by K. Marie Porterfield
Indian Country Today correspondent
RAPID CITY, S.D. – Statistics can be deceiving. Take for example, the Justice Department figure that 46 percent of American Indian victims of violent crime report the offender was drinking at the time of the incident.
Although it seems logical to conclude that violent crimes such as LaTisha Brien’s brutal Jan. murder were caused by drinking, writing domestic assaults off as “drinking business” takes the focus away from the real issue and can have lethal consequences.
According to researchers, while men who drink heavily tend to perpetrate assaults that result in more serious physical injury to their victims than those who are not drinking, no evidence exists to link alcohol use to the coercion, intimidation and control tactics that characterize batterers. In fact, according to a 1987 study, 76 percent of physically abusive incidents occur in the absence of alcohol.
Domination, not addiction is the cause of domestic abuse according to Karen Artichoker, who has been a domestic violence advocate 20 years. “When I first began I thought alcohol was responsible for battering, but as I started asking women questions and listening to their answers, I saw a different picture,” she said.
“If the batterer was drinking his behavior would be more unpredictable and the damage from the abuse more severe. If victim was drinking, she was more prone to fight back and the damage done to her would be more severe,” she said. “When I asked about the rest of the time, the time they weren’t drinking, I discovered that the violence was less severe, but it was present.”
Artichoker, one of three directors of Sacred Circle – the National Center to Stop Violence against Native Women based in Rapid City S.D., said that the women tended to minimize the violence that occurred during times when drinking hadn’t taken place.
“I would ask, does he hit you and they would say no,” she said. “Then I would ask more questions and find out that they were being hurt emotionally or physically.”
According to Artichoker, when the victim has been drinking, some law enforcement officers minimize the abuse as well when they respond to a domestic dispute call. “They need to focus on the assault,” she said.
“People love a good victim,” she said. “When a woman is drinking, she isn’t a good victim. It’s not against he law to have issues; it’s not against the law to be drunk or dysfunctional. It is against the law to assault someone. The bottom line is was there an assault committed.”
Another way abuse is minimized is to label it as a relationship issue. “It’s wrong to treat violence as a relationship issue when it is a crime,” Artichoker said. “It may have started out as a relationship problem, but once violence enters the picture, it changes forever.”
She compared sending a battering couple to couples counseling to putting a loaded gun at the woman’s head. “Some people are looking at dispute resolutions tactics like family counseling, peacemaking, mediation and restorative justice as an answer to battering,” she said. “Those techniques assume that there is equal power in the relationship and no fear.”
Sending a batterer to alcohol counseling alone and expecting the abuse to stop, is dangerous as well. According to a 1992 report from the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, abused women with drug, dependent partners experience escalated violence when their partner became abstinent. Threats, manipulation and isolation often increased in intensity.
Counseling that labels violence victims as codependent and encourages them to stand up to the abuser puts women in great danger according to Artichoker. There are differences in the way the chemical dependency and the domestic violence advocacy fields handle the issue of codependency, she said.
“It’s good to tell a woman to set limits and boundaries on time and money and to do activities just for herself, but in the field of domestic violence we need to qualify that. In battering we need to realize that codependency may have saved a woman’s life,” she said.
“When battered women are told they have a right to go home and set boundaries, it can be dangerous,” she said. “When she goes home and says this is going to change, he beats her,” she said. “Violent men are incapable of respecting boundaries.”