TRIGGER WARNING: Domestic violence involving women and children, child being killed
In reporting on the tragic death of NFL player Adrian Peterson's 2-year-old son, Brittney Cooper discusses the problem of blaming the mother of his child for leaving their son in the care of her abusive partner. Some argue that the mother should be held responsible for putting her son in harm's way by leaving her son alone with her abuser, who ultimately killed the child.
It goes without saying that parents are responsible for protecting the well-being of their children. But blaming women who themselves have been victimized by these men obscures the consistent role that men have to play in both perpetuating and reducing the cycle of violence in families. Perhaps these mothers could have made different choices about who cared for their children, but it is the abusers who made the choice to fatally wound these helpless little people. Not focusing our attention there, first and foremost, means we will be doomed to repeat this cycle.
By taking domestic violence seriously, I do not simply mean giving more prison time, though in this case it might have helped. We need a serious system of community-based, publicly funded domestic violence rehabilitation programs, which holds men accountable and makes their ability to live freely in communities contingent upon upholding agreed-upon standards of nonviolence.
I have not offered any easy solutions here. I also haven’t addressed the problem of women who abuse children. But as one of my colleagues, Khadijah Costley-White, pointed out to me, whether it is women or men doing the abusing, somehow women are always to blame. Getting men to divest their interests in patriarchy, collectively and individually, is incredibly difficult work. And our children are worth it.
This discussion hits close to home for me because my maternal grandfather beat my uncle on a daily basis and was verbally abusive to both him and my mother. Throughout my growing up, my mother has resented my grandmother for not "doing something about it." Though I agree with my mother that it would have been ideal to find alternative living arrangements to keep my uncle safe from harm, I can't hold my grandmother in contempt for not taking any action for the following reasons: 1) she was economically dependent on my grandfather, 2) the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act wasn't signed into law until 1974, meaning child abuse wasn't legally defined until my mother was 11 years old, and, most importantly, 3) my grandmother's inaction didn't cause my grandfather to beat his son.
I just sent this article to my mom and she said in regard to my grandmother "I don't blame her, I just wish she had gotten us away from him [my grandfather]." It seems she's letting go of her resentment toward my grandmother, which I think is healthy.
If you feel so inclined, please share your thoughts.