I have been moved by the experiences shared by so many during the the recent Kavanaugh hearings. However, I took pause when our President said, “it is a scary time for young men in America”. The argument is that Judge Kavanaugh has been the victim in the Senate proceedings, and now young men everywhere need to be afraid, as they, too, can be potential victims of false allegations. What struck me, however, is how many times I have heard this “victim” position claimed by perpetrators of domestic violence.
In domestic violence intervention classes, it is common for participants to initially use the defense of, “I’m the real victim here!” They argue that their partner is the one who was violent: “I was protecting myself and I was the one arrested!” They like to point out that if the police come to a domestic violence call, it is the man that is going to be arrested. We hear this frequently as people try to avoid accountability and present themselves in a positive light. While there is no doubt that there is a rare case of someone being falsely arrested and convicted, the clear majority of those who claim this defense are guilty of the crime. In fact, the vast majority of those who were arrested, but not convicted, are also guilty—there just wasn’t enough evidence for a conviction.
It is a time-honored tradition to throw the accuser under the bus to avoid accountability. Demoralizing, humiliating and blaming the victim is the go-to strategy for those trying to avoid accountability. This is a powerful reason victims/survivors do not report sexual assault or domestic violence. Reporting these crimes is an absolute act of courage.
Whenever a significant social change is in process, those who most benefit from the status quo become fearful
Our President is right when saying “it is a scary time for young men”, but likely not for the reasons he intended. Young men are faced with major social change. Whenever a significant social change is in process, those who most benefit from the status quo become fearful. Men, young and old, are slowly being held to a higher standard of accountability for their behavior. I’ve heard more than one man outside of BIP questioning what past indiscretions might surface from their past. Was I, too, inappropriate in college? At my first job? At that bachelor’s party? This will cause fear of exposure. Men are now faced with a growing expectation to treat others with more respect and dignity. This, too, can create fear. Men will be asked to share social power, benefitting less from entitlement and privilege: yet another reason to be afraid. While this social change can be scary, when it is all said and done, young men will benefit greatly from the freedom they can receive from such a change. Men in this generation are given the potential to help create a community that previous generations could not or would not create due to the fear of living with freedom and justice for all.
It takes time, but slowly, participants learn that owning horrible behaviors is the beginning of the healing process
In domestic violence classes, it is gratifying to listen to participants take personal responsibility and ownership for their past behavior. It takes time, but slowly, participants learn that owning horrible behaviors is the beginning of the healing process. Men stepping forward and saying, “I was wrong, and I am sorry” is far too rare an act of courage. Listening quietly to victims express the resulting pain from abusive and traumatic experiences is also, unfortunately, a rare act of courage.
Of course, no matter how rare, there will be a few false allegations in the future. That is scary but not a reason to stop listening to the millions of survivors who have been violated and silenced through the years. Collectively for men, we are far less afraid of being falsely accused than having to acknowledge our own past abusive behaviors. Male behavior has left a trail of damage that demands healing. This healing will surely be painful and scary, but it is far scarier to imagine a world where healing is not possible.