Trigger Warning: Domestic violence and victim blaming 

Have you seen this article about the part that women allegedly play in domestic violence? It was written by a clinical psychologist called Sallee McLaren.

In it, Ms McLaren says that from a moral standpoint, she agrees that violence is always the fault of the perpetrator, however, as a psychologist, she believes there is a 50:50 “contribution to the final outcome of violence”. She goes on  to discuss a scenario where a male raises his voice at his female partner. The female does not object, which apparently gives him permission to continue. It escalates to swearing and again she does not object. McLaren says the woman is thinking to herself that it can’t get much worse, so why aggravate the situation? Eventually, in this scenario, the male is verbally abusing the female while smashing her head into a wall. McLaren suggests that this has all come about because of the first time he raised his voice at her and received no objection and no authoritative threats to leave should he do so again. This, she says, is an example of how a woman is 50% responsible for the violent outcome described.

She discusses this in terms of “training”- by tolerating a bit of yelling, the woman has apparently trained her partner to thinking that is okay. By tolerating increased yelling and swearing, she has “trained” him to think that is also okay and so on.

I’m no psychologist, but I’m calling bullshit.

Not objecting is not the same as consenting. From my own experience, I can tell you with absolute certainty that being yelled at, sworn at and generally verbally abused is in no way something I have ever consented to or agreed to. As I have said before in matters of assaults against women, ‘yes’ is not our default setting. I have been on the receiving end and said nothing. Why? Because I was scared. I was being verbally abused by a person who was physically stronger than me and whose disproportionate anger was not going to respond to any threats of leaving I might have made. Even when I did eventually make them, it simply fueled the fire and made him angrier.

Why is it the woman who is “training” her male partner in the scenario described? To me, it seems the opposite is true. The male yells at his female partner. She is shocked and scared and says nothing for fear of making it worse. The next time, he yells more and swears at her. Even more fearful, she is still too scared to object. Gradually it escalates to physical violence and instead of being scared to cop another mouthful of abuse, she is now scared for her life. Maybe even for the lives of her children. Who has trained who, here?

Domestic violence is often a collection of behaviours- it’s not limited to physical violence. It is emotional and verbal abuse. It is economic abuse. It is manipulation, control and harassment. People, most often women, who are victims of domestic violence have often been isolated from close friends and family. Their avenues of escape are limited. If they do escape, they are at their most vulnerable immediately after leaving. And it is a cycle.

Ms McLaren goes on to discuss how girls are taught to be passive, which is true in many cases, and I agree that we as parents have a part to play here in teaching our girls that they can and should go after whatever they want in life. McLaren says we need to “train” our girls to develop mental toughness, to take themselves seriously and to be authoritative with men. In my experience as a parent, girls simply don’t believe they are less than boys unless you tell them so. Boys don’t believe they are stronger or better than girls inherently, either. These are learned ideas and yes, as parents, we have a role to play in this. That’s why I’m doing my best to raise feminist kids.

This country is showing some alarming figures when it comes to male violence against women and our government has identified it as a critical issue. Unfortunately, their rhetoric has proved empty as reflected in the budget released this week which showed a serious lack of funding and support for such a huge issue. Australian women are dying every week because of domestic violence. Survivor Rosie Batty has coined the term “family terrorism” and she’s right. Domestic violence is the systematic terrorising of a person, most often a woman, within their own home. When it comes to male violence against women, I’m baffled as to why a psychologist is telling us it is at least half the fault of the victim. Why is she suggesting we must train our girls to be tough enough to say no to violent abuse? Is that really the root of this problem- that female victims aren’t objecting loudly or clearly enough? That being paralysed by fear is the same as consent?

Victims are not being abused because they aren’t assertive enough or don’t object. They aren’t being abused because they weren’t raised to be tougher or more authoritative. They are being abused because they have partners who abuse them. What we need is education; kids in school should know about what domestic violence is and why it is wrong. Teens and adults need support and access to services to help them get out of dangerous relationships. Blaming the victims is pointless, unhelpful and disappointing as hell when it is coming from a mental health professional who should really know better.



Important Links:

Assessing Dangerousness in Men who Abuse Women- Lundy Bancroft

1800-Respect – Get help and support if you need it


Linking up with:

#FYBF @ With Some Grace

#Weekend Rewind @ Maxabella Loves

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