[This piece contains descriptions of domestic violence and victim-blaming]
Scottish rap artist Loki, also known as Darren McGarvey, has been working with the Violence Reduction Unit, a police task-force created to combat domestic abuse and raise awareness concerning this issue. He recently published an article on STV titled ‘You can’t stop domestic violence unless you help men to change’. This article, after receiving much criticism, was removed from the STV website at Loki’s request. As a survivor of abuse, Loki has every right to voice his experiences. However, his article placed particular focus on the abuser by describing perpetrators as individuals He did not present the perpetrators as responsible, culpable and abusing due their own choices. Accordingly, Loki’s piece aimed to challenge the survivor-centred and survivor-led narrative by providing an alternate view that “debunks” those that portray abusers as villains. Nevertheless, empathy for abusers is not the ideal approach since they should be held responsible for their violence and abusive choices.
Domestic abuse can be defined as a means of obtaining control over a partner in a relationship. The abuser tries to gain the upper hand through violence. However, such violence is not “situational” as Loki puts it. This is because, violence can be seen as a characteristic of the perpetrator’s behaviour. Loki also mentions that most perpetrators themselves often have been survivors of abuse and have likely suffered from past trauma. Though, if this was case, then most abusers would be women.
Moreover, Loki states:
“All it takes is a communication breakdown between two people and the gloves can come off pretty quickly in a game of psychological tug-of-war where there’s always a subtext to everything that happens … In these unhealthy relationships problems are rarely addressed openly and honestly. People don’t express themselves clearly or state their needs and so the relationship becomes a minefield fraught with anxiety and resentment where the true nature of the problem is always obscured.”
First, referring to the relationship as a “minefield” suggests that both the victim and perpetrator are occupying a hazardous environment in which they are equally unprepared. However, within the dynamics of domestic abuse there is a power imbalance which is obviously tipped in favour of the abuser. Consequently, the victim has nothing to protect themselves with and are under siege. Second, “the psychological tug-of-war” which implies a fight with alternating wins and losses rests on the strength exerted. When the abuser has a full claim of control, the victim in reality has no grasp of the rope— they are helpless. The victim within their struggle against domestic abuse has little hope or none at all. Finally, for the victim to confront their abuser and open up their problems through “communication” is out of question in such a violent relationship, where the victim in extreme cases could possibly be threatened with murder. Thus, attributing the survivors a false sense of power portrays them as untrustworthy, lying or exaggerating, which subsequently undermines their experiences.
He further on mentions:
“Acknowledging this, however, is still relatively taboo. In the public mind the perpetrator is a binary villain who oscillates between pure evil and self-serving remorse; a calculated tyranny orchestrating and executing a devious master plan. But, controversial as it is, many abusers don’t see themselves as the villain of the piece. In fact, they often feel persecuted and misunderstood — not only by their partners but by a system conspiring against them.”
Loki regards that his article can be perceived as “taboo” since he is defending abusers, and accusing the victims and society for their lack of cooperation with perpetrators. However, this “taboo” perspective does not come across as strange. This is due to the fact that society is constantly questioning abuse for the abusers anyway— what caused them to commit so-and-such violence? What drove them to do it, and thus whose fault is it really? As a result, society which they believe is “conspiring against them”, has rather sided with the abusers at the survivor’s expense. Subsequently, what should really be questioned is how survivors can be supported, reassured by society and given the safety required for them to speak up against abuse.
Mental health, addiction and survivors support services are also underfunded, which further limit the availability of help to those victims dealing with trauma. In addition, the running of these services is often ineffective for many as survivors are held in long waiting lists.
In summary, although Loki’s article attempted to view domestic violence through the perpetrator’s lens, it was ultimately dangerous material for victims and survivors of domestic abuse, whose struggles are little recognised and supported.