To the editors:

We are writing on behalf of the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network (CMBWN) regarding the recent article on why men beat women [January 10]. CMBWN is a coalition of 30 plus service providers in the area of domestic violence and has been in existence for the past 12 years. The Abuser Service Committee of CMBWN has written a paper on the need for standards in abuser services. The article in the Reader highlights the questions, “Why do they do it?” “How can they stop?” Instead of exploring these issues, the Reader offered up much of its feature section to men who continue to blame women for their violence. Women are portrayed as drunken, vindictive and violent. There is no understanding of why these men’s partners might be afraid or angry in violent, life-threatening situations. One partner’s anger was discussed in terms of how her surfacing anger against all men (not because of his actions) stunned and hurt the abuser. Another abuser struggled to make allowances for how his partner had been abused by her stepfather for her drinking and for her own fears. Again, the abuser had nothing to do with causing her fear and anger.

The article focuses on the abusers’ pain and portrays them as victims. There is no discussion about the gains that abusers receive through abuse. Are we to understand that men abuse because they enjoy pain? An abuser uses the same techniques as those used on POWs to terrorize his partner and keep her attention focused on him. That power and control of another person is alluded to only when one of the abusers compares hunting and killing to battering. The eeriness of this comparison only begins to address the fears and anguish of the battered woman and her children. Domestic violence exists to perpetuate men retaining power over women and children, and to ignore this is to accept this order.

The Illinois Domestic Violence Act is addressed only long enough to provide misinformation about the Act and the process of obtaining Orders of Protection. The article makes obtaining an Order sound easy when, in fact, the battered woman must rely on the judge’s definition of violence. The importance of documentation for the court case, seeking medical attention for the abuse and contacting a domestic violence program for information and advocacy is ignored. Also ignored is the difficulty some battered women have with getting their Order of Protection enforced by local police.

One of the abusers talks about how a batterer needs to see how the abuse hurts him in order to change. Treating domestic violence like a crime could impose consequences, including time lost on the job, loss of freedom and fines. As long as our society continues to decriminalize domestic violence, abusers will not have the incentive to change.

One of the abusers expresses frustration that there aren’t more groups advertised for men and Dugo talks about the money available for women’s programs and lack of money for men’s programs. The fact is that these women’s programs exist to provide safety when women and children need to flee their homes to escape harm. It is unjust that abusers refuse to leave the home, thereby transferring the burden of relocating/putting together a new life onto the battered woman. Our shelters, collectively, do not have enough space to provide for these women who are struggling with basic survival needs. If these women do not get services, they and their children are hurt physically and emotionally, again and again.

CMBWN does not oppose abuser services that are based on the philosophy of abusers needing to accept responsibility for their violent behavior; and with the belief that the safety of the battered woman and her children are of the utmost importance. Safety checks, talking with the abuser’s partner to determine her level of danger and referrals of the abuser’s partner to domestic violence programs are not mentioned in the article. Group facilitators are crucial in the process of confronting abusers about their denial and promoting abusers taking responsibility for their violent choices. The self-help groups mentioned in the article that are led by men who are currently battering are dangerous. Such groups tend to focus on the woman’s behavior and provide excuses for why the batterers choose to remain violent.

The existence of the article in the Reader demonstrates an interest in and need for domestic violence education. The information presented by the abusers in the article is consistent with the information heard by our therapists through working with hundreds of batterers.

Abusers’ charisma and persuasive communication skills can convince those who have not heard battered women and children speak that some outside force drives abusers to batter. It is imperative to speak to battered women, their children and those who advocate daily for them, in order to obtain a complete and clear picture of the effects of domestic violence.

Karin Mills

Marianne Piet

Chairs of Abuser Service Committee

Kitry Krause replies:

Your letter puzzles me. You accuse me of not exploring why men are violent, and then offer a few explanations for their behavior–each of which my story examined in detail. You chastise me for not demonstrating any understanding of why violent men’s partners might be afraid of them, yet the men in my story were quite articulate about the subtleties of that intimidation. You also complain that they blame women for their violence, apparently seeing that as the point of the article instead of the rationalizing it obviously is.

You seem most provoked that I chose to write about the tragedy of domestic violence from the man’s point of view rather than the woman’s, and seem to suggest that to attempt to discover the true sources of men’s violence and to acknowledge their very real pain is to somehow diminish the suffering of their partners. That’s absurd. It’s equally absurd to suggest that pointing to the need for services for these men is somehow an assault on the services now provided to women. If society doesn’t offer these men adequate help through the long, difficult process of changing–and simple punishment cannot suffice–we won’t stop the man who’s driven his wife to a shelter from beating someone else or from teaching his children that violence is acceptable.