“It’s all fabrication,” the social worker said when I relayed what the children had told me. And the judge refused to admit into evidence the psychologist’s report on the emotional harm they have suffered. “Hearsay!”
How can we prevent domestic violence if our society refuses to listen to children?
Allan G. Johnson’s fascinating study The Gender Knot tackles the complexity of male “privilege” embedded in our society’s culture. "Privilege" is any unearned advantage available to members of one social category but systemically denied to others.
Because of this embedded privilege, Johnson explains, what a man says has greater credibility than what a woman says, even when they’re making the same point. If a man and woman disagree, embedded privilege causes the man’s position to seem more “reasonable,” especially to someone who doesn’t have all the facts.
The idea of embedded privilege as a systemic influence on credibility ties into the Lucifer Effect: even good people may do bad things if the “system” supports and encourages the evil. So if greater credibility is an unearned advantage available to men but systemically denied to women and children, people tend to believe the man if there are no witnesses to his violence and emotional abuse (no witnesses, of course, except the victims of his violence).
It was not until I encountered these children that I fully understood how male privilege affects credibility and perpetuates the evil of domestic violence in our society.
Nantucket, Massachusetts has just witnessed a 3-week murder trial.
Thomas Toolan was found guilty of killing Beth Lochtefeld, the girlfriend who rejected him. Toolan was so “in love” with her that two days after she broke up with him he tracked her down and stabbed her repeatedly with a knife. My heart goes out to Beth’s family, whose wise and compassionate public statement at the trial’s end is an exemplar of lovingkindness.
Sensational trials like Toolan’s shock the public, but it’s too easy to write Toolan off as a sick, unstable man. Using the analytical framework of The Lucifer Effect, domestic violence is not merely a problem of individuals with a “disposition” for control by violence. Extreme acts like Toolan’s, which receive wide media attention, mask the underlying social systems that support and sustain domestic violence. Especially hidden, and therefore especially insidious, are the theological systems that reinforce the abuser’s sense of righteousness.
My phone rang late one evening and when I answered, a man’s angry voice shocked me to attention.
He was the husband of a woman I’d been encouraging as she struggled to prepare for a court appearance in the divorce she’d sought, which had dragged on for three years.
“Why are you helping her?” he demanded. “Don’t you know that it’s all her fault?”