Rethinking IPV

Responding to the shockingly high rates of domestic violence homicides in Serbia, Saatchi & Saatchi Belgrade--a Serbian based advertising company--released the video, "One photo a day in the worst year of my life". The video is a compilation of pictures which presumably detail one woman's experience with intimate partner violence (IPV). As the video progresses, so too does the violence against her. Bruises, black eyes, and choke marks begin to appear and then heal. The final image shows the woman, badly beaten, holding up a sign that reads "Help me. I don't know if I'll make it to tomorrow". While the video does not depict an actual case of IPV (the injuries were artificially created using make-up), the images nonetheless resonated with millions who shared the video on social media, taking the opportunity to raise awareness about IPV and to share resources for survivors.

As I watched the video though, my discomfort with its message grew. While I fully support efforts to raise awareness about IPV, I am concerned that this video obscures, rather than highlights the nature of partner violence. The image of a female victim, looking self-confident one minute, fearful and beaten the next, seems to fit neatly with a stereotypical conceptualization of IPV.

To be sure, there will be some who see this video and it resonates because of personal experiences. Others will connect with the message of the video as it speaks to statistics which reveal that severe violence (being hit with a fist or something hard, slammed into something, or beaten) affects 23.4% of female IPV survivors

This portrayal however seems too simplistic. It leaves unchallenged the false assumption that victims are always women, and batterers are always men acting on their patriarchal urges to control women. It supports the idea that women who experience violence at the hands of their partners are helpless and in need of saving. In the end, it appears to support a pathological view of IPV survivors--those women who choose to stay with their abusers--as well as punitive responses by the state.

The reality of IPV is much more complicated. Partner violence can happen once or over the course of a relationship; both couples may be mutually combative or the violence may be one directional; some couples may wish to stay together while others want to end a destructive and unsafe relationship but they aren't sure how to escape. Our responses to IPV should be complex and nuanced--responsive to individual situations. In the end it's the only way to truly put an end to the violence many individuals experience in intimate relationships.