Domestic violence can happen to anyone

Four years ago, Jana Mackey, one of my college roommates at The University of Kansas, was killed by her ex-boyfriend. When I lived with Jana, I knew her as a music major and a really fun person. But she had a serious side that came to the forefront over the next few years. Jana went to law school, got involved in domestic violence activism, and became a lobbyist at the Kansas State Legislature trying to bring attention to women's health and safety.

Her work made her death tragically ironic, but it also drives home a point. Domestic violence (whether physical or emotional) isn't just something that happens to the naive, or the weak. It's not something you can write off as "somebody else's problem."

There's a picture going around Facebook right now, of a young woman holding a sign that says, "Society teaches, 'Don't get raped' when it should teach 'Don't rape.'" I think the same thing is true here. There's too much focus on finding reasons to criticize or distance ourselves from women who have been abused, and not enough of a focus on preventing abuse from happening—by teaching kids how to have healthy relationships, by encouraging family and friends to step in when they see someone they know being abusive, and by making sure cops and courts take domestic violence seriously.

Jana's family is trying to rectify this through a nonprofit called Jana's Campaign. The Campaign put out this video last winter. On the anniversary of Jana's death, I wanted to share it with you. There's a message here. Take it to heart. Together, we can stop asking people, "Why did you let that happen to yourself?" and, instead, find ways to change the social values and incentives that allow abusers to go unchallenged, untreated, and unpunished.

Visit the website for Jana's Campaign


  1. As a feminist, I look forward to a campaign that is gender neutral. Looking over this website, I see women portrayed over and over as the victim, without regard to men as a victim. After a male friend of mine was physically assaulted by a girl who wanted to date him,  I looked up the statistics for my county – 25% of domestic assault arrests were female, much more than I imagined. My friend did not press charges; I imagine this alters the ratio.

    Please don’t get me wrong; I support this campaigns actions, but it needs to be inclusive. Domestic violence can truly happen to anyone; even men.

    Maggie, your points are spot-on. I fear that the “Don’t get raped”/”Don’t rape” oversimplifies things as my friend’s abuser isn’t a rapist and she misses the fact that she’s got to do something about her behavior.

    1. Thank you!  I agree. It should state, “There’s too much focus on finding reasons to criticize or distance ourselves from *people* who have been abused… ” While women may remain the vast majority (not sure how true this is or if women abusing men is not reported as much), this effort should be for all that find themselves in an abusive relationship.

      1. Oh and I think the point about 
        “Don’t get raped”/”Don’t rape” is meant as guidance, for this campaign, it would be working towards the attitude change from “Don’t be abused” to “Don’t abuse.”

        1. Speaking as an abuse victim, and a rather extreme one at that, there *is* something to “don’t be abused” though. It can happen to anyone, but the very stigma of it helps to perpetuate it. Denial, shame, anyone can get on the wrong side of things. However, you *do* have to do something, and it’s really hard. Really hard. Like, you will likely lose everything you know, every one you know, potentially face death, and be stigmatized for the rest of your life hard… or you’ll keep being abused. Maybe you’ll die and people will either prop your corpse up as a poster child, or use it as an effigy to kick some more. Either way, the amazing thing is, that you don’t belong to you… and both of these things seem to confirm that deep in our society we seem to believe on some level that people who are abused deserve abuse or must be martyrs.

          Not a fun choice. I don’t think we will ever rid the world of abusive people, and the truth is when you’ve lived with abuse you also have that quality in you as well. It takes a lot to face that.

          Abusers aren’t always bad people, they may not always have been abusive, they may not abuse always. How does it happen then?

          Then there’s the whole self abuse cycle that can kick off. It’s… honestly just very hard. It is easier to say “don’t rape” because it is a single action (don’t have sex with people who are not consenting to sex). Abuse is insidious though. It can be more like a duet. And it honestly *does* something to your mind, IMO.

    2. Morcheeba, as a feminist as well, I implore you to dig a little deeper into your readings around domestic violence and abuse.

      On one hand, yes, I absolutely agree that there are women who are abusive to their male or female partners, and men who are abused by their male partners as well. However — within the social structures of contemporary North American culture, men have more power over women. More economic power, more social power, more representation in things like government office, etc. A simple statistic must be read within its context. This 25% of women who were arrested for domestic violence assaults. Where did you find this statistic ? On a government site, a feminist site, a men’s rights site, on a domestic violence support site ?

       It is my understanding that many of the women who are charged with domestic violence have caused injuries — injuries that were caused in SELF DEFENSE against an aggressive, abusive partner (often one that is physically larger and stronger, who has a pattern of threatening and violent behavior)who is causing them to fear for their life. It is a common dynamic that the abusive partner suddenly turns into Mr.Nice Guy when the cops show up, and that his victim is extremely upset, scared, angry, hurt, agitated which is then turned around to make her seem like she is the “crazy one” and he is the victim, and then the woman is charged.

      Statistically — how many men are killed by their female partners in an act of domestic violence every year (excluding acts of life threatening self defense by the women)? How many women are killed every year by their male partners in an act of  domestic violence ?  

      I am in no way trivializing men that have been abused by a woman — but I think that you need to look at this issue in its entire context.

      Jana’s family have made an extraordinary effort to commemorate their daughter’s life. In the video no one spoke about their perceptions of Jana’s relationship, or their initial feelings toward her boyfriend who became her murderer. They spoke about Jana’s strengths, her education and commitments, as well as her understanding of the dynamics of domestic violence. She is a perfect example of the sort of woman who you would not expect to be murdered by a partner. This happened because her boyfriend was abusive.

      I find it disheartening that the very first comment is basically “What about teh menz ?” in response to this.

      What about the menz, the ones who need to learn not to abuse ? And the other menz who need to speak up when they see that their friend, brother, coworker, neighbor, stranger on public transit is acting abusively towards his partner (or a stranger) ?

      1.  Because every time we make an issue about supporting one sex over the other (for whatever reason) we legitimize unequal rights and responsibilities. The message MUST be that abuse is unacceptable. Regardless of the gender, sexuality, race or age of any of the participants. Even the most uncommon and statistically rare cases of abuse deserve our equal wrath.

        Anything less sends the message that some abuse is worse than others. That some abuse is more acceptable than others.

        1. This is not an issue about “supporting one sex over another”. Abuse in all its forms is unacceptable. The dynamics of abuse are basic — one person uses force, intimidation, threats, etc. to oppress and control another person. 

          There is a difference between a crappy boss who puts his staff down all the time and intimate partner violence for example. There are similarities, yes, but the crappy boss seldom murders his staff out of jealousy if they want to quit that job, unlike women who are at the greatest risk of violence when they are in the process of leaving an abusive partner. Intimate partner violence is particularly corrosive, and deadly at its worst. Approaching this from the standpoint that all violence is equal is utopian, and ignores the context. If there were as many men that were killed by an intimate partner as there were women, then this subject would probably be approached differently. 

          I feel that a really excellent statistic would be zero people of any gender that are murdered in an act of domestic violence.

      2. You lost me when you mocked me. You’ve also missed my point, which I clearly stated in my first sentence – it is not about “teh menz”, it is about the people. :-(

        But, for the record, I pulled up the crime reports from my city and my county.

  2. You’re ignoring same-sex domestic violence, orangedesperado. It tends to get swept under the rug. We’ve come a long way in how we as a society view domestic violence, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t room for lots of improvement. Yes, most domestic violence is a male abusing a female. Does that mean we don’t have to worry about same-sex abuse? The majority of people abused aren’t men- does that mean we don’t have to worry about men being abused? Anyone who gets abused deserves recognition and help, be they male, female, gay, straight, white, black, etc. I think if it was more socially acceptable for an abused man to reach out for help, we’d realize it’s far more common than we know- similar to sexual assault (female-on-male or male-on-male.)

    1. Please see the second paragraph of my first post. I apologize for the gendered language in my second reply. A person leaving an abusive  partner faces the greatest risk of harm or death when they are leaving the abuser.

      While we would like to treat this subject on some sort of level playing field, that playing field does not exist yet.

      Yes, intimate partner violence happens in same sex relationships, and cuts across all racial, religious, economic, class and educational levels. The actual statistics of which gender has the most murderous aggression (ie who murders their partner or former partner)is overwhelmingly men killing women. 

      1. How does using gendered language and stereotypes help to level the playing field?

        If you are waiting for statistical parity for DV across all groups, genders, and orientations before you are willing to talk the talk then you are going to be waiting forever.

        What does using gender neutral language cost you here?

        As far as I can tell, the actual statistics of who is killing whom are irrelevant whilst there are any cases other than male-on-female DV. Those victims deserve acknowledgement too.

  3. “There’s too much focus on finding reasons to criticize or distance ourselves from women who have been abused,”

    And how are men treated who claim abuse? Are they finding great support in society? Or are they even more marginalized because “real men don’t get abused”?

    Growing up in a family where the abuse stemmed from the woman (mostly emotional but also physical assault, including knives and kicks to the head) this single sex focus focus always pisses me off. 

    You know how I was treated when I told people about what happened at home? That I was making it up, because my mother is such a nice person and my dad so much taller then here, and hey, I am not small either, so how could I make such claims?

    If you think women are marginalized when they talk about abuse, try being a guy in that situation and tell me it’s any better.

    1. Michael, it sounds like you were a child that was being abused by a parent. You don’t say how old you were when this happened.

      It is common that the victim is blamed, and told that they could have somehow “prevented this”. This is a fucked up dynamic that particularly happens to bullied kids, rape victims, domestic violence victims, and people who have been molested as children. Abuse generally happens in private, isolating the victim — perpetrators are smart enough to realize that being aggressively abusive in front of people will probably make them unpopular at the least, incarcerated at the most. 

      Trauma is trauma — but there is a difference between child abuse and intimate partner violence.

      If as a man, you were treated badly by friends, professionals, etc. that you disclosed the circumstances of your abuse to, then those people were not your friends, and the professionals were not a good fit for you. Not all professionals are competent, sadly. There are online groups, forums, etc. for survivors of molestation, child abuse, trauma, etc. Many survivors of abuse, violence, etc. have a very difficult time making themselves understood by people who have not personally experienced this, and experience new levels of blame, shaming, judgement, condescension, and even people siding with their abuser. Poor treatment of the people who disclose their assault or abuse is not limited to one gender — though there may be different social forces at play that shape the poor treatment (ie “boys don’t cry” v.s. “don’t tell people, they will think you are damaged goods” for girls/women).

      1. “You don’t say how old you were when this happened.”
        It started when I was around five and continued until my mothers death at around age 22. 

        “It is common that the victim is blamed, and told that they could have somehow “prevented this”.”

        Yes, I had that too. Both my parents turned into alcoholics over this (my mother first, then my father later), and when the both died within six months of each other I was blamed by the extended family for this, because, hey, they wouldn’t have been alcoholics or dead that young (late 50s / early 60s) if I wouldn’t have been a bad son. There’s a reason I stopped talking to the rest of the family.

        “Abuse generally happens in private, isolating the victim — perpetrators are smart enough to realize that being aggressively abusive in front of people will probably make them unpopular at the least, incarcerated at the most. ”

        Oh absolutely, but to a large part there is also willful ignorance at play here: “It can’t be what isn’t supposed to be.” would summarize that quite nicely.

        “Poor treatment of the people who disclose their assault or abuse is not limited to one gender — though there may be different social forces at play that shape the poor treatment (ie “boys don’t cry” v.s. “don’t tell people, they will think you are damaged goods” for girls/women).”

        Yes, absolutely, but this is why this entire “No violence against women” etc. ticks me off, it makes the issue completely one sided: guys are bad, women are victims. And from observation and personal experience? There are quite a few women who “ride” this stereotype all the way to the bank.

        My personal approach has and is that I call women out on their bullshit, which has me branded by some as “misogynist” because I don’t give free passes for bad behaviour.

        It is just deeply annoying and disappointing to me when I the same old lines being repeated on sites like BoingBoing who keep reinforcing this idea with posts like these.

        Until we get away from an “Us vs. Them” mentality this won’t get any better.

        BTW, an observation I have made, growing up in Europe, is the different understanding of Feminism vs. the US / NA one. In Europe it really was about equal opportunities for both genders, here in NA it seems it’s more about pay back. I think in part that lies in the genesis on both movements. In Europe it was a generational conflict, the kids from the 60s vs. the old guard who brought us WWII. In NA it was part of the civil rights movement which completely changed the tone, with too many people liking the idea of being the eternal victim, because whatever a victim does to make their lot better is okay, only abuse of power is bad. Completely ignoring just how much power these groups do wield. I am not saying all self-identified feminists are that way, but the loud ones, the ones that get into the mainstream media and have a large soapbox do. It’s business after all. I wish more of the “normal” feminists would try and take those down and change the message to equality instead of: “I still haven’t gotten this specific piece that I think I deserve.”.

        1.  At this point, I think that most people know that physical abuse is unacceptable behavior, so physical abuse DOES happen behind closed doors. But I’ve seen a LOT of verbal/emotional abuse dished out in public (often by female partner against male partner but not always) and no one really does or says anything about it.  Myself included, sad to say.  The behavior is so far outside of  what I consider ‘socially acceptable’  that it just kind of shuts me down. I have NO idea what to do or say when I hear a person going on with “my spouse is so stupid and incompetent” stories that are supposed to be “cute” and “funny” but are a horrifying display of disrespect and unkindness.  I have NO idea what to do or say when a couple seated next to me at a gathering starts discussing what they are going to order for dinner and the next thing I know, the wife is shrieking at the husband “Well, maybe if you hadn’t turned me into a CRAZY PERSON, I would have a JOB!!”….or something similar.. It’s just ….wow. What can you do or say to let  the abuser know their behavior isn’t acceptable and tell the victim we’re not embarrassed or ashamed of the victim in any way, but we’re just not sure how to respond….

  4. The male / female size differential is another form of evolutionary sexual selection. I’m sure you can figure out the mechanism.  And while people aren’t just a product of (and hostage to) their genes – it will shift the bell curve somewhat.

  5. Are there really “social values and incentives that allow abusers to go unchallenged, untreated, and unpunished”? I thought this sort of thing was clearly illegal and generally considered to be something only truly despicable people do.

    The problem is that no matter how illegal and socially unacceptable something is, some people will do it anyway. I don’t think just changing social values will fix it. Though it is of course important that this issue receives extra attention.

    1. Absolutely, there are. The Jerry Sandusky case is a very visible example of the lengths of moral compromise that cover the misdeeds of people holding social power. If we, as a society, pin accountability on the powerful instead of shooting the powerless messengers, we have a lot to gain.
      Additionally, the idea that only despicable people abuse is in direct conflict with the fact that some of the people we know and love are abusers. The binary perception of abusers stifles our ability to identify abuse when we see it.

  6. I could throw in my two bob as a survivor of attempted murder, but meh… whatever. IMO preventing abuse looks pretty straightforward through the lens of interpersonal neurobiology; it’s mostly down to early parenting. It seems to be slowly improving.

    I just wanted to pop my head in to say there’s a whole class of people domestic violence can’t happen to.

    Folks who live alone : p

  7. Men are also the victims of domestic abuse, but nobody really knows what the ratio actually is, given the chances of a man going to the police to report being abused by their wife. Far more men get raped than most people would think, for much the same reason.

    The numbers are much worse for women, by all accounts, but it really can happen to anyone.

    1. I would say the numbers are probably even, the difference is in which way the abuse happens. Men mostly tend to lash out physically, while women have the tendency to do it on an emotional level.

      That’s probably no small part why you see mostly “stop violence against women” ads. It’s easy to show a black eye or bruises, it’s not so easy to show the mental damage.

      Ironically enough, most people behind these campaigns wouldn’t wait a second to point out that the physical aspects aren’t really the REAL issue, but the emotional scarring they cause.

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