To follow up a bit on our threads on Domestic Violence, I recently came across the main page for Tennessee’s Economic Council On Women:

Over the course of the past two years, the Economic Council on Women has undertaken research to determine the economic impact of domestic violence in Tennessee. In that time, there have been changes in two very telling statistics. First, we’ve gone from 7th in the Nation to 5th in the number of women who are murdered each year – usually by an intimate partner and usually with a gun. Also in that time, the Center for Disease Control has increased its estimation of the occurrence of domestic violence from 1 in 4 families to 1 in 3.

Does ECW mean that Tennessee is fifth in murders per year per capita? They do not. Sobering statistics, however we might question them, and I certainly have reason to doubt that Kentucky does much better.

It is a common public discourse to say that domestic violence is an ahistorical phenomenon, affecting all races, classes and regions equally. I might go so far as to say, “a part of patriarchy,” though I hope that will not alienate a key part of my audience.

It is not. David might go so far as to say, “only a fool” would not recognize that such phenomena impact Kentucky and Tennessee far more severly than Massachusetts and California.


The reasons are less than obvious: one might cut in to the point above, by noting that Kentucky’s highway traffic fatalites per capita are nearly six times the national average, and that one factor is a lack of facilites, another a rural population time-distant from urgent care.

One can hardly ignore a history of poverty and ignorance, factors which the Kentucky Historical Society was citing a century ago. I believe that domestic violence is a structured phenonomon– that it repeats itself and follows logic and causation.

Massachusetts can claim with some pride that it was the site of Defending Our Lives and the movement that led to the Violence Against Women Acts. Women (and men) in Massachusetts and elsewhere do not face the prospect of violent death because of those changes– while the situation remains somewhat different in Kentucky and Tennessee.

The problem with Defending Our Lives is that it relied on a series of cases in which it was hardly clear who was defending themselves– the women the documentary portrays as “victims,” or the men that they killed. Look at each case in detail, and you find at best ambiguity, at worse the concrete reasons that juries convicted each of the women for murder.

This is a month that calls us to awareness and understanding. We cannot ignore the concrete acheivements of the moment against domestic violence, nor that there is much still to be acheived, nor that the movement’s techniques, in the face of horrible blindness, made a difference.

But history is not simple “progress,” and what helped in Massachusetts a decade ago, may not work in Kentucky and Tennessee– or elsewhere– today. The assumption of an ‘ahistorical patriachy’ now seems to me as blinding and destructive as the one that police “should not interfere in ‘domestic disputes’.” It’s contrapositive, that women are always the aggrieved party, seems equally misleading and harmful to all involved. And in Kentucky and Tennessee, I might follow Michael Crichton’s contrarion suggestion that the overwhelming impact of the WAVAs is to employ the legal system as a playing field in domestic and personal disputes.

This is a month for understanding and awareness, but what does that entail?

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