Does Yoga Prevent Domestic Violence? The Harm in Perpetuating Silly Myths

It’s that time of year again. October. Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

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I decided to go to a presentation titled “Let’s Talk Prevention” put on by a social worker at one of Anchorage’s mental health hospitals.

I should’ve taken the misplaced quotes as a sign. A stop sign. Instead, I twisted the arm of a male coworker and we headed off to the one hour lecture.

The presenter, a bubbly and  capable woman I know from other work venues, now works for our armed forces as an outreach manager.  The audience numbered close to one hundred; many of whom were interns, college students therapists, and other front-line workers in government service. It was an encouraging turn-out.

The presentation began with important definitions and facts, like

  1. Domestic violence is a pattern of  behaviors used intentionally for the purpose of controlling and intimidating the victim.
  2. It can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic backgrounds, and race.
  3. Women experience domestic violence at a far greater rate than men. 

And this is where the presentation began to deteriorate. It appeared that the presenter squirmed with the last fact, and wanted to level the playing field. She alluded to the fact that the NFL’s problem with player Ray Rice beating his then-girlfriend was no more serious than soccer player Hope Solo’s assault against her sister and nephew (note: read writer Ta-Nehisis Coats piece in the Atlantic), and if a different group studied domestic violence, they may come up with different statistics.

Next, the presentation was peppered with slides about prevention. They ran the gamut from having good self esteem, practicing yoga,  to smiling more (yes, I said smiling) to taking time for yourself and not having violent posters in your office at work.

What?

pureyogaworkshop

Does yoga prevent domestic violence? Does low-self esteem cause it? Can your smile prevent a problem that impacts one in four women in our country?

I think not.

I like smiling. I know that yoga has many, many benefits for a person’s physical and mental health. And no one should have violent posters in their office.

But it’s not just ignorant to perpetuate myths such as this, it is positively dangerous.

To suppose that a person’s participation in a positive event prevents domestic violence puts the responsibility of domestic violence back on the victim. If low self-esteem can be blamed for domestic violence, and what non-sociopath hasn’t suffered low self-esteem at some point?, where does that leave the perpetrator?

Off the hook. Again.

The causes of domestic violence are complex. Years of research tells us that it’s a learned behavior, often passed down as an unfortunate family tradition, transmitted from parents to children. Our violent culture is partly to blame, and every time we ask Why does she stay? we continue to hold only the victim accountable. Domestic violence isn’t caused by substance abuse, but is made worse by it. It’s also made worse by community educators who are more interested in amusing their audience that transforming them with the ugly truths.

I left the lecture with my mortified coworker,  and we both agreed we felt complicit to a crime by listening to the fluff.  I followed up with the presenter by phone, and told her I’d love to take her to coffee and share my concerns. She seemed receptive, but I haven’t heard back after my second call.

If I do get to spend time with her, I’ll tell her my story. I’ll tell her some of the stories of victims I’ve worked with over the decades. And I’ll refer her to writer Ta-Nehisi Coate’s op-ed on the topic that encapsulates the problem with short-sighted thinking so well:

“In the history of humanity, spouse-beating is a particularly odious tradition—one often employed by men looking to exert power over women. Just as lynching in America is not a phenomenon wholly confined to black people, spouse-beatings are not wholly confined to women. But in our actual history, women have largely been on the receiving end of spouse-beating. We have generally recognized this in our saner moments. There is a reason why we call it the “Violence Against Women Act” and not the “Brawling With Families Act.” That is because we recognize that violence against women is an insidious, and sometimes lethal, tradition that deserves a special place in our customs and laws.”

Do you know someone who is being abused?

Call 1-800-799-SAFE

Until  next time, namaste.

The conversation continues with the Ray Rice saga/Is it the perpetrator or the victim to blame for domestic violence?

What’s going on in your world?

I made an executive decision to cut back blogging to no less than twice monthly. Somewhere between work and home remodels, revision on an old project and the developing of a new one, I realized that something had to give.

NFL player Ray Rice

But in the past weeks, I couldn’t help but notice the conversations around me are again about domestic violence. With the Ray Rice and NFL controversy, it’s like the O.J. Simpson trial all over again.

In case you’re just now tuning in, the famous football player was arrested for beating his female partner, and was barely chastised by the NFL until the video of the assault was released. Now, the NFL is changing how their managing Ray Rice and other famous abusers. It’s the bad news/good news of what happens when a celebrity is involved in a social issue.

The bad news: Most of the people in my world are still focused on why Ray Rice’s girlfriend married him after he knocked the wind out of her rather than asking why a man would do that to the woman he loves. It’s  incredible that there’s a violent crime occurring to one in every three women worldwide, and we still have permission to blame the victims.

The good news is that the NFL is now doing damage control with a proactive way to deal with violence against women, expanding the role of  Jackson Katz, a violence prevention educator, who will use his curriculum to reach the new players which will trickle down to fans. “Millions of boys across the United States have big posters of football players on their wall,” says Katz. “You can bet that they know what’s going on here.”

Jackson Katz,
Jackson Katz,

So there is always hope. Jackson Katz has worked with the New England Patriot’s extensively, the one team I know of that has a demonstrated long-term commitment to end domestic violence. I know because in 1998, the New England Patriot’s honored me with their Regaining One’s Self-Esteem Award.  (Thanks, Patriots!)

In sweeter news, I loved reading about  one of my favorite blogger Alexis Grant’s method of finding her husband (below).

One night while I was feeling both frustrated (single at 30) and silly, I sent out this tweet:

Click on the  link to read more. It isn’t as risky as it sounds; Alexis met the man who was already in her circle of influence and knew some of her friends.

To see this image, enable images at the top of your email.It is possible for love and safety to meet.

Thanks for stopping by.