**Trigger Warning for Domestic Violence**
In late 2012, a man named Shane was responsible for perpetrating domestic violence against a woman named Maggie. Shane threw Maggie around, strangled her, and threatened to beat her if she did not comply with his wishes. Much of the event was witnessed by Maggie’s two-year-old daughter. Whatever feelings Shane had roiling inside of him and whatever the cause or validity of those feelings, his abusive actions were unacceptable, and he is responsible for those actions.
This goes without saying. Literally. Virtually no one is saying this. In my discussion of this instance of domestic violence, I wanted to start by saying this explicitly, because I don’t think this sentiment is expressed or internalized enough.
The photographic portrait of this occurrence can be found here. A lot of responses to this occurrence have centered around the photographer and what responsibility she had to act. And as long as I’m directing you to these links, I think it would be a kindness to also direct you to this one.
At the time of the incident, the photographer’s cell phone was in Shane’s pocket. She retrieved it and ensured that the police were notified before photographing the domestic violence. Shane’s awareness of the camera documenting his actions may have prevented a further escalation of violence. Had the photographer chosen to physically intervene, Shane’s anger and violence might have amplified. The story itself has the potential to draw attention to the widespread problem of domestic violence. The photographer has expressed her thoughts and motives and explained her reasoning for her actions. Whatever one’s beliefs about the extent of the photographer’s responsibility to act, those who ascribe voyeurism, apathy, or exploitative motives to her are speculating based on cynicism.
I do not seek to make the point that it is wrong to philosophically discuss a bystander’s responsibility to act when another is in need, but I do want to initiate a discussion that I think is more pertinent: Why are perpetrators of domestic violence so rarely the topic of analysis? I, for one, would like to develop both an understanding of why acts of domestic violence are so salient, particularly among men, and a comprehensive approach to the source of the problem. Yet instead of discussions that might facilitate this development, we regularly encounter victim-blaming masquerading as an endorsement for personal responsibility, and we get distractions like this.
In researching, I actually came across a comment—I know, I know—that may have enlightened me to some extent about the mentality of people who concentrate blame around rather than on the perpetrator. The comment made an analogy that concentrated the blame specifically on Maggie, and the basic analogy was this: that Maggie was a woman who knowingly led her children into a tiger’s cage.
The thing wrong with this analogy is that it implies the risk involved with getting into a relationship with Shane was as blatantly obvious as the risk of walking into the cage of a tiger. The fallacy employed here is called a straw man. While in this analogy Maggie is a thinking, reasoning, agentic human being, Shane is an untameable predator. The brilliance and stupidity of this analogy is that you can’t blame the tiger.
Tigers that attack are following their natural instincts. Tigers are predators that kill to survive. It would be ridiculous to expect a tiger to be nice or affectionate. When we treat perpetrators (or defunct systems, for that matter) as forces of nature—as inevitabilities—we not only fail to address the source of the problem, we also discourage the ambition to achieve positive change.
Perpetrators of domestic violence are not tigers. Perpetrators do not kill their partners for sustenance. They are not ignorant of the understanding what they’re doing is hurting somebody else. They can be taught to express their anger constructively. They are not hungry cats. Perpetrators of domestic violence are part of a social epidemic. And what we lose by comparing men to tigers is the accountability—the personal responsibility, if you like—of people who commit acts of violence, and we neglect an examination of the sociological influences that might reinforce or deter violent, abusive behavior.
I would like first and foremost to see responsibility placed appropriately on perpetrators rather than victims or bystanders in cases of domestic violence: the reverse seems absurd to me. Secondly, I would like to see a public discussion about what existing sociological components or lack thereof in our culture contribute to or allow for the salience of this violent behavior—particularly in the context of masculinity, given the disproportionate number of male perpetrators. The discourse is overdue for a change.