David Pisarra

The domestic violence community has a major problem: its numbers. Depending on what your political ideology is, the numbers can be swung to castigate every man for being a brutish thug, and every woman is a frail, damaged, abused victim, or vice versa. There are almost no absolutes in the world of domestic violence – everything is a lighter shade of grey or a darker shade of white.

Driving the confusion is the age old sources of conflict: money, love and power. It is in the DV community’s interest to expand definitions, increase the numbers of abused and violated individuals, and (pardon the pun) beat the drum for more money and resources. People’s desperate search for love drives bad relationships and sustains toxic ones, which is why victims on average “leave” a relationship seven times before finally breaking up for good. Then there is the power struggle of the shelter directors for grant money, DV advocates who crave the publicity, public advocates who have a good heart, vote seeking politicians and the non-profit executive directors who thrive on the work they do saving lives.

Researchers have a nightmare of a time with the data as well as the social workers. On the one hand you have clear definitions of abusive behavior when there is a physical manifestation of harm – bruises, black eyes, broken bones, mayhem (bodily mutilations) and murder. On the other hand you have the vague terms and “soft” areas like “harassment” or “disturbing the peace” – is that 10 texts in a 12 hour period? Is that a raised voice? In my loud Italian/German home, raised voices were indicative of passionate beliefs not abuse, except when they were. I still shudder at the memory of the way my mother would yell at me in a drunken rage.

How can we draw the lines and definitions when the utter complexity of human interactions is limitless? One theory is that to be trauma informed, we should always consider things from the point of view of the “victim” – that abuse is in the eye of the “weaker” person. I am not such a proponent of that, as oftentimes I step on someone’s toes unknowingly – does that make me an abuser or just ham handed? For example, two weeks ago, I’m at Dagwood’s on Wilshire and a friend of mine happens to be in line directly ahead of me. As he finishes his order, he steps back into my space, and I gently put up my two index fingers into his back to stop him. He turned around and was visibly shaken. I clearly triggered some emotional trauma in him from his past. He politely asked me to “never do that again.”

I felt, and feel, horrible about a mishandled interaction. I meant nothing by my actions beyond a mere warning that he was about to step into me. He meant nothing by stepping back, he didn’t realize I was there. We both could parlay the ‘victim card’ but the reality is that there was no ill intent on either part.

How could a social researcher spin our respective perceptions? Any way they want. Their personal biases could, and likely would, color how they portrayed what is, in reality, an innocent set of circumstances. How could a lawyer with an agenda spin this? Any way they want. I could be incensed at his “invasion of my personal space” and he could be affronted at my “battery of him”.

Thankfully, the underlying relationship I have with my friend means that we will survive this and move on. I will respect his perspective and act differently in the future.

But the current social environment we are in, means that the numbers and statistics that state that 1 in 4 women has been abused, raped, violated and assaulted are likely as accurate as the data that 70% of all domestic abuse incidents are started by women. Or the data that states that 50% of abuse is mutual combat. And 2/3rds of all abuse isn’t even reported by the male or the female victims and I am still looking for someone to explain to me how you can have a number for something that ISN’T reported – seems illogical to me.

In sum, the point of this is that it’s all about perspective, and we should always take this information in, with an open mind, and a giant rock of salt to consider what is the hidden agenda and/or bias of the reporter. And that includes me. As a survivor of a violent chaotic childhood, I have certain biases. As a lawyer who has represented people on both sides of the DV knife I can honestly say, sometimes it’s the man who is the aggressor and sometimes it’s the woman, they just do it differently, and that needs to be considered as well.

David Pisarra is a Los Angeles Divorce and Child Custody Lawyer specializing in Father’s and Men’s Rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist.  He welcomes your questions and comments.  He can be reached at dpisarra@pisarra.com or 310/664-9969.You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra

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