a poke at him. Here’s a video of the “Dr. Drew” show in which the video of the incident is reprised (CNN, 11/29/11).
I’m of two minds about this. First, Dr. Drew and his guest do the right thing, which is to call what Kardashian did “domestic violence.” All by itself, their doing so is a step in the right direction. I’ve marveled for years at the almost total media blackout of the words “domestic violence” when describing women’s violence against men. Time and again articles describing a particular violent incident by a girl or woman against a boy or man simply ignore the fact that what happened was domestic violence according to legal and popular definitions of same.
That wouldn’t be so bad except that the blackout comes in the context of a culture that by turns ignores women’s domestic violence, or outright denies it. So when the news media fail to perform their most basic function – informing the public of pertinent facts – they perpetuate the false narrative that only men commit domestic violence against only women.
So I’m glad that Dr. Drew and his guest called Kardashian’s punch what it must be called – domestic violence.
Also, in passing, Dr. Drew was careful to say that DV isn’t a gendered phenomenon; both sexes do it and both sexes have it done to them. Good for him.
So why am I of two minds? For a number of reasons. First, her punch may or may not have even landed. Given the camera angle, it’s impossible to know, and Humphries grabbed her wrist so she couldn’t give it another shot.
Of course we know that failure to injure doesn’t take her action out of the realm of DV, far from it. Much less injurious things than what Kardashian did have been defined as domestic “violence” and that’s part of the problem with the whole concept. What we call violence often as not has nothing to do with, well, violence, at least in the traditional meaning of physical action meant to injure.
And that’s not just a semantic problem; it’s a real everyday problem, mostly for men and often for fathers. The astonishing expansion of the concept of domestic violence has had devastating effects on men and families. It’s opened the door to the state’s intervention into the private lives of Americans far more than anything else. Think the national security state that’s flourished since the September 11, 2001 attacks has curtailed civil liberties? It doesn’t hold a candle to the nutty notion that anything we decide to call domestic violence requires action by police, prosecutors, courts and prisons.
Now, if we’d confined our definition of DV to actual physical violence that has some sort of hurtful effect, I wouldn’t mind. After all, I don’t want people attacking and injuring each other and I don’t think the fact that it occurs inside a residence should exempt the wrongdoer from apprehension and punishment.
But our notions of DV that require state action have gotten way out of hand. Domestic violence is now routinely defined to include “economic abuse,” otherwise known as the husband badgering the wife to spend less. Heated words constitute “psychological abuse.” In some jurisdictions, euthanizing a dying pet has become domestic abuse.
And those definitions aren’t idle wordplay; they have real and often terrible consequences. Fathers lose their children, men lose their residences, names get placed on sex offender registries.
So when Dr. Drew and his guest shout that what Kardashian did is domestic violence, they’re right, but they’re also promoting state overreaching into the realm of family life. Face it, Kris Humphries doesn’t need state protection from Kim Kardashian.
The chances are that this incident will be forgotten in a week, and that’s all to the good. But what shouldn’t be forgotten is that the vast majority of domestic violence is either entirely non-injurious or results in only a minor cut or bruise. In other words, most DV looks a lot like what Kardashian did, or attempted to do, to Humphries.
So my guess is that his zeal to say that what she did was domestic violence, will leave most of Dr. Drew’s viewers less than impressed. My guess is that the main reaction will be “what’s the big deal?” And in so doing, Dr. Drew will diminish the importance of domestic violence. Won’t most viewers look at the video and say “if that’s domestic violence, it’s not that important”?
In fact, that’s what most people think of domestic violence anyway. Earlier this year, the Canadian government published its findings of its people’s response to DV. Seventy-eight percent of people experiencing DV didn’t report the matter to the police.
Perhaps worse, Dr. Drew’s viewers will conclude that female-on-male DV is much like what they see in their mind’s eye – a smaller, weaker woman ineffectually going at a larger, stronger man. In short, despite Dr. Drew’s statements to the contrary, many viewers will decide, in conformance with popular culture, that women don’t hurt men.
Still worse, Dr. Drew and his guest take pains to inform viewers that “this is how it (domestic violence) always starts,” “it’s progressive,” “it goes to a horrible, horrible place.” Their implication is that people who do what Kardashian did move on to more and more severe acts of violence until their partner actually does get hurt, perhaps seriously. That’s a favorite trope of the DV establishment, and it’s flat wrong as much research into the matter shows.
In fact, that notion is exactly backwards. It reminds me of the old joke in the 1960s – “every heroin addict started on mother’s milk.” That saying came up because of the notion that pot was a “gateway drug.” It was often said by law enforcement types that some huge proportion of heroin users had “started on pot.” Yes, and a similar percentage started on mother’s milk.
In the same way, every person who’s a serious partner abuser – who hits, stabs, clubs, etc. to hurt – probably does start with a minor push or shove. But that doesn’t mean that every person who pushes or shoves becomes a violent abuser. In fact, the vast majority of DV is a one-time thing. Very little of it is the type of “domestic terrorism” about which the state has a legitimate interest.
Dr. Drew promoted the false concept that anyone who pushes a partner is in danger of becoming a brutal batterer. It’s just not true.
So Dr. Drew called what Kardashian did by its right name according to the standards of the times. The problem is that our approach to domestic violence is almost completely wrong and the enormously inflated definition of the term is a cornerstone of that wrong, dysfunctional approach.
In the small picture, Dr. Drew got it right. In the larger one, he’s part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Thanks to Matt, Mark and Ron for the heads-up.