Over the past year, numerous violent international conflicts have dominated the news cycle. In Ukraine, Gaza, Syria and Iraq, thousands of civilians have become casualties of war, victimized within their own borders. In the United States, it can be far too easy to dismiss such accounts of violence. Occurring halfway across the world, very few Americans know anyone who has been personally affected by these conflicts. Reading about the civilian death tolls in the newspapers and seeing stories of displaced persons on the nightly news, we think about how lucky we are that no one in our country is forced to suffer from senseless violence. However, we should not assume that violence is foreign to American culture.
One in three women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. Despite this alarming statistic, we often forget what is explicit in the term: domestic violence is violence. Of course, there are many differences between state and domestic violence; one cannot make a pure comparison between the control an oppressive government exerts over an entire country and that which an abuser exerts over an individual victim. Nevertheless, the harm inflicted in either situation has many physical, economic and psychological ramifications. To think that violence does not occur in the United States is to ignore the experiences of millions of women who have survived abuse by an intimate partner.
In my book, Ending Domestic Violence Captivity: A Guide to Economic Freedom, I explore the relationship between political and domestic violence through a concept I refer to as "domestic tyranny":
It turns out there are striking parallels between the two forms of tyranny. In fact, they are nearly identical in both the means of oppression (types of abuse) and the impact (disempowerment) on individual victims. Whether oppression comes from a political body or a personal relationship, from the position of the oppressed, it is devastating. In both, there exists a grotesque imbalance of power, where the subject or victim is disempowered; and in both the disempowerment allows the oppressor to hold the subjects in captivity (54).
As a gendered issue that occurs in the private sphere, many Americans fail to recognize the larger context in which domestic violence occurs. According to a recent study by James Fearon and Anke Hoeffler, violence between individuals, including domestic violence, results in nine times as many deaths as in civil war. Viewing domestic tyranny through this lens, as a pervasive and systemic problem that exists within the same realm as political tyranny, can help us dispel many misconceptions about violence against women. Consider the comparisons that I draw in Ending Domestic Violence Captivity:
Only rarely do the subjects of a brutal dictatorship try to leave. Yet no one asks, 'Why do they stay?' No one wonders whether they remain out of some secret desire to spend their days in misery. Nor would we suggest that the oppressed are to blame for their predicament. If we were persuaded that conditions under domestic violence are analogous to those under a political tyranny, then some of the popular beliefs we've seen about domestic violence victims might be recognized as equally absurd (53).
As we read the news each day, we must remember that violence does not just occur in war zones. Indeed, it is ingrained in the fabric of our own society, displaying itself in countless households across the country. Like any other form of violence, domestic violence is a destructive exercise of power that strips victims of their autonomy, yet it is rarely considered as seriously. As a nation, we have a responsibility to end violence of any scale. However, such a goal can never be achieved without first eradicating it from our homes.
Ending Domestic Violence Captivity: A Guide to Economic Freedom (Volcano Press)
Centers for Disease Control
"Benefits and Costs of the Conflict and Violence Targets for the Post-2015 Development Agenda," Anke Hoeffler and James Fearon