Credit: George Danby

When a man kills his family, first we often hear it surprised everyone — he was a nice guy, he must have been troubled.

When a high-profile professional like Rob Porter faces an allegation of domestic violence, we often wonder whether it’s true and whether his professional value outweighs his personal venality. Even if we concede the allegations be might true, we question why the accuser — in this case, two women Porter had pledged to honor in marriage — is bringing this history into the present.

It’s all women’s fault. We are sorry. We forgot men are unable to control themselves around us. We are the poison apples, the temptations to evil, the singular provocations spurring men to violence — either to show us who’s boss or to protect our virtue or to slake their thirst for power when they feel powerless.

It is, therefore, our exclusive responsibility to protect ourselves from the inevitability of men’s violence toward us. It is like the rain, and we are to be vigilant to forecast when it is coming and take cover. If we fail, it will be our fault for being there, for having not known to take cover, to have stayed when we should have run. And we will pay for having gotten him into trouble, for having brought shame on him by exposing his violence.

Yet, sometimes we fight back or strike out. Any sign of our rage or of standing up instead of lying back is used to show that we are really the ones at fault. David Sorensen was quick to tell the world his ex-wife abused him; he’s the real victim here. Meanwhile, she is scared for her life.

How long must women be trapped in this unwinnable fight? How long will it serve the social structure for us to privilege men over women?

While we live in a culture that has changed some of its sensibilities about this issue, it is fair to ask if we’ve moved far enough. Or if we’ve even come as far as we would tell ourselves. We need to raise the bar of expectations of our public officials. Whether they are able to demonstrate respect for their intimate partners is relevant to whether they can be called good public servants, good teachers, good cops, good businessmen, good men.

The fact that a history of domestic violence makes men in high places vulnerable to blackmail, however, is a good sign. Perhaps we are coming to a time when there is a price higher than men are willing to pay for the privilege of treating women with contempt. Sadly, heterosexual traditions of hierarchy and power frame too many intimate partnerships; somebody has to wear the pants, it is said. Non-binary gender relationships are not immune to this privileging of power.

Our hearts are heavy with the knowledge that on this day at least 400 women in Maine are so afraid of men they once loved — and may still — that they called our hotline, sought our help to obtain legal protection, stayed in our shelters or worked through their trauma while building new lives in transitional programs. We stand ready to help those affected by abuse to find safety, but let us be clear that we will never end abuse merely by helping the victimized find refuge from men’s violence.

Advocates approach their work from a perspective that when a woman tells us a man abused her — emotionally, physically, sexually, or spiritually — it is probably true; we are ready to listen and assist. Still, in 2018, the community at large too often hears these same stories from a position of doubt, asking: “Why was she there?”; “Why didn’t she anticipate his behavior and plan accordingly?”; “Surely, she must have known this might happen?”

The overarching question that persists for us is why we expect so little from some men, when most men appear able to demonstrate respect for women and take joy from their companionship. Let’s raise our expectations and guide our personal behavior, votes and public policy with the belief that all of us have the capacity to treat each other, especially intimate partners, with love and respect.

We are done blaming women for men’s violence. Are you?

Francine Garland Stark is the executive director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence and Daryl Fort is president of the coalition’s board.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TRS 800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.

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