Yet many states have a "must-arrest" policy if a call to police is made. Many also take a "primary aggressor" approach in determining who should be arrested. Even if the man calls the police, says Mills, he's often the one hauled off and charged, based on the assumption that he, the physically stronger, is more dangerous.
Consequently, the underlying problem of violence isn't addressed and people needing help won't call police for fear of the draconian measures likely to follow. In fact, according to Mills, 75 percent of women and 86 percent of men don't call the police when their partner is violent.
The solution to domestic violence, says Mills, begins with recognizing it as a cyclical, intergenerational family problem that usually begins in childhood. Mills provides some devastating statistics to highlight how early this cycle begins and how hard it is to break the trend once begun: 35 percent of parents hit their infants when they believe they're misbehaving; 94 percent of parents spank their 3- to 4-year-olds for the same reason.
Research shows that children raised by violence are more likely to become violent or be the victim of violence in their own adult relationships -- and so it goes from one generation to the next.
Allowing exceptions for the most violent abusers, Mills proposes a broad, systemic approach to domestic violence that includes counseling and at least the option of restorative, rather than punitive, justice. The current approach to "treatment" usually consists of sending men to classes on how to be less sexist.
Mills is testing an alternative program in Nogales, Ariz., that brings the whole family together to learn how the cycle of abuse works within families. Without blaming the victim, Mills insists that everyone has to take responsibility for his or her role in the dynamic that leads to violence.
It is brave of Mills to invite these challenges. But if we're really serious about reducing domestic violence, we have to recognize that demonizing men isn't the answer and that sexism isn't the only question.
It's at least time for a new conversation.
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