Each year, millions of women are battered in much the same way as revealed in the shocking video of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his fiancée in an Atlantic City casino elevator.
The abuse is no longer cloaked in silence or denial. More women have been willing to report acts of severe aggression. But there’s still reluctance among most men and women to talk about the root causes of this social disease. That must change.
Domestic violence may be the country’s fastest-growing crime. Black women are more likely to be punched, kicked, choked, beaten or suffer from gunshot or knife wounds by a current or ex-partner, compared to other races. On any given weekend, domestic violence runs may be the number one police emergency call.
Who initiates these incidents is not always obvious. Are women guilty of violence toward men? No doubt. By and large, however, men engage in more aggressive acts, more severe acts and multiple aggression actions against their female partners. Of course, these incidents usually result in quite different outcomes for women and men.
The root causes vary. Our legal system has come to identify those accused of domestic violence as victims of upbringing and circumstances. Children born into female-headed households a more apt to be physically and emotionally abused, neglected and more socially maladjusted than those where a father is in the home. But parental hostility in two-parent families also plays a role in shaping the future abuser.
Witnessing parental violence as a child or adolescent is consistently associated with young men becoming an adult basher. Those raised in homes where family turmoil exists are more likely to emulate the behavior.
It’s one thing to recognize the relationship between dysfunctional families and aggression. It may also be beneficial to examine the extent that the spewing of verbal effluence into the popular culture becomes the soundtrack of the lives of young men, and whether it contributes to the problem.
Some, not all “rap,” combines images of crude, raw sex and violence against women. Much of it is vulgar, offensive and culturally degrading.
Yet no one – certainly not men — challenges media depictions of women as nothing more than sex objects. And women, victims of sexually denigrating lyrics that degrade and reduce them to a one-dimensional subservient role, are conspicuously silent. Organizations that purport to support women seem unconcerned about the anti-woman theme of these dehumanizing recordings. Their indignation, if any, is neither vocal nor public despite a body of research that tends to confirm that excessive exposure to media violence is a factor in the upsurge in real-life violence.
So what are policymakers to do? Nearly every state has enacted legislation addressing violence between adult partners. The criminal justice system addresses the problem after the fact. Counseling and education programs also deal with the aftermath. The challenge is to take preventive measures that break the domestic violence cycle.
It is an uncomfortable reality that families, schools and the larger society fail to steer young boys in the right direction. The role men traditionally played in socializing young boys and girls have all but vanished, particularly in inner cities. Boys need to see their fathers in healthy relationships with mothers. Girls need to see mothers in a loving relationship with a man.
The burden would normally rest with community institutions that understand that for young women to survive and blossom, these dire trends in the popular culture must be addressed and reversed. But many inner-city institutions have also disappeared.
So for their own survival, women need to revolt against the proliferation of rap’s cultural decadence — the same way they are speaking out about family violence. Men and women must find ways to restore dignity and respect to intimate personal relationships, and more importantly, to the sanctity of marriage.