Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Should men take more responsibility for ending domestic violence?

OPINION - As President Obama has noted, prevention is a national responsibility. We must all do our part to stop domestic violence, especially and particularly men...

african kings

When I was 15 years old, my best friend’s sister Eve* was home alone with her little brother one day after school. Across the street, her ex-boyfriend sat on a bicycle he’d ridden twenty miles across town. Eve called the police to report that she was being stalked, but because her ex-boyfriend was not on her property, they said there was nothing that could be done.

Eventually, the police went to Eve’s house. But they didn’t show up as a result of the phone call Eve made that afternoon. They showed up in response to the call her little brother made a couple hours later.

His 911 call had the police racing to the home to catch a murder in progress. They were too late. Eve’s boyfriend had broken into the home, grabbed a large knife from the kitchen, stabbed her until the blade broke, and then gotten back on his bicycle to ride home. Eve’s last words were to her little brother: “Run! And don’t turn back!”

Coping with domestic violence

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. According to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, the month was established to mourn those who lost their lives because of domestic violence, celebrate the survivors, and connect those working to end such violence.

theGrio | When men are battered

Last month, President Obama issued a presidential proclamation that declared the issue a “national imperative that requires vigilance and dedication from every sector of our society.”

In 1991, Eve was just one of the thousands of women killed by their intimate partner that year. Today, a woman is physically or sexually assaulted every single minute by a current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) found in 2007 that 14 percent of all homicides were committed by intimate partners.

And though this violence disproportionately affects women, men are also victims. But the BJS notes that the rate of intimate partner violence against women occurred at six times the rate that it happens to men.

Black women: Bearing the brunt of domestic violence

The problem is even more pronounced for black women. They are historically more likely than white women to be assaulted by an intimate partner, twice as likely to be killed by their spouse, and four times as likely to be killed by a boyfriend or girlfriend.

However, through a range of measures, women are safer today than they were that spring afternoon when Eve lost her life. Thanks to prevention education, the involvement of community leaders, executive branch efforts through the Department of Justice to reduce the occurrence of such violence, and legislation — such as the recent reauthorization of the Violence against Women Act (VAWA) — annual occurrences of victimization are down. The BJS study shows that between 1993 and 2007, rate of intimate partner violence against women declined 53 percent. Intimate partner homicides fell 43 percent.

Even though progress is being made, it is not large enough and is not happening fast enough. No matter how much legislation passes and how many proclamations there are from the president, domestic violence will only become uncommon when each of us assumes a personal responsibility to prevent it and report it. Whenever we turn our back to the violence we witness, or of which we’re aware, we are helping it spread.

Men: Take ownership of the issue

But because men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of domestic violence, it is past time for us to take more ownership of the issue. Assaulting a woman is not manly. It is not okay that it only happened once or twice, or because you had too much to drink. It is unacceptable to know your friend abuses his wife or girlfriend, and turn your back because you feel it’s none of your business.

If we do not want our mothers, sisters, and daughters to be assaulted, then it is time that men start checking men. This doesn’t necessarily mean physically confronting the perpetrator, but it absolutely means not remaining silent. There are numerous local organizations and other national resources available for anonymous reporting and intervention.

I don’t know if any of the newer legislation, such as VAWA, which wasn’t passed until 1994, would have prevented Eve from being killed. Perhaps the additional funding the law authorizes would have paid for the extra police officers that would have made one available to scare off her ex-boyfriend that day.

Perhaps the additional government funding to nonprofit organizations would have helped Eve recognize the signs of an abuser earlier. But what would have definitely saved Eve is if her homicidal boyfriend had not attacked her. The fault is all his, as it is with all perpetrators of violence. If there are no abusers, there will be no abused.

As the president noted, prevention is a national responsibility. We must all do our part to stop it, especially and particularly men. And we would do well to listen to Eve’s last words, and not turn back until all victims are safe from the threat of domestic partner violence.

*Fictional name used to protect the family’s privacy.

Theodore R. Johnson is a military officer and 2011-2012 White House Fellow. A graduate of Hampton and Harvard Universities, he is an opinion writer on race, politics, and public service. He currently resides in Alexandria, VA. Follow Theodore R. Johnson on Twitter at @T_R_Johnson_III.