I’ve said it before: There’s a marriage agenda in divorce data.
I’ve said it before: We are often more focused on the wedding than the marriage, and so intent on marrying people off, we don’t pay attention to whether they have a shot at making it or whether they truly know each other.
I will point you to a column in The New York Times that is both infuriating and tragic: “Two Parent Households Can Be Lethal.” I strongly recommend it.
Describing the Catch-22 of many abused women with children – leave and you’re screwed, stay and continue to endanger yourself and your children – Sarah Schoener elaborates on her research into domestic violence, first noting Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data for 2011:
… more than one-third of American women are assaulted by an intimate partner during their lives.
She also cites a 2010 Pew Research Report that reflects our persistent (negative, simplistic) view of single mothers:
… 69 percent of Americans say single mothers without male partners to help raise their children are bad for society, and 61 percent agree that a child needs a mother and a father to grow up happily.
Bad for society. Hmmm. And how is that, precisely?
While I might agree that two happy parents (regardless of gender) are the ideal for raising children – along with an extended family if possible – millions of us manage with a less picture perfect arrangement. And at the very least, we ought to agree that domestic violence does not a “happy” model make.
Yet women maintain contact with their abusers in part because of the realities imposed on them in terms of our institutions – the very institutions that are designed to help. Ms. Schoener sums up the situation in a consistent message she heard throughout her interviews:
Mental health professionals, law enforcement officials, judges and members of the clergy often showed greater concern for the maintenance of a two-parent family than for the safety of the mother and her children.
She goes on to explain the absurdity of the situation: Mothers who leave abusive men are seen as unable to protect their children, and also, as potentially “alienating” them from their (abusive) fathers.
Does that mean staying is more likely to keep kids safe?
Would you care for a few more specifics on the prevalence of domestic violence?
How about these figures from Safe Horizon:
Every year more than 3 million children witness domestic violence in their homes… [They] also suffer abuse and neglect at high rates (30 to 60%)…
Safe Horizon provides additional data, including on the effects that growing up in these environments bring to bear on children.
So where does that leave abused women and their children? To “tough it out” until they can’t take it any more, and then find themselves or their children at the mercy of a court system that stacks the decks against them?
When do we cease touting marriage as the be-all, end-all – and other family arrangements as inferior? When do our legal and mental health institutions start looking at the common sense (or its absence) of their actions?
Given that we cannot seem to protect mothers in domestic violence situations, should we be surprised that verbal and emotional abuse are tolerated for years as well?
I would agree that the family unit, however you define it, is essential to a healthy society. But that means a non-abusive family unit, first and foremost.
I would like to think we have evolved sufficiently in our views of the very real dangers of domestic violence to cease punishing the victim and her children by separating her from her children. Apparently, at least to read the statistics, we are far from understanding and acting on any such rational response to these appalling cycles of violence.
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