On July 25, 2014, one of the more famous women in sports tweeted a tweet about being forced to watch an episode of ESPN’s television program First Take. This woman, Michelle Beadle, subsequently tweeted a series of tweets wherein she said in what seemed to be a somewhat facetious manner how she learned she was now aware that she could “provoke” her own beating. She then added, “Violence isn’t the victim’s issue. To insinuate otherwise is irresponsible and disgusting. Walk. Away.” Michelle Beadle was not the only one tweeting about Stephen A. Smith’s comments made during an episode of First Take wherein he brought up how victims might provoke their attacks. I remember others in the sports industry taking exception to what Smith said during the show, First Take. Many took to the airwaves in support of victims and made declarations that domestic violence is never the victim’s fault.
Provoke – 1. To incite, to anger 2. To call forth 3. To stir up on purpose [Webster’s dictionary, the one on my desk which has no cover and I’m not exactly sure of the Ed. date]
Is it possible that a victim can in fact “provoke” an attack without being responsible for the violence? Think about it for a moment, and consider the above definition very carefully. Do people involved in relationships sometime look to stir the pot? If so, is it a conscious behavior and/or is it perhaps something that might be attributed to learned helplessness and/or some part of a cyclical dance that could possibly be unconscious? What if someone has cheated on his/her partner? Is that provocation?
Human behavior is complex and as much as we might all be different there are certain characteristics and traits that we share. Is it a victim’s fault if her intimate partner hits her? I do not think so. However, can someone provoke another to becoming violent? I do think so, but that does not mean that it justifies the act of violence. It simply means that without the provocation it might not have happened. Still, that does NOT mean the violence is justified or acceptable, or the victim should be blamed. It does mean, however, that there are certain dynamics involved in intimate partner violence that we can look to learn more about so that everyone has a clear understanding of how to establish clear boundaries. Additionally, it also means that we can look to teach the art of self-discipline and look to reinforce that even when provoked, striking your partner is NOT the answer.
One of Michelle Beadle’s tweets mentioned that she was “thinking of wearing a miniskirt this weekend” and she included a comment, “I’d hate to think what I’d be asking for.” The implication here is clear. Victims of rape were often thought to have invited their attack by wearing revealing attire. In my opinion rape is never justifiable in the same way that it is not okay for someone to strike one’s intimate partner regardless of whether or not there was any provocation. Would one who wears a miniskirt in a high crime area be asking for rape? Does a tourist who wears a camera dangling from his neck on a New York City subway ask for trouble and/or provoke robbery? You see my point is that the term “provoke” is one that can be used in different ways with different scenarios. One person’s provocation is another person’s justification and that could be where the communication breakdown lies.
Getting back to the question about whether someone can provoke an attack of domestic violence, I think that there are times when individuals do stir the pot and while I am not saying this is justification for the violence, I do think it is important that we learn the dynamics of domestic violence at the core. This could enable us to have a better understanding of how both parties might be participating in a dance or cycle which often escalates to bring forth physical violence. I also think we need to be careful not to be too hung up on words. Words can have more than one meaning and very often we fail to communicate well with others because we argue over something someone has said without truly knowing the intended meaning. Contextual issues and probing into provocative statements by entertainers can do wonders for getting to the core issue of a controversy, however, it might not make for good ratings. If we are truly mindful and concerned with the prevention of intimate partner violence then we need to focus more on the core root of the problem and understand that sometimes it might indeed take two to tango, but that does not mean anyone deserves to be hit.
Understanding propensity toward violence and how our own actions might indeed save our lives are outlined in the book, The Give of Fear, by Gavin de Becker. I recommend everyone read it.
Michelle is a regular with Sports X Radio’s national sports talk radio program, has a master’s degree in Criminal Justice from Boston University, and writes an advice column for The Inscriber Magazine. You can follow her @SportSXMichelle.