An article by Kohlman et al. (2014) focused on the contribution of media to the normalization and perpetuation of domestic violence. They found that in today’s society, domestic violence is normalised and desensitised in the public eye. There are mechanisms through which it is condoned in the media, for example, through its comedic portrayal via news outlets, magazines, adverts and TV shows.
These media outlets unfortunately tend to address domestic violence by portraying sexism, devaluation of women, and most importantly, violence against women. This suggests that using sexist humour and jokes, which promote the destruction to victims of domestic violence, allows society to view this type of violence as more acceptable.
An episode on the sitcom, Family Guy, in 2011 highlighted an abusive relationship. With few serious moments, the majority of the episode showed abuse in a light-hearted and comical way, as the woman was assaulted. This type of comical illustration can aid in sending the message that hitting women is a laughing matter. Portrayal of domestic violence in an amusing fashion continues to send the message that male aggression and domestic abuse is acceptable and insignificant.
HLN news report of Family Guy ‘Domestic Violence’ episode
Media reports on domestic violence have the power to desensitize the public’s perception of violence via repeated exposure. This is believed to cause changes in affective, cognitive, and behavioural processes. Specifically, these effects are considered to bring about desensitized thoughts and reactions to domestic violence (Kohlman et al., 2014).
One of the most ‘popular’ cases of domestic violence in the media, that is often included in comedy, is the case of rapper Chris Brown physically assaulting his ex-girlfriend Rihanna. Perhaps due to their celebrity status or popularity on social media, it seems as though it’s acceptable to make light of the situation.
The media has made it okay to accept, joke about, and make fun of domestic violence in a number of instances, and through various media platforms. For example:
This comic strip photo focuses on the story about NFL player, Ray Rice, and the incident where he physically attacked his wife, in a public elevator.
This show lyrics from the 2013 song, ‘Blurred Lines’, by Pharrell, Robin Thicke & T.I.
Wyatt (2013) explains how the song degrades women and includes explicit sexually violent lyrics, which question the concept of consent: e.g. “I know you want it.”
In a collection of 48 worldwide population-based surveys, Kohlman et al. (2014) found that up to 69% of women reported a physical assault by an intimate male partner at some point in their lives.
Furthermore, Kohlman et al. (2014) also investigated the cultural mechanisms of domestic violence normalisation. The tendency for many cultures to value family privacy and prioritize the “good of the family” above that of the individual (referred to as familism) contributes to continued acceptance of abusive behaviour. Commonly observed in collectivist cultures, familism can facilitate physical and emotional abuse within families by effectively preventing victims from seeking outside help or even perceiving their treatment as abusive.
Women’s Aid launched a powerful advert in 2009, called ‘CUT’, to raise awareness. Directed by Atonement director, Joe Wright, and starring Keira Knightley, it was launched on various media platforms. This focused on a young woman, arriving home from a day of filming to an abusive partner. The 2-minute clip ends with the statement: “Domestic Violence: Isn’t it time someone called cut?” The campaign was received well by the public and had over a million views in the following days of being released.
Cut (Women’s Aid Advertisement)
Please be aware that this clip contains actions that appear real, and which you may find distressing.
More recently, the Salvation Army used the topical high-profile #Dressgate phenomenon to launch a powerful awareness campaign around domestic violence (Cohen, 2015) The campaign, which was in support of International Women’s Day on the 8th March 2015, took the opportunity to use something which was popular and current on social media, and shift the focus to a very important issue. Again, the campaign was received well and was applauded for using a current trend to push forth a powerful message.
A particularly strong campaign to highlight that any woman can be a victim of domestic violence involved images of Disney Princesses. Artist Saint Hoax named this piece “Happy Never After” and used this concept to bring to light that domestic violence can easily effect any woman (Vagianos, 2014). This campaign was effective as it used characters key to many women’s childhoods to really emphasise the point.
In line with its desire to reduce the scope of government, neo-liberalism developed indirect techniques for leading and controlling individuals, without being responsible for them. This is through the technology of responsibilisation. This entails subjects becoming responsibilised by making them see social risks, for example illness and unemployment etc, not as the responsibility of the state, but lying in the domain for which the individual is responsible. In a sense, this goes as far as individuals also being held responsible for their own victimisation.
Grant (2014) explores how feminist scholars have demonstrated the gendered nature of intimate violence and the tendency to put the responsibility on women to avoid sexual and physical violence. She argues this highlights how often women are disbelieved if they fail to report their harassment promptly to police; fail to obtain a restraining order; fail to demonstrate fear in predictable ways or fail to communicate that the harassment is not wanted. In such, this suggests that if a woman doesn’t create much awareness over the unwanted violence, then it is in part a responsibility of hers to prevent it from re-occurring.
Many people have their own opinion on the matter of responsibilisation for domestic violence. Many of these may include that the perpetrator is responsible for their violence, perhaps due to a mental illness or lack of anger management. It could be argued though, that this still isn’t an excuse to be violent towards another person, and ultimately, it’s the role of this perpetrator to seek advice and help to deal with these problems.
On the other hand, some people in society suggest that it could be the victim’s themselves who are responsible for the violence. This may include reasons such as reciprocating the violence in a way or provoking the perpetrator. Again, although these may be individual factors in different people’s situations, it should not be a reason in itself to be violent towards another person.
These types of false beliefs and claims often stem from past stereotypes. Carrabine et al. (2010) explains that up until the 1970’s, there was an outdated idea regarding the understanding of domestic violence by society, and in particular, rape. The Criminal Justice System saw that women were to blame for their assault. At the time, a concept called ‘victim-precipitated’ rape was rife. This means that it was believed domestic violence and rape were more likely to occur when the victim’s behaviour is seen as signalling “availability” for sexual contact. This idea even stretched to a woman wearing ‘provocative clothing.’ At the time, these ideas paved way for injustices to women in the Criminal Justice System, in that the perpetrator wasn’t held responsible for their actions.
This type of belief has been an ongoing issue. Chambers and Millar (1983; cited in Newburn, 2013) found that when some women reported the crime to the police, they felt they had their character and morality questioned in a way which implied they were responsible for their victimisation.
Another idea about responsibilisation comes from Donzelot (1977; cited in Newburn, 2013) who emphasises how a range of professionals, such as doctors, social workers and educators, work to shape the modern family. Through various techniques, the individual is persuaded to accept responsibility for their behaviour in socially acceptable ways. This could suggest a reason why victims see themselves as responsible, and don’t speak out against the violence, so as to remain “socially accepted” by not going against the typical family norm.
On the other hand, the charity Women’s Aid add emphasis that it is the abuser who is responsible, because they make the choice to be violent (Women’s Aid, 2006). They recognise that ‘blaming the victim’ is something abusers typically do to make excuses for their behaviour and this psychological warfare is a large part of the abuse cycle. As a result, it can largely contribute to individual’s not speaking out, over fears they are responsible for the violence.
As seen in the earlier example for Normalisation, the video clip from the Family Guy episode shows the victim making excuses about her partner’s violent actions, which further emphasises the previous point.
Women are typically the main victims of reported and unreported sexual violence crimes. They are more likely to experience unwanted victimisation than men. (Carrabine et al. 2009)
Currently there is not much research towards the responsibilisation for domestic violence, as it would be quite difficult to define who is responsible, especially as situations vary and are personal to the individual.
It may be helpful in the future if various charities or researchers keep raising awareness that the victims are not responsible and shouldn’t be made to feel that way.