Friday, February 14, 2014

Pity the perpetrators

One thing that perpetrators of domestic violence have in abundance is pity. For themselves.

In their warped world view they are the victims, of the 'bitches' they married, of the family court system, of feminists. 

Yes, they are in fact the wronged party, the ones who should elicit our sympathy, rather than say the women and children they terrorise and kill (once a week in Australia).

So when posts are written calling for us to find it within us to show both compassion and understanding for perpetrators of family violence - and specifically for fathers who have murdered their children in order to punish the mothers - those who have lived it find it more than a little hard to swallow. 

As these calls are being made, women and children are walking on eggshells, are fearing for their lives, are concluding that even if their partner carried out his threats, their abusers world view would continue to be reinforced by the community and by the media. 

Abusers are master manipulators. They will bring flowers, they will cry, they will promise to change, and they will say they cannot live without you. They will prey upon their partners seeming infinite capacity for compassion for their own ends. 

Public calls for compassion reinforce this dynamic and make it even harder to leave. 

Those who have experienced domestic violence are often, and for obvious reasons, unable or reluctant to speak out. So their voices and wisdom are lost, the focus shifts away from the actual victims with lightning speed. 

Even when life is taken, the instinct seems to be to continue to protect and even excuse the actions of the perpetrator.

As Louise Taylor points out here the same response, the call for a compassionate response, for understanding of the unthinkable, is rarely if ever made in relation to other crimes.

It is patriarchy itself, the sense of entitlement and outright misogyny of men who continue to subscribe to this world view, that needs to be challenged rather than supported.

Today, with yet another column stating that it is mental health, not domestic violence that is the issue, it would seem that for now the perpetrators, the MRA and fathers' rights activists, have won.

The perpetrators who terrorise ànd sometimes kill are NOT the victims.

(This post is a continuation of the thoughts I expressed on twitter last night, this time without the limits imposed by 140 characters.)


  1. I think you have completely misinterpreted what people are saying in regards to this issue - of the articles I've read, no one is saying that the perpetrators of domestic violence should be forgiven - what they are saying is that we need to stop demonising people with mental health issues and try and understand why they do the things they do - there should be, in no way whatsoever, any empathy for these crimes, but we must show some empathy for the perpetrators, because we need to understand how a human being can reach a point where they can perform these acts of violence...

    As I wrote on Lana Hirschowitz's post yesterday ( )

    "My feeling is that you can’t have “selective empathy”… what’s the point in feeling empathy only for “good” people, or for people we feel sorry for… we need to feel empathy for the broken people in our society – people who might not be pleasant or likeable – and we need to feel empathy even for people who do awful things, because if we don’t, how will we ever learn why some people are driven to acts of despicable desperation…"

    1. My response is too long for a comment so I have made it another post. Overkill maybe but I feel very strongly about this issue and wanted to cover a number of points.

    2. John James I think you have missed the point here. It's the "empathy for the perpetrators" that keeps many women in abusive relationships from escaping. There needs to be zero tolerance for DV first and foremost. We can still contemplate the reasons and motivations for DV (including mental illness although it is rarely the motivator) whilst putting emphasis on protecting the victims of crime. As Michelle points out, we don't see this kind of hand-wringing for perpetrators of other kinds of crime, so why DV? I think it is because most of us "reasonable" people find it unfathomable that a person could knowingly harm members of their own family without some kind of reduced capacity for rational thought. Although this idea is uncomfortable and abhorrent, there's no research to suggest it isn't the case. Many men do in fact know what they are doing. The reasons, in any case, are moot when the victims keep suffering. And I think Michelle's point is that in highlighting the plight of the perpetrator over the victim, more victims are afraid to come forward and will continue to suffer. I am quite comfortable with condemning DV for the crime it is and helping those broken people who have committed any crime AFTER having looked after the victims. With this model of empathy that you are suggesting we would do away with all prisons and just feel sorry for all of those criminals out there hurting the public. Sadly this is not how our society works. I absolutely agree that prisons are too full and other rehabilitation work needs to be looked at, as well as supporting increased funding to mental health prevention and management. But using only DV cases to highlight these other lacks in our society is not the way to go about it.

    3. Read my comment on Michelle's follow-up to this post... I think that clarifies my position further...