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Stretching the Definition of Domestic Violence?

in response to Daphne Patai

Forum: WMST-L
Date: 08/12/2000

At 2:35 PM -0700 8/12/00, Daphne Patai wrote:

The problem is that in an effort to draw attention to problems, many feminists engage in "concept stretching" - we've seen this with definitions of rape and sexual harassment, and it has also occurred in relation to domestic violence or "wife abuse." And of course some feminists, such as MacKinnon, explicitly argue against any distinction between words and deeds. I have seen lists of what constitutes abusive behavior that included things like "he criticizes you about your weight," or "he threatens divorce."

I am afraid that you are taking these examples completely out of context. These "does your partner..." questions are not meant to define what domestic violence (physical, verbal, whatever) is, but are designed to help the reader recognize the abusive *pattern* if there is one. None of the items in these lists by itself does not constitute domestic violence, but virtually any action or word can be used abusively.

In your example, one partner criticizing another about her/his weight is *not* in itself abusive. But if that comment is part of the larger pattern of behaviors and comments that result in one partner gaining and maintaining power and control over another, it is domestic violence. There was a discussion while back about this, and I maintained that "refusing to have sex" can be a tool of domestic violence as much as "forcing the partner to have sex" and I still do. It is not that we lose the right to say "no"; it means that the context under which saying "no" would become abusive need to be corrected.

The solution, then, is not to outlaw everything that could possibly be used in an abusive manner. Even with the best trainings, police officers can handle very limited aspect of domestic violence (namely, each particular incidents of illegal behavior, which may or may not be part of the larger context). I believe in prevention and community response rather than police intervention, because that is the only way we can actually look at the *patterns* of abuse rather than particular *acts*.

Emi Koyama
Survivor Project