Over the past few days, I’ve been working on a speech related to domestic violence and my experience with it. I don’t know where I’ll give this speech yet. OK, so maybe I’m doing this in the reverse order — I should have a gig first before I prepare the speech, right?
Maybe. In any event, I’m having difficulty. Specifically, I’m finding it hard to explain that the term “domestic violence” is completely … well, wrong. It doesn’t address the full reality of these situations, and it insinuates that “domestic” makes it somehow different from crimes perpetrated by a stranger. Much like “stranger rape” and “date rape” or “marital rape” are ridiculous distinctions.
If an unknown man comes into your home and rapes you at knifepoint, how is that any different from your husband grabbing you around the throat and threatening to kill you if you don’t have sex with him?
I mean, is it even possible to say which one is “worse”? Each creates its own wake of trauma. With the latter, you have to wake up next to your rapist the next morning, maybe make his coffee and breakfast, tell him how handsome he is, or just keep your mouth shut to avoid further retribution.
If an unknown man walks up to you on the street and calls you a f*&king c*&t, you can walk away from him (with any luck). When your husband does that, day in and day out, even if he doesn’t physically hurt you, is that “violence”? Or does the word “violence” imply only physical violence? So if it’s not physical, it’s not domestic violence?
That’s obviously wrong.
Do you see my problem here?
By even using the term “domestic violence” in my speech, I feel like I’m undermining everything I’m about to say. I’m stuck with a term that doesn’t work. “Domestic abuse” is even worse. And God forbid anyone refer to me as a “battered woman.” UGH. Talk about putting the blame on the wrong person! As if I just stood there and took it? I fought back every single day, within myself. It’s how I generated the emotional and intellectual — yes, intellectual — strength to leave and not get myself killed in the process. (And many women don’t survive when they leave, for various reasons.)
Maybe I just need to say that no term can really encapsulate the experience we label as “domestic violence.” We must look beyond the terminology and its accompanying misconceptions, to see what it really means.