Dana Perino: Domestic Violence Victims Should "Make Better Decisions"

The American Bar Association notes that one in three murders of women is committed by an intimate partner.

I’ve always thought that being the White House press secretary would be one of the most challenging jobs in the world, and not just because I’ve watched entirely too much of “The West Wing” and am secretly in love with C.J. Cregg. It’s a job that comes with incredibly high pressure; you have to stand up there at a podium doing live press conferences on very sensitive issues in front of a horde of voracious reporters. Which means you need the skills to be totally calm, cool, and collected under fire. And you need to be extremely talented at watching your mouth.

Like, I would totally suck as a press secretary in general but especially in the White House because I’m too easily flustered, and when people get shirty with me, I sass them right back. I’d be one of those press secretaries who’re constantly in the news for making horrific blunders that undermine the administration and make for good laughs around the dinner table. I’d be the Joe Biden of press secretaries.


One would expect that after leaving the job, press secretaries would still retain some of those skills, the ability to make thoughtful, measured, careful statements even on the fly, but apparently one would be wrong, as evidenced by Dana Perino’s recent behavior on Fox News. The former Bush Administration employee apparently thinks, you see, that victims of domestic violence should “make better decisions.”

Yes, really.

Her opinion on the matter came up during a discussion of the Jovan Belcher case; this being Fox, of course, there was a brisk argument that if Kasandra Perkins had only had a gun, all of this could have been avoided.

Oddly, I actually agree with Perino’s assertion that an argument for everyone arming themselves “skirts the issue” because “women are victims of violence all the time.” They are, but where Perino and I diverge is on why that is. She seems to think it’s because they make poor life choices. I happen to think it’s because they live in a misogynist society.

In California alone, 40 percent of women responding to a survey said they experienced intimate partner violence at some point in their lives. The American Bar Association notes that one in three murders of women is committed by an intimate partner. Almost 20 percent of violent crime against women without a fatal outcome in the United States involves an intimate partner. Over 80 percent of intimate partner violence involves female victims.


Ah, yes, the age-old argument thrown in the faces of victims.

Domestic violence is a huge problem. Is this because women are, uh, making bad decisions, or because of something deeper and more complex?

Like the fact that many women find themselves trapped in abusive relationships because of economic and other ties to a partner? For example, parents with young children may be afraid to leave, or unable to do so. Likewise, disabled people may be dependent on a partner for support, and unable to access resources to help them flee.

Domestic violence is also accompanied by a high level of emotional manipulation and control; abusive partners know how to find and exploit vulnerabilities and they do so to trap their victims at their sides. Tactics ranging from gaslighting to threats to promises to “be better in the future” hold people in abusive relationships and make it extremely difficult to escape, especially when resources are mingled, children are involved, or other connections make it impossible to just walk away and not look back.

As with rape, it’s notable that the media focus with domestic violence is often on victims, not perpetrators. There’s a lot of interest in how victims are supposed to prevent it, fight back, or otherwise save themselves, and there’s less attention dedicated to the responsibility of perpetrators. You don’t have a victim without a perpetrator, after all, and the person who is behaving violently seems like the one who is making bad decisions. And the one who should be the focus of any social and political scrutiny.

Domestic violence is widely socially tolerated because of the domino effect created by living in a highly misogynistic and sexist society. Because no one holds perpetrators accountable, victims are held responsible for their own abuse. Because no one evaluates the origins of abusive behavior, an endless cycle ensures that abusers continue to multiply, and engage in acts of explosive violence against their partners without criticism or question.


What “better decisions” would Ms. Perino have victims make? Not being women, perhaps?

Maybe she thinks they shouldn’t get into abusive relationships in the first place. Shocker: abusive partnerships don’t usually start out abusive from the gate, but involve careful manipulation and abuse over time. Or perhaps she thinks they should drop everything and leave with the first slap, the first punch, the first time a gun is pulled. Shocker: leaving can be fatal. Many cases of severe abuse and murder actually occur when the victim starts to defy her abuser.

Women often lack the resources needed to leave. They’re afraid. They have no one to reach out to. They have no support. Their partners have them convinced that no one will believe them if they report the situation to law enforcement. They genuinely believe their partners can change.

These beliefs are the result of living in an abusive situation, and also of living in a society that cultivates these kinds of ideas, as well. Victims see the same media as everyone else, the stories about, for example, women who were killed for leaving abusive relationships or police officers who ignored abuse reports. Or phone companies effectively punishing victims.

Ms. Perino’s attitudes are not unique, and it’s not that unusual to see someone in a position of authority parroting this rhetoric about how victims ensnare themselves and should just get over it, get out, empower themselves. Of course, any attempt at actually empowering victims -- say, by confronting social attitudes that allow men to continue abusing women -- is soundly beaten down by people like Perino.

How are women supposed to win in this equation?