Kathleen Parker
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The words "domestic violence" typically invite images of bruised women and children -- and male perpetrators.

But the real picture of domestic violence isn't so clear-cut. And the solution to family violence is far more complex than our current criminal justice approach can handle.

For about 30 years now, we've been throwing money and punishment at domestic violence with not enough to show for it. Estimates are that more than 32 million Americans are affected by domestic violence each year, with many of those in need of help never reporting their abuse.

These are among the important findings of Linda Mills -- attorney, social worker, survivor of a violent relationship, as well as professor and senior vice provost at New York University -- whose new book, "Violent Partners," tackles the myths of domestic violence and suggests new ways of dealing with the problem.

One of the primary myths -- and the one that meets with the most resistance -- is that only men are violent. As I point out in my own book, "Save the Males," women and children indeed suffer the worst injuries and more often die as a result of those injuries. But women initiate violence as often as men.

Ignoring or downplaying that fact both obscures the real problem of intimate violence and makes solutions less likely. Yet even people who know better are afraid of speaking up lest they be accused of undermining feminist efforts to help women and children in danger.

Feminism deserves credit for putting domestic violence on the radar back when what happened in a "man's castle" was considered no one else's business. But we now know a great deal more about what happens behind closed doors, and progressive feminists such as Mills are trying to open America's mind to new ideas and innovative approaches.

According to Mills, studies now confirm that women initiate violence in 24 percent of cases in which the husbands don't fight back, while men initiate violence in 27 percent of cases in which women don't fight back. In the other 49 percent of cases, both partners actively participate in the violence.

What this tells us is that violent partners frequently have a relationship problem that is never addressed under our system of arrest-and-punish. Moreover, says Mills, a majority of families with violence issues don't want to shatter the family, as our criminal system often encourages. They just want the violence to stop.

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Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
 
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