Thursday, April 22, 2010

Differences in Definition

Is this domestic violence?

A man killed his sister and wounded his mother and another sister in a triple shooting Tuesday afternoon at the home they shared in Southeastern Clarke County, Athens-Clarke police said.

Richard Norred, 28, killed Leigh Pope, 29, and wounded his other sister, Amy Norred, 31, and his mother, Carol Norred, 63, according to police.

Richard Norred then shot himself in the chest. Police found him in a bathroom of the home at 138 Beaver Trail off Red Fox Run, and he was rushed to Athens Regional Medical Center.
Investigators did not know the motive for the shootings, but police said Richard Norred has Asperger syndrome, a type of autism, and was prone to violent outbursts, though none were ever reported to authorities.
According to some definitions, yes. To others, no. Some groups (law enforcement in particular) define domestic violence as a specific violent offense, such as battery, committed against blood relatives, those with whom you share a child, or those with whom you live. The difference between a charge of "battery" and a charge of "battery, family violence" is the perpetrator's relationship to the victim.

For advocacy organizations like ours, the definition is a little more complicated. We view domestic violence as a pattern of behaviors over time used by one partner or family member to exert control over another. The police wouldn't label put-downs and name calling as domestic violence, but we would if it is part of a pattern with the ultimate goal of establishing power over a victim. To us, unless Richard Norred had used violence or verbal abuse in the past to seek to control over a member of his family, this doesn't fit our definition. That doesn't lessen this family's loss or the need for a perpetrator of any form of violence to be held accountable. What it does do is affect the way we approach prevention.

We believe domestic violence, by our definition, is caused by the belief that women are less deserving than men of basic human rights. (If you still don't believe us, read Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn). Therefore, to end gender-based violence, we must work to convince people, especially men, that women are full human beings and, therefore, are deserving of the same respect and the same freedom from harm. For example, the organization Men Stopping Violence rarely uses the term "domestic violence" because they feel that it can hide the true nature of most perpetration – namely that most of this violence is committed by men.

To use another definition of domestic violence can be misleading. For instance, if a woman's partner is attempting to rape her and she pushes him to the floor, they have both used violence. This is how men's rights organizations can claim that women use violence against their partners just as often as men - because they do not look at the context. This is also how women get falsely arrested. We work with hundreds of women every year who have been charged with family violence but who are really victims by our definition. If the police ask, "did you push him?" and she replies, "yes", she is often arrested without the chance to tell her full story. By the system, she is now labeled as a batterer.

When it comes right down to it, it doesn't matter much what gets labeled "domestic violence" and what doesn't, so long as we understand the real problem and it's potential solutions. If we really want to make strides as a movement to end violence against women, we need to communicate that violence against women isn't OK, women don't deserve it, and that men should be held accountable if they use violence against a partner.

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