PORTLAND — We see the news stories: “Husband shoots wife.” “Man kills former girlfriend.” We hear a male acquaintance use degrading and abusive language toward his female partner.

We express our concern to a friend. We may even attend a candlelight vigil or rally against domestic violence. But, in the end, we turn our attention to other issues in our busy lives.

Thousands of women in Maine aren’t so fortunate. They can’t turn their attention to other issues. As victims of domestic violence, they live each day with physical, emotional, psychological, sexual and/or economic abuse.

While some women abuse their male partners and some men and women abuse their same-sex partners, the overwhelming majority of domestic abuse cases involves men targeting women. When I was Maine’s attorney general, my office responded to more than 75 homicides in which a man killed a current or former female partner.

Thousands of other cases involved men’s use of non-lethal violence against women. Most of these women lived in abject fear not just for their safety but for their children’s as well.

They knew the most dangerous time would be when they tried to escape from the abuser.

The question should never be “Why doesn’t she just leave?” Rather, we should always ask “What can we do to stop him?” and “How can we prevent men’s violence against women in the first place?”

Domestic violence has nothing to do with love. It has everything to do with power and control. Beating or killing victims is usually the last in a long series of escalating coercive acts. Abusers use fear, guilt, shame and intimidation to wear victims down. When these tactics stop working, they often resort to physical violence.

A man’s desire to control a woman is not caused by alcohol, drugs or stress. Most often it is the result of values and attitudes learned early in life. Boys who watch their dads abuse their moms are 10 times more likely to abuse their partners. Constant exposure to media that objectifies women and portrays men as dominant also contributes to men’s violence against women.

Since most abusers’ values and attitudes toward women are learned, they can be prevented. This will require changing a culture that supports male privilege and the objectification of women to one that promotes equality with and respect for women.

Men must accept and own responsibility for this cultural change. Therefore, we must:

Examine our own individual attitudes and beliefs toward women, including how we treat our partners. If we are controlling and abusive, we should seek help from a certified intervention program to change our behavior (see www.maine.gov/Corrections/VictimServices/BatIntervent.htm).

Similarly, if we know men who abuse women, we should speak up, tell them their behavior is unacceptable and urge them to seek help. If we have concerns, we should consult with certified intervention program staff. If we fear for a woman’s safety, we should not hesitate to call the police.

Examine the support we give men who use crude language to degrade women. We must stop colluding with each other. It’s not enough to refrain from laughing when we hear crude jokes. Our silence is affirming. We must speak up.

Mentor boys who lack positive male role models. Whether we realize it or not, we are role models and teachers. Our actions serve to shape the values and attitudes of young people. We must show them that “real men” respect women and treat them as equals.

Boycott sponsors of media messages that promote male dominance and the objectification of women. Continued exposure to these messages encourages men’s abuse of women. We must speak up with our wallets as well as our voices.

Encourage men to become child care, pre-school and early elementary teachers. The ranks of early educators need more positive male role models. Young children need to see male and female teachers working together in mutual respect and harmony.

Implement domestic violence policies in our workplaces and ensure workers know how to use them. These policies serve to prevent domestic violence and to protect victims.

Support the work of local domestic violence and sexual assault projects. They offer victim support, community education and prevention services. We should volunteer our time, talents and resources.

Take a stand against men’s violence against women. Speak out loudly, publicly and often.

Victims of domestic violence are not to blame. Perpetrators are. But we men will all share that blame unless we do everything we can to prevent domestic violence. Let’s get to work! 

– Special to the Press Herald