Man to Man: Stop Domestic Violence

Pointed questions and consistent support can help

IF only the police had done more. If only the courts had taken stern action. If only the man had been sent to counseling. The O. J. Simpson case has sparked discussion about what can and should be done to stop domestic violence. But the most obvious place to start has been largely overlooked.

In 1989, a sportscaster casually asked Mr. Simpson about his recent police arrest for ``family problems.'' Simpson blithely dismissed the problems as a spat between him and his wife - no big deal. The sportscaster readily moved on to other topics. Moreover, Simpson was never publicly questioned by the corporations he represented. He was not challenged by his TV partners. He was not confronted by his close friends. No men said ``no.''

This is the situation in the vast majority of domestic violence cases.

Some domestic-violence experts insist that men batter women mainly because they can. Other men in their lives collude with them by not questioning or confronting the violence.

The silence provides tacit permission and even reinforcement. Surveys have shown that the majority of men actually approve of woman battering or rape under certain circumstances. Some men dismiss domestic violence as something done by deviants - not by them or their friends. As men, we have been brought up to overlook, excuse, or justify abuse of women.

Maybe this lack of response is out of our own timidity or insecurity. To question another man about domestic violence is to question ourselves. It means we may have to reconsider our relationship to women and change some of our own behavior. We fear another man's reaction, knowing what our own would be. We don't want to expose a friend's weakness, or jeopardize our ``buddyism.'' Such a code of loyalty is, however, based on a shallow sense of friendship and self - one that leaves out decisive help when it is most needed.

But we can help stop domestic violence. It starts with asking concrete questions: Did you throw anything or break anything? Did you push or shove her? Did you grab her, slap her, hit her?

Second, we need to properly name what we are told: It is the crime of domestic violence. Even if we stop there, we have done something important. A man is more likely to hesitate the next time if he knows that others know about his violence and see it for the crime it is.

We might also ask a friend if he knows the consequences of such behavior. He could be put in jail - it is a crime. He could lose his family - many women go to shelters or leave their batterers. He is harming his children - children who witness domestic violence often turn out to be violent themselves. His violence will most likely escalate - someone could be seriously injured and ultimately killed. Moreover, we can encourage our friend to ``let go'' in order to regain some peace - let go of control, jealousy, or being right.

Nothing justifies or excuses men's violence against women. If someone calls us names on the street and we strike back, we know that we, not the name caller, will go to jail. We have a choice about ``our limits'' and our reaction to them. For instance, most of us men have been ``abused'' by a boss, a coach, or a military commander. Yet we didn't ``punch them out.'' We made a choice that it wasn't worth it, it was no big deal, or it was just part of the game. We can do the same at home.

Finally, we can impress upon a friend who batters that he needs and deserves help. Help him find a counseling program, drive him there, ask him how it went. Check with him in a few weeks to see if he is still attending. Call regularly and ask how the relationship is going. Insist that a friend call when he feels in a bind, pressured, or angry.

As men, we are in the position to launch a whole new level of response. Businessmen in some cities are meeting to issue proclamations against domestic violence. They are drawing up work policies to detect and respond to domestic violence. Clubs like the Lions, Kiwanis, and Rotary might ``adopt'' a batterer's education or counseling program, raise money for women's shelters or programs for children of domestic violence, or sponsor billboards prompting men to stop their violence.

We no longer can afford to be fooled by outward appearances. We need to ask one another about domestic violence. We need to take personal risks in order to genuinely help one another elevate our sense of manhood.

In a sense, it wasn't just the police, courts, or psychiatrists who let O. J. Simpson escalate his domestic violence. The men in his life let him down when he needed them the most. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.

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