October Is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

by Kristyn Komarnicki

Each October, we are asked to be aware of the problem of domestic violence in our communities. PSAs on the radio and television tell us that the violence must stop but warn that it won't stop by itself. This is truer than ever.

In 2010 the Center for Disease Control's National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey reported that nearly 1 in 5 US women has been raped, 1 in 6 has been stalked, and approximately 1 in 4 has been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner.

The report concluded that "estimates for sexual violence, stalking, and intimate partner violence were alarmingly high for adult Americans, with intimate partner violence (IPV) alone affecting more than 12 million people each year. Women are disproportionately impacted." Chronic disease and symptoms of post-traumatic stress are much higher among victims of IPV. The report found that because most rape and IPV is first experienced before age 24, it is of the utmost importance to prevent "this violence before it occurs to ensure that all people can live life to their fullest potential."

Does society's increasing tolerance of sexual violence in popular media contribute to these "alarmingly high" rates?

In 2009, Parents Television Council published Women in Peril,  in which they compared data compiled in 2004 with data from 2009. They found that while depictions of overall violence increased only 2%, violence against women increased 120%. They also found a 400% increase in the depiction of teen girls as victims. Violence against women/girls was most prevalent in the form of beating (29%), followed by credible threats of violence (18%), shooting (11%), rape (8%), stabbing (6%), and torture (2%).  Violence against women resulted in death 19% of the time. They also found an 81% increase in incidences of intimate partner violence on television. (See also their 2014 report, The Prevalence and Trivialization of Female Sexualization, Violence and Exploitation in Entertainment.)

So with increasing amounts of violence against females equated with entertainment, are we really equipped to confront domestic violence? Do a Google search for the words "rape porn" and you'll get over 100 million results. Yes, 100+ million. Much of what passes for "mainstream porn" today is nothing more than sexualized violence (including degradation, humiliation, and torture).

We all know how many song lyrics and music videos glorify objectification and domination of women's bodies, but the shamelessness with which this is flaunted can be truly breathtaking. The wildly popular Robin Thicke song, "Blurred Lines," contains this blatant endorsement of violence:

[I'm] Nothing like your last guy, he too square for you
He don't smack that ass and pull your hair like that…
Not many women can refuse this pimpin'
I know you want it
But you're a good girl
The way you grab me
Must wanna get nasty…

And to understand just how normalized sexual violence has become we need look no further than the way millions of women—even Christian women—have embraced the sadomasochistic "romance" depicted in the 50 Shades of Grey book series. The film version is scheduled for release on Valentine's Day 2015. Are whips and pain contemporary society's idea of chocolate and roses?

When record numbers of citizens, including Christians, invite sexual violence into our homes in the form of pornography and other degrading forms of popular culture, why are we so surprised when our most intimate relationships are threatened?  Why are we shocked when real violence emerges in our communities? Some blame it on a sluggish economy.  But surely our dizzying tolerance for physical and sexual violence, the tidal wave of images that assault us from fashion magazines and billboards, play a much bigger role—and take a much bigger toll on our psyches—than a bad economy, except that with rising unemployment and financial struggles, people have more time on their hands and more desire than ever to anesthetize themselves.

Truly we have become numb, as a society and perhaps even as a church, to the dark violence of the human soul. New laws are not the answer. But people getting sick of the lies is a good place to start. I see evidence that this is beginning to happen. Faith-based groups have been fighting the pornified culture for decades, but the emergence of younger and non-faith-affiliated groups, such as Fight the New Drug and AntiPornography.org, is heartening because it proves that this is not about just about sin/morality but about the factual cost of pornography, and it calls on brain research and the social sciences to offer proof of those costs.

If we want a world with less domestic violence, we have to start by ridding our own domicile of violence. For some of us, that means purging the porn and getting the help we need to do that. For all of us, it means facing the darkness in our own hearts and speaking the truth about how we all struggle with the need to dominate or manipulate others for our own "gain."

Will you join us in speaking out, speaking up, and speaking into the church? Will you join us in our work for nonviolence and sexual justice? Talk about the issue with your family, friends, church leaders, and Bible study partners. A good opportunity is just ahead. The last Sunday of October marks the launch of WRAP (White Ribbon Against Pornography) Week. Check out ESA's pornography awareness resources, where you can download a poster for your church or school.

And while you help educate yourself and others about domestic and sexual violence, please remember—and help remind those around you—that this is a battle to be fought first and foremost in the spirit. "Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him," writes the psalmist (37:7). "Do not fret when men…carry out their wicked schemes." Or as Jesus said, "This kind [of impure spirit] can come out only by prayer and fasting" (Mark 9:29). And as Paul reminds us in Ephesians 6:11-13, we must put on the full armor of God, so that we can take our stand against the devil's schemes. "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."

Related reading:

The Abused Bride of Christ by Catherine Clark Kroeger

Addressing the Root of Abuse by Catherine Clark Kroeger

Domestic Violence: It's All About Control by Kristyn Komarnicki

Terrorism in the Home: 11 myths/facts about domestic violence by Victor Parachin


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