Sunday, August 24, 2008

It's Not Your Dad's Domestic Violence

Now and then I find myself participating in conversations about domestic violence. Most recently was at a church class that dealt with the role of women in theology. Even at middle age, with both my parents gone nearly 20 years, I find myself getting tense when it's my turn to relate my personal experiences in this area. That old admonishment not to tell "family's personal business" still rears its ugly head.

Earlier this week a semi-public figure in my town was first dismissed from his job, and then arrested on charges of domestic violence. Here's an excerpt from the news article:

Police said there was no actual physical assault against his wife and a gun was not used against her, but he made verbal threats.

Police on Friday afternoon said he was being detained, but was not yet booked. Bond was set at $25,000.

Now, honestly, I don't know whether this was taken so seriously because of his public status or not -- whether anyone in the same situation would be detained and held at such a high bond for having merely made verbal threats. But regardless, I think back on the atmosphere in which I was raised, and think that if such criteria had been applied then, both my parents would have ended up in a Supermax prison.

My mother threatened to poison my father; he retaliated by refusing to eat anything she fixed for him. Getting her to taste it first did no good since my mom was anorexic and could not stand to eat in front of anyone -- she never finished a meal, but generally jumped up from the table after a few bites and ran into the bathroom because we made her "nervous."

My father not only physically assaulted my mother on a regular basis, to the point of my having to call the cops as early as age eight, but he also threatened to "shove a red-hot poker up" her various nether orifices if she followed through on her plan to have our cat neutered.

The threat of violence was something that hung over our household from one weekend to the next, anytime there was a case of beer to be had.

Yes, the police came, but no one ever got taken away. No warrants were ever served, and no one ever went to court. In fact, Dad went to court for a couple of speeding tickets and one DUI, but nothing that ever occurred inside our home.

I'm sure reports were filed, but they were little more than routine paperwork.

But here, just the verbal threats got this guy put behind bars.

The response of law enforcement to such calls seems to have changed quite a bit. But on the other hand, I suspect the average citizen's response to the police presence hasn't changed much. There's still that ambivalence -- Yes, I'm glad the officers are here to calm things down, but I don't necessarily want my partner/spouse/parent arrested because then s/he will lose time from work and will have a record.

A case like this one still sounds like an exception to the rule.

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