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I made him hit me! Strategies for Spousal/Partner Abuse
I made him hit me! Strategies for Spousal/Partner Abuse

Section 17
Risk Factors Associated with Partner Abuse

Question 17 | Answer Booklet | Table of Contents
Psychologist CEs, Counselor CEUs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

Typical Situations that Arise with Men of Color
Men of color who are physically abusive frequently use their native culture as an excuse: "Where I come from everybody does it." "It's just about being a man. This is normal." "All men from (back home) beat their wives." Instead of denying their behavior, they say that their partner was disrespectful, that she argued or yelled or that she refused to do what he told her to do. This is very different from the way European American offenders explain their behavior: they usually deny or minimize their violence or blame the victim: "She pushed me into it." "If you knew what she was like, you'd do the same thing. You don't know what she's like!"

Faced with these different "scripts" European Americans often feel hopeless: What can you do with people who think it is acceptable to be violent? They also end up feeling that men of color who use these "scripts" are more violent or pathological and have less hope of changing. This causes people in the judicial system either to have lower expectations with men of color-- people often back off (why bother?)-- or they throw the book at these men.

What is Happening in these Encounters? Two Factors to Think about:
1. There is a universal tendency to think that "Other people are more violent-- it's in their blood or their culture." When this is applied to physically abusive men, it translates into, "Our batterers are deviants, theirs are in their cultural mainstream." In reality, there is a widespread and pervasive pattern of male abusiveness toward women in this society. In addition, this country has the highest homicide rate of any developed country (with the current exception of Russia?) and ownership of weapons is viewed as a basic constitutional right, which many Europeans and Asians find outrageous. This is not to criticize European American society, but to emphasize that violence is a part of our cultural mainstream also.

2. The other element that may be behind these encounters stems from the difference in the "scripts" used by some men of color and by European American men. In general, the lopsided levels of violence by men against women that appear in many cultures are an expression of different forms of male dominance or systems of male supremacy. However, these systems change over time and are manifested in different ways. In mainstream European American culture, there is a covert surreptitious system of male supremacy that underlies much of Anglo batterers' behavior. In mainstream Anglo culture, men do not make direct claims for women's or spouses' obedience, but they tend to react strongly when a woman does not meet their expectations. They may expect women to provide emotional caretaking, to be compliant in a lot of ways and to do much unpaid labor in the home, and they may also expect to have a final say in many matters. Yet not many European American men directly say that their partners have to obey or do whatever he wants. In covert systems of male supremacy, physically abusive men tend to deny or minimize their violent behavior, claim they lost control or say their partner pushed them into it. They also engage in victim-blaming: they dwell on some instance of disappointing or hurtful behavior by their spouse as the "real" problem and the reason for their violent conduct. They also claim that their physical abuse is of no importance when compared to their spouse's transgression as if a person had to earn the right to be nonviolent. In effect, when there is a covert or veiled pattern of male supremacy, physically abusive men do not take direct responsibility for their behavior or claim they have a right to control their spouses, but their conduct has a powerful controlling and inhibiting effect nevertheless.

Also, when there is a covert system of male supremacy, as in European American society, it does not mean that men are less violent or that they use less violence or other forms of control and abuse with women. However, it is easy to believe that men who use the European American script or system of justifications are less violent-- after all, they are more invested in concealing their controlling and violent behaviors or in justifying their violence as exceptional, provoked outbursts. On the other hand, men who are imbedded in overt or direct systems of male supremacy openly expect women to subordinate themselves. They have a very strong, if not rigid, notion of gender roles and of women's position as housewives, mothers or sexualized objects who are expected to be compliant or yielding in many ways. In direct systems of male supremacy, simple disagreement by a woman may be seen as disrespectful, and if she begins a direct conflict, she may be seen as a rebellious bad wife who has turned her back on her culture and is trying to destroy her family. Women who are imbedded in a system of direct male supremacy may take longer to assert their rights when they are being battered but may feel quite determined when they take a step; they may also face enormous opposition from their families and from their communities.

Men who are from cultures where there is an overt system of male supremacy may not be more violent or less prone to change than those who grew up with a covert system. They talk about violence toward spouses in a different way, but what they do does not differ much from what Anglos do. In fact, if we take Hispanics as one example of a group where male supremacy is more directly accepted, a recently carried out national survey (Kaufman Kantor et al., 1994) indicates that on the aggregate Hispanic men are no more violent than Anglos-- there are no significant differences in the two groups. Also, direct systems of male supremacy often go along with a strong sense of obligation to the family: part of "machismo" the Hispanic of male supremacy, is a very strong sense of the man's duty to support his family. To fail to support one's family is to fail as a man. Finally, it is important not to confuse an overt or direct system of male supremacy with permission to be violent: men
may have a "right" to subordinate their spouses, but resorting to violence is a separate matter.

What are the practical applications of understanding these differences?
1. Don’t misinterpret men of color based on what they say. It is more useful to direct your attention to their level of violence (frequency, history, level of injury, impact on spouse and children and so on). This is the best indicator of dangerousness and potential to change.
2. Don’t overreact or back off: engage. If a "throw the book" reaction takes place, it is unfair, may penalize him unfairly and deprive a man of the opportunity to take responsibility. On the other hand, feeling hopeless and giving up lets men off the hook and leaves their partners unprotected. Instead, set forth clear and consistent expectations and enforce them evenly. When men claim that their violent behavior is normal, it simply isn't true.
3. Avoid becoming paralyzed by fear of destroying someone’s culture. Physically abusive men of color often claim that those who confront them are trying to destroy their culture or deprive them of their manhood. This is no more true for them than it is for European American offenders; to challenge someone's abusive behavior is not to destroy their culture. Instead, you can say (just as we do with European American batterers) that violence and abuse are never justified, and there is no way of getting off the hook about this issue. This is a legitimate cross-cultural or universal value.
4. Try to vigilant about your cultural baggage and filters. We all interpret our environment and other people's behavior based on the way we were brought up. There is nothing wrong about these filters, but one has to take care not to misapply these ways of understanding people and their behavior. For European Americans, the "normal" script for physically abusive men is a covert system of male supremacy; one has to counteract the tendency to overreact to men who use the direct male supremacy script.
5. Try to use positive elements of the men’s tradition of manhood to promote change. In all cultures there are values, practices and traditions that facilitate male dominance and oppression of women as well as values that are protective and support men’s recognition of women’s self-determination. Effective practice for batterer intervention programs involves understanding and using these culture elements to help men change.

Domestic Violence and Cultures: Moving toward more Sophisticated Encounters
Fernando Mederos, Ed.D.

Personal Reflection Exercise #8
The preceding section was about risk factors associated with partner abuse. Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

According to Mederos, what is the difference between the way a person of European descent and a person of African descent might explain their abusive behavior?
To select and enter your answer go to Answer Booklet.

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