During the second season of The Sopranos (still generally considered to be one of the best television shows of all time), Janice Soprano was totally in love with and happily engaged to Richie Aprile. But when Richie hit her in the face for the first time, Janice picked Richie's own gun off of the table and shot him dead.
Did Janice Soprano have it right? And would the epidemic of violence against women in this country be halted if, for a short time, every woman who was physically or sexually abused killed her abuser immediately? Certainly the word would get out that women are no longer to be beaten, raped and terrorized by their intimate partners. And I am guessing that in a few months, levels of violence against women would drop dramatically.
What would cause a pacifist, peace-loving person like myself to ask such questions, to envision such a scenario? I'm not a man-hater; on the contrary, I love men-ask anyone I've ever dated. And yet, when I watched Janice -- still stunned from being punched in the face -- shoot Richie Aprile in the chest, I felt a thrill of justice.
I spent eight years working on the local, state and national levels in the movement to end domestic violence; I am an expert on violence against women. In the three years I worked as a bilingual advocate on the National Domestic Violence Hotline, I spoke to over 25,000 victims of domestic violence, friends and family of victims, and perpetrators of violence. I have an extensive anecdotal knowledge of the issue of domestic violence in the United States. And what I know is that the vast majority of intimate partner violence is committed by men against women.*
My former work in the movement to end domestic violence taught me how the criminal justice system fails victims. Protective orders are often not granted, or if granted are not enforced. Dual arrest of victims and offenders makes victims unwilling to call law enforcement. Witness tampering against domestic violence victims runs rampant and is rarely prosecuted.
I have learned how the civil court system fails victims and their children. Research shows that abusive men are more likely than non-abusive men to seek custody of their children, and men who seek custody of their children are much more likely than women to be awarded custody. (One five year study in Orange County, North Carolina put on by The Committee for Justice for Women showed that "in all contested custody cases, 84 percent of the fathers in the study were granted sole or mandated joint custody.") This often forces women who leave their abusers to surrender their children to these same violent men. Consider that the next time you ask yourself why she doesn't "just leave."
I have learned that support networks for women seeking to leave abusive relationships are abysmally inadequate. A 24-hour census of domestic violence shelters and services conducted by the National Network to End Domestic Violence in 2008 found that in one day, nearly 9,000 requests for assistance for domestic violence survivors were unmet in the U.S. because of limited funding. And women who do manage to leave often become homeless or are forced to return to their abusers because of an inability to support themselves and their children. According to the National Association for Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA), childcare for two small children in Texas costs approximately $14,101 a year, which almost equals a minimum wage worker's gross income of $15,080.00.
According to the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP), in many states, welfare (now called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF) pays a mere $200 a month for a single-parent family of three. And in more than one-third of states, a single-parent family of three is not even eligible for cash assistance from TANF unless they make less than $9,266 a year. Because of such harsh economic realities, making it on their own with children remains a financial impossibility for many women who simply cannot earn enough money to pay childcare, rent, food, healthcare and transportation. (Again, please keep this in mind next time you are tempted to ask yourself why many abused women don't "just leave.")
Knowledge of the epidemic rates of abuse of women and the barriers that prevent them from escaping violent relationships are what have brought me to imagine a world where men who commit violence against women learn immediately and inexorably that such violence will not be tolerated.
But while I might cheer on the fictional Janice Soprano as she murders the fictional Richie Aprile, I would never advocate for women who have been abused to take such action in real life. There are obvious moral reasons for this, but there are practical reasons as well. After shooting Richie, Janice called her mob boss brother Tony Soprano to take care of cleaning up the mess and disposing of the body. And so Janice experienced no consequences from the murder except for her own grief.
Not so for real-life victims of domestic violence who murder their abusers. The study "Convicted Survivors: The Imprisonment of Battered Women Who Kill" by Elizabeth Ann Dermody Leonard demonstrates that 95.4 percent of battered women who kill their abusers are convicted of either first or second-degree murder and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.
And so my intentionally inflammatory question -- Did Janice Soprano have it right? -- is meant to be purely rhetorical. But I would encourage both more understanding and support for women being abused, and more accountability in our communities for men who abuse women. We can all start simple: if someone we know is being abused, we can ask, "How can I support you? What do you need?" And if someone we know behaves abusively or violently towards their partner, we can tell them directly their behavior is unacceptable and needs to stop.
*Research supports my anecdotal experience. Studies such as Michael S. Kimmel's "Gender Symmetry in Domestic Violence: a Substantive and Methodological Research" consistently show "that more than 90 percent of 'systematic, persistent, and injurious' violence is perpetrated by men."
If you or someone you know is being abused, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or the Love is Respect Dating Abuse Helpline at 1-866-331-9474. To live chat with an advocate online or find more information, go to www.loveisrespect.com or www.thehotline.com.