President Obama recently created the first-ever position of White House adviser on violence against women. Across the land, at corporate water coolers and in taverns, in locker rooms and on bass boats a growing band of men immediately lifted their voices in protest: "What about an adviser on violence against men?" They're serious, these "men's rights" advocates, and they have a point. To a point.
Violence by women against men is a real issue, however much this may be denied by a coterie of dear friends in the anti-violence-against-women movement. Non-defensive violence by a woman against a man is insupportable; it cries out to be investigated and adjudicated thoroughly and accurately, the chips falling where they may. Justice demands no less.
That said, it's time to get real, men: Domestic violence is essentially and fundamentally a male problem.
Which is to say that men are, far and away, more likely than women to be the "primary aggressor" in DV cases. In other words, in law, the guilty party.
It's not about who "started it." It's not about who's the more agreeable, the fairest, most noble, or most sensible individual of the couple. It's not about who's tried the hardest, or the longest to make things work. Or whose relationship grievances have the greater merit. It's about the violence -- the nature and magnitude of violent, unlawful behavior.
Check out the richly sourced DV fact sheet of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. One woman in four will experience domestic violence in her lifetime; 1.3 million women are criminally abused each year; 7.8 million women have been raped by an intimate partner; one in 12 women have been stalked by a male intimate partner vs. one in 45 men who've been stalked by a female intimate partner. Almost a third of all women homicide victims are murdered by men who purport to love them. In up to 80 percent of all intimate partner homicides, no matter who wound up doing the killing, the woman had been abused by the man prior to the murder. And, finally: 85 percent of all domestic violence victims are women.
"Gender symmetry," a theory advanced by a certain wing of the men's movement is wishful thinking, a myth. A dangerous one.
This belief that men and women batter each other in equal measure can undermine public policies and priorities, including funding for safe houses and women's shelters. And it can shift attention away from one of our greatest social challenges, namely teaching boys how to behave themselves.
Throughout my cop career I championed the cause of domestic violence as law enforcement's top priority -- ahead of homicide, robbery, even domestic terrorism. Why? Because violence in the home (spousal assault, child and elder abuse) is arguably the antecedent for all other forms of violence in our society.
A boy who witnesses his father resolve a marital dispute with fists or gun or knife is not only twice as likely to do the same when he grows up and enters an intimate relationship, he's more likely to use violence to get what he desires in life, generally. Want to see a drop in stranger-on-stranger rapes, barroom brawls, home invasion robberies, even simple property crimes? Teach our boys to skillfully and gracefully confront the gap between what they have and what they want. Teach them, early on, to deal with jealousy and insecurity and rage.
We've got to make it clear, via instruction and example, that a boy's gender does not entitle him to treat the girls and, later, the women in his life as chattel.
Who's best equipped to provide this modeling, this instruction? Men, of course. It's time we of XY chromosomal composition "man up" and accept responsibility for helping little boys understand it's not about who started it. It's about patience, self discipline, and personal mastery in the messy heat of relationship conflicts.