Name, Blame and Claim: The Abuse Continues

Thinking a lot these days about domestic violence, since unfortunately, it’s a topic which has been in the news a great deal this week.

Earlier this week, two women were killed, one by her husband and the second by her ex-husband. Radio programs were filled with discussions of what needs to be done to prevent murders like this, and there was much talk of the failures of the police and courts. I see now there is even a Knesset committee set up to make recommendations to improve the system. there was especially a great deal of hand-wringing over the murder of Miri Klein by her ex-husband, since she was a social worker who ostensibly knew how to use the tools available to protect herself.

From what I read in the media -and I’m skeptical, the court cases I’ve been involved with that have been reported in the media have generally missed out on several important facts – I’m not sure that I can place the blame on the failures of “the system” in both of these cases. In the case of the woman killed by her husband, it does seem that the authorities should have investigated her complaints more thoroughly. In the second case, of Miri Klein, it appears that he was punished in the past for his violence. I see him here as a suicide terrorist, who, as we unfortunately learned in Israel, without good intelligence, are extremely difficult to stop.

Earlier this week I was at a conference at Tel Aviv University sponsored by a program affiliated with the law school there called משפט בשירות הקהילה, Law in Service of the Community, which is a project dedicated to furthering human rights and social justice. The theme of the conference was around the seminal article of Felstiner, Abel and Sarat, The Emergence and Transformation of Disputes: Naming, Blaming, Claiming…..

Hadar Danzig-Rosenberg, a doctoral candidate at the Law Faculty of Bar Ilan University gave a good talk in which she difficulties of “naming, blaming and claiming” within the context of domestic abuse. In particular, she spoke of the problems the victims have of naming the abuse as such.

Now, don’t be too surprised by where I’m going to take this.

Today I saw an opinion piece in the New York Times by Anna Holmes, entitled The Disposable Woman, about …..Charlie Sheen. It’s an excellent piece, since it talks about how we, as a culture, smile at his misogyny, and moreover, regard his victims as second-class citizens, people whom, because of their career choices, bust sizes, whatever, deserve, or should understand that they deserve, his violence. This, from the article:

This hasn’t been the case with Mr. Sheen, whose behavior has been repeatedly and affectionately dismissed as the antics of a “bad boy” (see: any news article in the past 20 years), a “rock star” (see: Piers Morgan, again) and a “rebel” (see: Andrea Canning’s “20/20” interview on Tuesday). He has in essence, achieved a sort of folk-hero status; on Wednesday, his just-created Twitter account hit a million followers, setting a Guinness World Record.

But there’s something else at work here: the seeming imperfection of Mr. Sheen’s numerous accusers. The women are of a type, which is to say, highly unsympathetic. Some are sex workers — pornographic film stars and escorts — whose compliance with churlish conduct is assumed to be part of the deal. (For the record: It is not.)

Others, namely Ms. Richards and Ms. Mueller, are less-famous starlets or former “nobodies” whose relationships with Mr. Sheen have been disparaged as purely sexual and transactional. The women reside on a continuum in which injuries are assumed and insults are expected.

“Gold diggers,” “prostitutes” and “sluts” are just some of the epithets lobbed at the women Mr. Sheen has chosen to spend his time with. Andy Cohen, a senior executive at Bravo and a TV star in his own right, referred to the actor’s current companions, Natalie Kenly and Bree Olson, as “whores” on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program on Tuesday. Arianna Huffington sarcastically tweeted that Mr. Sheen’s girlfriends “symbolize modesty, loyalty and good taste.” Mr. Sheen’s own nickname for Ms. Kenly and Ms. Olson — “the goddesses” — is in its own way indicative of their perceived interchangeability and disposability.

It’s these sorts of explicit and implicit value judgments that underscore our contempt for women who are assumed to be trading on their sexuality. A woman’s active embrace of the fame monster or participation in the sex industry, we seem to say, means that she compromises her right not to be assaulted, let alone humiliated, insulted or degraded; it’s part of the deal. The promise of a modern Cinderella ending — attention, fame, the love and savings account of a rich man — is always the assumed goal.

It is patently obvious to the point of banality to say that as long as we, as a society, countenance, the “bad-boy” image, who is free to do as he wishes with women, domestic violence will continue to plague us.

I couldn’t help but notice that on this Shabbat we read the Torah portion of פקודי – Pekudei – the final parsha of the book of Exodus. The portion ends with the building of the Tabernacle and the clouds of glory, representing Gd’s presence, resting thereupon. In an era with no Tabernacle and no Temple, our homes are to be the repository of that presence, our families a place and space which should allow for the Divine Presence. May we all conduct ourselves with those closest to us in such a way as for this to become our reality.

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One Response to Name, Blame and Claim: The Abuse Continues

  1. Rena says:

    Interesting reading. It reminded me of a specific incidence about 15 years or so ago. I was on the bus going to work, an hour ride from home as I was a commuter. Sadly a woman in Haifa had also been murdered by her ex husband and the station spent an hour talking with social workers, the police and anyone else that they could talk to about domestic violence. However, as the program ended just before the news there was time to play a song and what was the song they played – I don’t know the title but it was a hit song from the US in English about a woman lying naked on the floor… to this day I still don’t think that these radio people have put two and two together.

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