Misconceptions about abusers are widespread in modern society — Lundy Bancroft DV in Popular Culture Part 1
From Lundy Bancroft’s lecture DV in Popular Culture:
I spent years and years and years of my life deeply steeped in dealing with abusers. I only had to meet with any particular guy two hours a week, yet I would find myself often thinking that I am going out of my mind after two hours around this guy — what would it be like to have to live with him under the same roof!
Abusers sow confusion
One of the themes that kept going through my mind over the years I was working with abusers and has really driven my writing and training work about it, is confusion. And when I thought about today I found myself coming back over and over again to this theme of confusion. Abusers are very, very good at creating all kinds of confusion that makes them seem so different from what they are: making things seem the opposite of what they are, throwing up all kinds of smoke screens, making people spend a lot of time examining themselves — trying to figure out what’s wrong with them, making people spend a lot of time examining each other to figure out what’s wrong with other people — anything other than looking carefully at the abuser.
Communities end up contributing a lot to the confusion. Abusers end up finding a lot of support from many different places in his community and people who are able to back him up. And it’s not just like bad people. There are a lot of really good people, a lot of really well intention people — people who are really trying to do the right thing — who end up backing the abuser up in all kinds of ways. And because of the ways the methodology and conception about abusers have gotten so widespread in modern society, almost everybody is to some extent subject to it.
Then the media, unfortunately, play a more problematic role than a helpful one. There are occasionally pieces of good information, and today we will look at some examples of good information. We are not only going to look at bad information, so we can think not only about how to criticize or protest the bad influence through the media, but also support and encourage people in media who are doing good work, who are doing positive education for the community. But the media is really a significant part of the problem. You may not be convinced of that now or you may already be convinced of that. I think that if you are not yet, you will be before you leave today — that the media is in many, many ways really in the way.
[Note inserted by Barb Roberts: The Australian media has made great strides in how it reports domestic abuse. There is still room for improvement but it’s a lot better than it used to be. And it is probably better than the American media.]
What kind of response a particular woman or a particular abuser gets at the workplace is going to depend to a great extent on what people in the workplace have come to believe — an underlying sense about domestic violence — about violence in intimate relationships. To the extent that people have come to believe the key myths and misconceptions about abuse, that woman is not likely to get the kind of support that she really needs. And the abuser is likely to be able to wrap people around his finger and get away with a lot.
Whereas, trying to move through an atmosphere where people really get the dynamics of domestic violence, really get how an abuser works, really get what an abused woman goes through and what her needs are, she starts to find herself in an atmosphere where she can really count on people to back her up and where she starts to feel stronger. And the abuser finds himself for the first time hitting walls.
Most abusers have years of practice at getting past everybody
My experience as an abuse counselor is that by the time the abuser gets into an abuser program he has so many years, often decades, of finding he can get past everybody that there is no situation he can’t find a way to work to his advantage. There’s nothing that he can’t find a way to explain, there’s nothing that he can’t actually flip so it becomes something to criticize the abused woman about. And we will look at specific examples from media that illustrate the whole process by which the victim is suddenly the one in whose behavior is being examined or even the one who might end up apologizing for the crime of being abused, the crime of having been beaten.
I have often had people say to me over the years, “That’s really something that you could work with abusers for all those years. I just really don’t think I could do that.” And they find it something kind of admirable. And I say, “Well, why? What do you think is so hard about it or why don’t you think you could do it? “And they say, “Well, because I just don’t think I could have any sympathy or compassion for the abuser.”
Well, to me that is already the beginning point of the confusion that abusers have created because they have created the notion that they are owed sympathy and compassion. Why? They are not owed a drop of special sympathy and compassion for the fact that they beat women. Since when is that a category where you get special sympathy and compassion? During the years that I worked with abusers, if a client came in to the group with a broken leg I had sympathy and compassion for him about this broken leg. If he came in with a terrible cold I had sympathy and compassion for him about his cold. But I never had sympathy and compassion for him about being a woman abuser.
So that already becomes one of the first places where we start to get hooked in. Where we start to feel like we have to understand this guy, we have to understand what he’s going through, we have to figure out how to help him. And yet for most other categories of really destructive behavior, where people are really harming other people, we don’t immediately start to get drawn into, “Oh well, gee. Uh, this poor (guy). “ Our focus [when we run programs for perpetrators] tends to be on the people that they are harming and our focus tends to be on how can we make this person stop, and how do we impose some kind of consequences that might make them not want to do it again.
And yes, we also believe in offering services. I’m obviously a believer in offering services or I wouldn’t have done all those years of work with abusers. But I spent those years with abusers demanding that they change and I spent those years with abusers talking with them over and over again from a really outraged place of what I felt about what they had done: the kind of damage they were bring to the lives of so many women and the lives of so many children and the kind of damage they are doing to the lives of communities. Because abusers are having these vast effects on all kinds of things about our quality of life.
Text transcribed from Part 1 of Lundy Bancroft’s lecture Domestic Violence in Popular Culture, subheadings added by Barbara Roberts. The link takes you to point 6.34 in the lecture on YouTube, which is the place we started this transcription from.