Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Fantasy of Equivalent Pain

I've got a new piece up over at the BARCC Blog, and it's not one of my better works. The post was inspired by a friend who shared a Dateline story with me about a young man who was emotionally abused and coerced by his abuser into killing her husband. Pretty much every aspect of the story is incredibly depressing, but also fairly typical for an abuser. The only thing that sets Ramos's story apart from our more "traditional" story of DV is that his abuser, Patty Presba, didn't smack him around the way we expect male perpetrators to smack around women.

Whenever I read a story like this, in addition to the depression and sadness that comes with it, I also feel a twinge of...victory? I'm not sure exactly how to describe it. When I hear news about a female perpetrator, my first thoughts are often almost gloating - "see, women can abuse too." My post today was sort of about this, although in much nicer language. Yes, it is important for me to understand that men can suffer from sexual and partner violence and abuse. Yes, it is important for me to understand that abuse is unreasonably common in all types of partnerships across the country, and that lesbians abuse, queer people abuse, women abuse.

There's a very valid concern in the world of violence prevention that survivors who don't fit the cultural script of who a survivor "should be" have a lot of obstacles to getting support. BARCC has run up against this problem with male survivors, who don't really report assaults, and with lesbian survivors too. I want to recognize that there are probably a lot of male survivors, or non-traditional survivors, who haven't reported or can't report because of hurdles placed in their path above and beyond what we already throw in front of straight white women who are survivors.

BUT - and here's where things get tangled in my own mind - it's really easy for me to slip into a fantasy where, because of all these obstacles that exist in the world, there are these huge masses of men being sexually abused or raped, and who never talk about it. I have this fantasy that abuse and violence are equivalent, and that it's not mostly people who look like me and identify like me that are causing all of this pain in the world.

That fantasy is complete bullshit. Yes, men can be and are survivors of assault, abuse, and violence. It is absolutely necessary to support survivors who are male, to ensure that they have the safe social space to seek support and help, and that they can do so without compromising their gender identity. Almost hoping, though, that as many men have been victimized as women (because it would make me feel better as a male-identified person myself) is a form of trying to claim ownership of an issue that isn't mine to claim.

It's like try to prove that rifles are as dangerous as handguns in gun-related violence. Sure, people do shoot each other with rifles in non-military situations in the US, and we should probably have good policy to prevent people from getting shot with them. But high-profile cases like the D.C. sniper aside, the relative levels of handgun violence versus rifle violence is so outrageously lopsided that any public health professional or gun-control activist would laugh at the idea that we need tremendous resources to prevent rifle-violence.

Likewise, even if I wish it weren't true, the rates of perpetration of domestic violence, incest, rape, and violent crime between men and women is so ridiculously lopsided that I can't in good conscience harp on female perpetrators. They do exist. They do hurt people. But if I'm trying to stop sexual violence, I'm going to do a lot more good focusing my work on other men than I will on women.

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