Every day in this country, three men choose to murder a current or former wife or girlfriend. And studies have shown that at least 20% of men will abuse a woman at some point in his life. We’ve all heard the stories. You may have even witnessed abuse in your family or community, or experienced it in your own life. We know that some people choose to abuse the person they claim to love. But, why do they do it?
We often think of abusers as monsters – people who do things so unthinkable we could never possibly understand them. But, this mentality does nothing to help prevent these crimes. In fact, it leads to us ignoring abusers and focusing solely on victims – which causes
victim blaming and lack of accountability.
The fact is that most abusers are not monsters. Often, they are men who have been taught they have a right to control other people, especially women. In fact, they have been taught they are only worthy as a man if they control someone. They have come to believe that their worth depends on being able to control and conquer.
Abusers are not angry. Courts often mistakenly send abusers to anger management, thinking that will change their behavior – but it doesn’t. The fact is that they are already controlling their anger. They choose who to direct it at – their partner – and who not to –their boss, coworkers, friends, etc.
They also are not abusing because of alcohol or drugs. Yes, substance abuse can make abuse worse, because the abuser may not be as careful and may end up causing more serious injuries or leaving marks where we can see them. But, the controlling behavior is likely present even when he’s sober.
Abusers choose to hurt the person they claim to love simply because they feel entitled. They believe they have a right to have power and control over their partner. And they are able to keep acting on these beliefs, simply, because we let them.
We also know that abusers can change. But, requires appropriate treatment, and it requires them choosing to be accountable. There is nothing a victim can do to help an abuser change – though most abusive men claim that they would stop if the victim would just do something differently. But, of course, that’s all part of the control.
Accountability has to come from within. He has to want to change, and then seek out help and treatment. And for those of us who want to stop this abuse, we have to start holding people accountable in our neighborhood, workplace, and faith communities. We can’t just rely on law enforcement. We each have to take a stand against abuse and not allow people to hurt, degrade, or control anyone else.
Simply, people commit these crimes because they have been taught to, and because they can. It’s up to each of us to make it much harder for them to do so. And it’s up to us to send much healthier and more appropriate messages to our friends, family, and even our children, so they grow up knowing they have no right to control anyone. We truly can end abuse, if we just understand why it happens and stop blaming victims for abusers’ choices.