DOMESTIC VIOLENCE 101

Most people have absolutely no idea about what domestic violence actually is.  

Few things in our community are as controversial as the ongoing debate on what exactly constitutes domestic violence...well, maybe colorism, interracial dating, and hair…but I digress. Every time a notable Black man is charged with assaulting a woman, it becomes abundantly clear that when it comes to domestic violence, there is a whole lot of division and confusion on the issue.

The most recent high profile DV incident happened a couple of weeks ago when football player Chad Johnson was arrested for allegedly head butting his wife Evelyn Lozada during a heated argument around his purported infidelity. Online commentary showed that many feel that violence is a normal occurrence in intimate relationships and to be expected when things get heated.  There were a few who said that any sort of violence was unacceptable.  Then, you have a whole lot of people who fall somewhere in between these two camps.

As a survivor of domestic violence, it is mind boggling to consider how many Black people are active supporters of the use of violence in relationships. In the Digital Court of Black Public Opinion, Evelyn Lozada got what she deserved when Chad Johnson (allegedly) head butted her because she has hit other women in the past.  When Evelyn subsequently spoke out against domestic violence, folks became even more incensed.  How in the hell could this woman have the nerve to stand up and say domestic violence is bad when she herself is on tape attacking other women? 

As I watch the insults grow, it seems crystal clear:  most people have absolutely no idea about what domestic violence actually is.   

Domestic violence is a term that is used today to describe any violence in an intimate relationship.  However, not all acts of violence are considered battering (also known as "intimate partner terrorism").  Famous depictions of battering include Ike & Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do With It and Celie & Mister in Alice Walker’sThe Color Purple.

A batterer is a person who uses all or some of the following behaviors in a recognizable pattern as a means of gaining complete control over their partner:  isolation, threats, verbal, emotional, financial, physical, or sexual abuse.  A battered woman (or in rare cases, man) is someone whose partner uses abusive behavior as a way to gain total control over the way she thinks, acts, and feels. 

Situational relationship violence is when violence randomly occurs in a relationship.  The important distinction is that the victim (whose role during the relationship may shift from victim to perpetrator) doesn’t have a generalized fear of her partner.  An example of situational relationship violence is if you discover that your spouse was cheating and in a rush of emotion, you slap their arm or break a vase.  Situational relationship violence is a reaction to a specific incident.  There is NOT an ongoing pattern of behavior intended to terrorize a person into submissive behavior. 

Most people have absolutely no idea about what domestic violence actually is.

Battering is often misdiagnosed as situational relationship violence because batterers so often claim that their behavior was provoked by something that her partner did or said. It is only after further investigation that it is discovered that the “something” she does that “provokes” her partner’s violent behavior occurs on a regular basis.  The reason why the legal system has taken a “zero tolerance” approach towards violence in relationships (at least in theory) is because there is too much on the line when police officers are given the ability to determine pick and choose who they think is a “legitimate” victim. Far too often they choose the wrong category (such as in the heartbreaking story of Dallas resident Deanna Cook) and end up with a corpse.   

Now, I realize that I’m on a slippery slope by trying to illustrate the difference.  Some folks will read this article and say “Aha! I knew it!  Evelyn is an abuser, too!”  Evelyn may have engaged in abusive behavior towards her cast members on Basketball Wives; however it still doesn’t negate the possibility that she was a victim in her relationship with Johnson.

Athe end of the day, I don’t know if Evelyn was a victim of intimate partner battering or situational relationship violence. No one but Chad and Evelyn know what really went on between them over the past few years. Regardless of official terminology, the evidence we have says that Evelyn was on the receiving end of Chad’s head butt.  Which in 50 states is called DOMESTIC VIOLENCE. Plain and simple.

Sil Lai Abrams is EBONY.com’s Relationship Expert, author of No More Drama: 9 Simple Steps to Transforming a Breakdown into a Breakthrough and a board member of the National Domestic Violence Hotline.  You can follow her on Twitter: @sil_lai and connect with her on Facebook. Want her advice? Email SilLai@ebony.com to have your love questions answered in a future column!