Why Some Men Batter Women (and Why Some Women Take It): Domestic Violence Is America's Most Common Crime

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Why Some Men Batter Women (And Why Some Women Take It)

BEFORE you finish reading this paragraph, one Black woman will be battered by her husband or boyfriend. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence says a woman is battered by her husband or boyfriend in this country every 15 seconds, making domestic violence America's most common - but least reported - crime. And, experts report, many of the victims are Black.

Vickii Coffey, 39, says she was one of the large number of Black victims. Coffey, who married her childhood sweetheart when she was 19, says her dream marriage turned into a nightmare of violence that often resulted in her hospitalization. Eventually, she says, she turned the violence inward, blaming herself for her plight.

After eight years, Coffey filed for divorce, saying among other things, that she feared for the life of her two small sons, one of whom, she says, tried to protect her from the abuse.

Today, almost 13 years later, Vickii Coffey is the executive director of Greenhouse, Chicago's oldest and largest shelter for battered women and their children. Now happily married, she fights to keep the doors of her shelter open-as well as the minds of an unsympathetic public which often can't understand why battered women remain with their abusers. "The question I get all the time is, 'Why would a woman stay there and take something like that? What's her problem?'" says Coffey who now counsels women on their options to violence. "That is victim blaming. There are many factors that prevent her from leaving."

Unlike many White women who are battered, Black women, Coffey says, often lack the financial resources that allow them to escape their abusive homes. Moreover, police often minimize domestic violence complaints and fail to tell women about their legal rights or refer them to shelters for battered women. Friends and family members often refuse to help because they are conditioned to believe that what goes on between a man and "his woman" is private. They also fear that protecting a woman against her abuser makes them targets. In some cases, adds Coffey, female friends are victims of domestic violence, too.

Dr. Jacquelyne Johnson Jackson, a medical sociologist at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., says many women who remain with abusive partners have been conditioned to be subservient from infancy. As children, they are taught "their place" - a passive role which includes serving their fathers, brothers and other male figures while putting their wishes last and never asserting their rights. In this type of household, male siblings always receive more praise and support and usually spend more quality time their fathers. Female siblings are limited to a circle of female family members, a group which is traditionally submissive to and dependent upon males for survival, explains Dr. Jackson.

Dr. Nathan Hare, a clinical psychologist and sociologist in private practice in San Francisco, sees common traits among men who batter women. He says while abusive men are found in all races and socioeconomic groups, most Black male abusers are jealous, insecure and are attempting to imitate the classic "street pimp," playing a "mind game" with the women by showing a loving and warm side to sustain interest - then inflicting pain. Other abusive men are imitating their fathers or their mothers' boyfriends and convince themselves that women expect abuse. "These men see their manhood as their ability to control women who are out of control," says Dr. Hare, who adds that many male abusers have been victimized themselves. "Others are sociopaths, men who have no sense of right and wrong."

Dr. Hare says men can learn how to control their violence toward women by redefining their manhood. "Many men feel that they must win every confrontation and if the woman does not submit, it's a rejection of their manhood," says Dr. …