Photo by Matthew Stockton via Getty
When it comes to domestic violence, women are more often the victims. But when they're the perpetrators, no one has any idea how to respond.
In her autobiography My Fight/Your Fight, UFC champion, model, and actress Ronda Rousey describes the turbulent relationship she had with her former boyfriend, the MMA fighter Timothy DiGorrio. Writing about him using the pseudonym Snappers McCreepy, Rousey detailed the final fight that ended the relationship they started way back in 2002. According to Rousey, McCreepy had threatened to release some naked photos of her online, right when her career was skyrocketing.
"I deleted the photos," Rousey writes. "Then I erased the hard drive. Then I waited for Snappers McCreepy to come home from work. I stood frozen like a statue in his kitchen, getting angrier and angrier. I started cracking my knuckles and clenched my teeth. The longer I waited, the madder I got. Forty-five minutes later, he walked in the door. He saw my face and froze. He asked what was wrong and when I didn't say anything, he started to cry. I slapped him across the face so hard my hand hurt."
"He wouldn't move. I punched him in the face with a straight right, then a left hook. He staggered back and fell against the door... I slapped him with my right hand. He still wouldn't move. Then I grabbed him by the neck of his hoodie, kneed him in the face and tossed him aside on the kitchen floor."
According to Rousey, her boyfriend tried to block her from leaving the house and then tried to grab the steering wheel of her car as she got in to leave, so she "walked around the car, pulled him by the neck of the hoodie again, dragged him onto the sidewalk and left him writhing there as I sped away."
Although her book was published last summer, this passage detailing what many have called domestic abuse only made its way through ESPN, Sporting News, the Washington Post, and many other news sites last week, right when Rousey was gearing up for one of the biggest fights of her career, the 2015 UFC bantamweight championship in Melbourne. Surrounded by massive media attention far beyond any other UFC fighter before the fight on Sunday, Rousey was forced to address claims that she was getting away with domestic violence because of a sexist double standard.
In 2013, the actress Emma Roberts was arrested in Montreal after giving her boyfriend a bloody nose. Photo via Wikimedia Commons
"If someone is blocking you into an apartment and won't let you leave, you're entitled to defend yourself and find a way out," Rousey said. "If you're trying to get into your car and leave, and they're grabbing your steering wheel and saying you can't leave, technically you're being kidnapped, and you can defend yourself in any way that is necessary. Legally, if someone blocks your exit it's considered kidnapping."
According to Oregon-based attorney Jenny Logan, Rousey was most likely "confusing [the crime of] false imprisonment—a civil harm—with the crime of kidnapping, which involves not only a violation of an individual's right to be free of restraints on freedom of movement, but an additional element of physical movement without consent." Jared G. Coleman, a San Diego–based attorney who focuses on neutral ground meditation, also noted that "if she could have reasonably just walked out, or if no force was necessary, Rousey's punching might not have been lawful."
Being repeatedly beat with a hair dryer is abuse.
But regardless of whether Rousey's actions were legal, they bring up an uncomfortable challenge to our notions of gender: When a woman beats a man, how seriously should we take it? The Violence Against Women Act was first passed in 1994, under President Clinton. In 2013, the bill was updated by President Obama to place particular focus on Native American women, immigrants, victims of sex trafficking, and LGBT survivors, pouring $660 million (over the following five years) into programs that provide legal assistance, transitional housing, counseling, and support hotlines to victims of domestic violence. Although many Republicans objected to the legislation, it is still active. In a PBS Newshour segment in 2013, Cindy Southworth of the National Network to End Domestic Violence said that America has seen almost a "50% increase in reporting" of domestic violence, a "34% decrease in homicides of women," and "60% decrease in homicides of men, primarily by their female partners when they felt they had no other choice but self-defense."
When it comes to male victims, however, the definition of "self-defense" has generally been interpreted widely for women, and less so for men, says Santa Monica–based divorce lawyer David Pisarra, a vocal advocate for StopAbuseForEveryone.org who works with the LA Domestic Violence Council. "Self-defense is responsible force to prevent harm to oneself or another when you're in reasonable apprehension of harm," he says. "A lot of the [VAWA] legislation rose out of the horrific"—and highly publicized—"murder of Nicole Brown Simpson. It was such a seminal moment in our history because it provoked this consciousness about domestic violence. We are coming to a point now, though, where we have to deal with the other side of that."
The other side of that, he says, is when women commit domestic violence against men. Although it's less common, Pisarra brings up the very public case of Jodi Arias, a young woman who brutally murdered her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander. "[Alexander] had 27 stab wounds; he was almost beheaded and shot in the head. [That is] almost identical to what happened to Nicole Brown Simpson, yet nobody talks about Travis Alexander as a victim of domestic violence."
This is not necessarily for want of legislation, but more for most people's inability to wrap their heads around it. "The law says very clearly anybody who is being abused psychologically, emotionally, financially, sexually or physically, is entitled to a temporary restraining order and then they are entitled to a hearing to obtain a permanent restraining order," Pisarra says. A temporary restraining order is almost always granted by the judge, regardless of evidence, because, as Pisarra says, no judge wants to be the one who denied a victim a restraining order when something horrible or even fatal ends up happening. "All of this happens in an environment that says that women are not abusive—[and that] men are, by nature, abusive creatures and we need to protect women."
What kind of wimp guy has to go to the police to get a restraining order against his wife? Like, how much of a pussy are you?
Historically, there is a reason for this: Women and children have generally taken the abuse, while men have given it. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics from 2005 report, "the majority (73%) of family violence victims were female. Females were 84% of spouse abuse victims and 86% of victims of abuse at the hands of a boyfriend or girlfriend." Furthermore, "males comprised 77% of suspected family violence offenders arrested in 2000." The NCADV reports 1 in 5 women will be severely physically abused in an intimate relationship, while 1 in 7 men will experience the same.
Nevertheless, these statistics still show that men experience domestic violence, too. But it is rarely reported, and often considered laughable if it is, because of gender stereotypes. Pisarra says that most men he works with do not consider what they had experienced "abuse" because they did not break any bones or get a black eye. "I had years of explaining to men in my office that this is unacceptable behavior," he says. "Being repeatedly beat with a hair dryer is abuse."
Read more: A Woman's Touch: When Pedophiles Aren't Men
And if they do recognize the abuse, the stigma against male domestic violence victims makes it more difficult for them to seek help. "What kind of wimp guy has to go to the police to get a restraining order against his wife? Like, how much of a pussy are you?" Pisarra says, sarcastically. What's more, he says, the reality of biological strength and the overbearing social stigma play a huge role in how the courts look at claims of abuse. Although all claims are reviewed on a case-by-case basis, as our definitions of gender, sexuality, and even intimacy become more progressive, traditional laws will have to adapt to new cultural understandings. Highly publicized cases of women committing domestic violence against men—like Ronda Rousey, as well as Hope Solo, Princess Love, Jodi Arias, and even Emma Roberts—are increasingly common in highlighting this unexpected gendered double standard. Although our ingrained notions of gender may make these instances difficult to comprehend, there is, according to Pisarra, ultimately a bottom line. "You can't hit anybody," he says. "That just isn't right."
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