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November 29, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

The Washington Post is at it again (Washington Post, 11/26/18).  In a bid to further erode the institution of the family, the WaPo offers an article entitled “UN Finds Deadliest Place for Women is Their Home.”  The only problem with that headline is that the UN did no such thing.  Indeed, the intellectual distance between the headline and the UN study on which it pretends to report tends to produce vertigo in the reader.  It’s a complete misrepresentation.

What the UN study actually reports on is the number of women and girls killed each year in domestic violence incidents worldwide.  That number is about 50,000.  This being the UN, the number of men killed in DV incidents goes unmentioned.

When the study gets to rates of victimization we learn that, in Africa, homicide victimization of women and girls in DV incidents is about 3.1 per 100,000 women.  In “the Americas,” it’s about 1.6 per 100,000 and in Europe, it’s 0.7.

To pretend, as the Post does, that those figures mean that the home is the most dangerous place for women and girls is nonsensical.  It’s of course utterly untrue.  As but one example, here in the U.S. about 1,600 women and 690 men were killed in a DV incident in 2016.  By comparison, about 33,000 people were killed in automobile accidents.  If, say, one-third of those were women (based on their lower use of motor vehicles), that’s 11,000 killed on our roads and highways, about seven times the rate of DV deaths.

Needless to say, similar data from other parts of the world give the lie to the WaPo headline.  And, also needless to say, the UN report nowhere makes such a claim.

That raises the question of why the paper would print something that’s not only false, but obviously so.  

From the late 70s to the early 90s, it wasn’t uncommon to read claims identical to the one in the WaPo headline.  That was when we were frequently told that the family was the seat of the oppression of women, so, to destroy that oppression, the family should be either done away with or radically marginalized.  As veteran DV activist Pamela Johnston told journalist Cathy Young for her 1998 book Ceasefire!, the DV establishment assumed that “the nuclear family, as the primary unit of patriarchy, is inherently oppressive to womyn.”  People like Anna Quindlen and Bob Herbert at the New York Times claimed much the same thing as today’s Post headline.

But then reality intervened, as it has a way of doing.  Someone once said that reality is what holds true whether you believe it or not.  Those who sought to destroy the family found that to be the case.  Large sets of data revealed that, in fact, women and children are far safer in their nuclear families than anywhere else.  Boyfriends are far more likely to injure both than are husbands/fathers.  And of course lesbian relationships are much more violent than either heterosexual or gay male ones.  (That last was once again revealed by the most recent data out of Canada that found lesbians reporting twice the incidence of DV as male-female relationships and over three times that of gay males.

So, the WaPo piece falls within a definite historical context and not a positive one.  At a time when many people are trying to rectify the wrongs of the past, i.e. solidify the family as an institution that’s best for men, women, children and society generally, a return to the bad old days of using flagrant untruths to attack that core institution of society is the worst of ideas.

But it’s not only bad for us generally, it’s bad for actual victims of DV.  Domestic violence is a genuine problem, but the idea that the way to deal with it is to undermine the family verges on the insane.  Face it, people form relationships, whether married or not.  Within those relationships, sometimes violence occurs.  We could destroy the family completely and do nothing to eradicate DV.  Indeed, we’d make it worse, not better.

What to do?  We could begin taking a sensible, constructive, non-gendered approach to the problem of DV.  The simple fact is that those who perpetrate DV can be, in most cases, treated successfully and their perpetration either end or greatly diminish.  That would require us to take DV for what it is – a personal pathology, usually rooted in having been victimized or witnessed DV frequently as a child.  That would mean we’d have to start acknowledging facts like men and women perpetrate DV equally, that women are more likely than men to initiate intimate violence, that mothers abuse children more often than do fathers, that women tend to be more controlling in relationships than are men, that because women commit DV, they need services to help them stop, etc.

In short, we’d have to admit that most of what we’ve done to combat DV is wrongheaded and hasn’t worked.  Sadly, as ever, we’re not likely to do that in the current political atmosphere.  By intentionally misrepresenting the reality of DV and by suggesting a cure (destruction of the family) that would be far worse than the disease, articles like the one in the WaPo make the matter worse.  It belongs in the ash heap of history along with all the rest.

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