Written by Dorislee Gilbert, Executive Director, Mary Byron Project
According to dictionary.com, a dispute is “a debate, controversy, or difference of opinion” or “a wrangling argument; quarrel.” A dispute is not a criminal offense. It is not a violent act. It is a common occurrence in a marriage or a board room. Yet, I recently read a news story about a man who was arrested and charged for a “domestic dispute.” Most certainly, he was not arrested and criminally charged for a dispute. Rather, he was arrested and charged for an act of VIOLENCE, most likely the assault, strangulation, or shooting of an intimate partner. And chances are good that this act of violence was part of a larger pattern of abusive behavior.
If someone shot a teller during a bank robbery, would we ever say that the robber was arrested because of a “bank dispute” or a “dispute over a bank withdrawal”? Would we ever say that someone breaking into a home was arrested for a “property dispute”? Of course not. Yet, when violence occurs in a home between people who purportedly love each other, we minimize it by calling it a “dispute.”
Is it because we need to believe that violence doesn’t really occur in homes despite statistics that tell us that 12 million people in the United States are affected by intimate partner violence each year? Is it because we are certain that there must be some backstory, i.e., something she did to outrage him and justify his violence, even though we know that cooling off periods, counseling, separation, and divorce—not violence—are the acceptable answers to marital or relational discord? Is it because we still think that when violence happens inside homes it needs to stay inside homes even though we don’t hesitate to “like” or “follow” every other detail of family life on social media? Is it because we think that we will destroy a family if we allow the violence to be treated as the serious problem that it is even though we know that a family with violence is not a healthy, stable family that should be maintained at status quo? Is it because women are disproportionately affected by domestic violence, and women are seen as less valuable, less believable, and less emotionally stable even though we’ve long trusted them to care for our children, have elected or appointed many of them to preside over our courthouse disputes, and now have more women than men enrolled in medical schools and law schools?
Regardless of the reason, we must stop minimizing domestic and intimate partner violence! Is it really somehow better to violently assault someone you “love” than it is to commit a crime against a stranger? No, it is much worse—more callous and more dangerous. If a person will strangle a person they “love” into unconsciousness, hit them with their fists, or threaten to or actually shoot them in the head, how could anyone be safe from such violent tendencies? When we pretend domestic or intimate partner violence is not serious or we pretend it is less concerning than other types of violence, we give license to violence, and that violence is unlikely to remain restrained within the home. So, do the world a favor, the next time you hear about an act of domestic or intimate partner violence, don’t think of it as a mere “dispute”, even if that’s what the news calls it. Be outraged about the violence! Call for accountability and an end to it!