This week, the American Congress finally resolved its squabbles and brought itself to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. It was a fight, as many others will tell you.
But there's another battle still to fight, and that's how we talk about violence against women.
On Thursday, TIME magazine published a photo essay by Sara Naomi Lewkowicz. The essay began as a project about a woman named Maggie and her boyfriend, Shane. One night, an argument escalated to physical assault as the photographer was taking pictures.
The internet went crazy, blaming Sara for not trying to stop the violence -- even though she called 911. Even though her presence probably kept Maggie safer than she might otherwise be, based on what Shane was screaming as he beat her. Even though the police are using Sara's images to prosecute Shane.
At Salon, I write a seemingly deep collective need to blame everyone but the abuser for the abuse that happened that night. Here's a sample:
Many of us are familiar with the phrase “blame the victim,” and there’s no shortage of that in the comments, at Time, on Sara’s essay. Here’s a sampling of the ideas you’ll find there: Maggie, the beaten girlfriend, should have seen this coming. Maggie stays because she likes it. Good riddance, Maggie was cheating on her then-estranged husband anyway … etc. In classic form, one insists of Maggie, “She is not the victim. She is the perpetrator.”
If there’s a single thing about which the critics shouting about Maggie and Sara in Time’s comment section seem to agree, it’s this: The only adult in the house during the assault who isn’t responsible for the violence is the man committing it.
And at the Atlantic, I ask why on earth the cover story in the latest TIME magazine, about the trial of South African sports hero Oscar Pistorius for the fatal shooting of his girlfriend, talks about everything -- race, class, wealth, inequality, sports, iconography, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission -- except domestic violence.
[TIME] says that you can't understand the Pistorius shooting -- Pistorius denies murder -- if you don't understand Cape Town. And class. And wealth disparity. And race. And sports. And -- of course -- Apartheid.
All of these things combine in Perry's story to explain a privileged white man's fear of an imagined assailant which, according to his defense, led him to shoot his privileged white girlfriend. The only thing that doesn't seem to merit inquiry in this American banner publication -- ironically, published within 24 hours of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act -- is domestic violence.
You'd have thought I'd have exhausted myself, but one thing I'm still thinking about: When is domestic violence treated, and tracked, as a criminal issue, and when it's treated, and tracked, as a public health issue, and what differences might that make?
Weigh in, world.