According to this story by KERA reporter BJ Austin, this is exactly what Rawlings said:
“This violence is our fault. It’s not the women’s fault,” he said. “We have been the violent gender over the centuries, and we must own up to it. Tradition has enabled the action we see around us, and we’ve created those traditions. The culture of male violence has only been perpetuated by locker room talk, radio talk shows, video games, how fathers talk to sons, and our inability to deal with anger living deep inside.”
I fully recognize that women are capable of committing violence and do. And men are often victims of violence. However, there’s no denying that men carry out most of the gun violence, the rapes, and the assaults on women and children, who are usually members of their own family. This post, however, isn’t about blame. It’s actually about moving on from blame.
What’s most significant about Rawlings’ statement is that — for a brief moment — someone swung the spotlight 180 degrees in talking about violence against women and children. Why is that a big deal?
Well, as we say in the South, let’s take a f’rinstance…..Let’s say that the media reported — and the community talked about — convenience store robberies and assaults the same way we talk about family violence. First, the local media wouldn’t report each robbery. We’d do a series every year during Convenience Store Robbery Awareness Month. The story package would focus only on the convenience store clerks: “Over the last year, 56 convenience store clerks were robbed and assaulted in OurFairCity. Half were beaten so badly that they were hospitalized. Because they could not return to work right after the robbery, they lost their jobs and could not pay the rent. There are not enough shelters in the city to house them and their children.”
In real life, convenience store robberies are reported more regularly than family violence, and the focus is on the perpetrator: “Joe Shmo was arrested last night. He is alleged to have robbed the Corner Convenience Store at the intersection of Main and Central. Convenience store clerk Randolph Bacon said Shmo held a gun to his head and knocked him unconscious after he opened the cash register. Off-duty policewoman Sue Smith happened to be in the store and arrested Shmo after he grabbed the cash.” Shmo’s arrest photo accompanies the story.
So, let’s swing that spotlight around in family violence, often referred to as the larger catch-all, IPV. Interpersonal violence refers to any violence between couples, married or not. The traditional report?
About 28 million women experience severe interpersonal violence during their lifetimes (U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, report on Medpage Today, U.S. Census data). They are kicked, beaten, stabbed, and/or raped.
Now do a one-eighty: During their lifetimes, between 10 and 20 million men, given that some inflict pain on more than one woman, kick, beat, stab and/or rape women.
Next: Let’s dive into child sex abuse numbers.
Traditional: About 80,000 children are sexually abused every year. (A gross underestimate.)
The one-eighty version: Tens of thousands of (mostly) men sexually abuse children every year. Most of them know or are related to these children.
Traditional: About 45 million adults in the U.S. were sexually abused before they were 18 years old (one in four women and one in six men). (btw, That number is the population of New York, Florida and Louisiana combined.)
Do a one-eighty: Tens of millions of (mostly) men sexually abused these women and men when they were children.
The men who sexually abuse children are our acquaintances, our neighbors, our friends, our fathers, stepfathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers, and nephews. About 60% are known to children, 30% are family members, and 10% are strangers. It’s not a ratio of one abuser to one victim — the trials of priests, coaches, teachers, and scout leaders have shown us that. But the ratio’s likely to be a lot closer to 1-to-1 than we might imagine, especially since most experts believe that child sexual abuse is grossly underreported.
In other words, in any concert, congregation, conference, you can’t throw five pebbles without hitting someone who’s been sexually abused.
The one-eighty version: You can’t throw five pebbles in a congregation, conference, or concert without hitting someone who has — or is — sexually abusing a child.
Thinking that way is very difficult for us. We recoil from it, says Mia Fontaine said in a recent post on Atlantic.com. America has an incest problem, she says. No kidding.
If you look only at child sex abuse, however, you’re looking at only a tiny part of a very large picture — and the main reason for the numbers of people in our prisons, the main reason why people abuse alcohol and other drugs, the main reason why they’re mentally ill, miss work, and are unhappy. A huge chunk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, liver disease, and auto-immune diseases can be attributed to child maltreatment, too. So….
Traditional: More than 700,000 children are abused every year. (Another vastly understated number, because not all severe and chronic trauma — such as living with an alcoholic or mentally ill parent, or witnessing family violence — figures into this number. Also, not all of the sexual, physical and verbal abuse is reported, nor do child protective service agencies investigate all reports of abuse, because of severe funding cutbacks.)
The one-eighty version: (Mostly) parents…men and women…abuse way more than 700,000 children each year. Some people shrug this off because they believe that only the poor mistreat their children. Although poor families may have higher ACE scores on average, the CDC’s ACE Study (Adverse Childhood Experiences Study) and the ACE surveys in 18 other states (here’s Minnesota’s, released last week) show that childhood adversity is very common: in families rich and poor, middle class and upper class, in families where both parents are PhDs, and where both parents have graduated only from high school. This is a universal problem, requiring universal solutions, i.e., targeting only organizations that serve the poor won’t solve our child abuse problem.
Traditional: More than 100 million adults experienced long-term, gut-wrenching brain-altering trauma when they were children.
Do a one-eighty: More than 100 million men and women created environments in which their children experienced long-term, gut-wrenching, brain-altering trauma.
The original CDC ACE Study in San Diego, plus the subsequent ACE surveys in 18 states, indicate that most people in the U.S. endured at least one severe and chronic experience during their childhood. This includes physical, sexual, verbal abuse; physical and sexual neglect; loss of a parent through divorce or abandonment; a parent who’s diagnosed with depression or some other mental illness, or who’s addicted to alcohol or other drugs; witnessing a mother being abused, or a family member in prison. (Of course, there are more: living in a violent neighborhood, witnessing a sibling being abused, war, etc.) And more than half of those have experienced two or more types of childhood adversity. The more types of ACEs you’ve experienced, the higher the risk of health problems, violence (being a victim or an abuser) and mental illness.
Intentionally or not, children are protecting adults, many for their entire lives. Millions of Americans, of both sexes, choke down food at family dinners, year after year, while seated at the same table as the people who violated them. Mothers and other family members are often complicit, grown-ups playing pretend because they’re more invested in the preservation of the family (and, often, the family’s finances) than the psychological, emotional, and physical well-being of the abused.
Most people — men and women — who directly abuse their children or create serious family dysfunction that traumatizes their children (this includes neglect) are often hopelessly stuck acting out the consequences of their own childhood traumas. They were the children — boys and girls — who endured severe and chronic gut-wrenching, brain-altering experiences and then grew up to become men and women. Children don’t “get over” childhood trauma, notes Dr. Vincent Felitti, one of the co-founders of the CDC’s ACE Study. They grow up to be adults, have their own children, and if there’s nobody to show them a different way, they will more than likely pass their traumas on to their children, or other people’s children, like a disease. They’re not “bad” parents or “bad” people. They need help just as much as their children.
When one woman in her 60s who was parenting her grandchild was told that her ACE score was an 8, she said: “These are very, very good questions. Nobody has asked me about this before.” Understanding her own past motivated her to agree to mental health services for her grandchild.
Mayor Rawlings has plans for a big rally in the spring in Dallas where he wants to inspire men to own up to their actions and take responsibility for changing the culture. Maybe he can have one for women after that. And, after that one, families. And after that one, the community.