Domestic Violence: It’s Not About Anger Management

Many of you may know about the terrible assault that New York state senator Hiram Monserrate perpetrated on his girlfriend. He slashed her face with broken glass. You can see his assault on her in the hallway of their apartment building on the security camera video.

The girlfriend recanted at trial, despite a face full of stitches; Monserrate was charged with a felony, but convicted of a misdemeanor, so his maximum sentence was only one year. The judge however did not sentence him to anywhere near that amount of time, giving him probation and some anger management counseling.

The judge DOES NOT GET IT.

Sandy Oliva, executive director of the Nassau County Coalition Against Domestic Violence had an excellent op-ed on this topic; I think it would be worthwhile if judges, perpetrators and victims all over this country read it.

Particularly disturbing is the use of “anger management” – [Judge] Erlbaum warned Monserrate to “curb your anger.” We don’t know exactly what transpired between Monserrate and [the victim] Giraldo that night, but it’s important to remember that domestic violence is about coercive control, not anger.

Anger management cannot cure a batterer. In contrast to someone who flies into a blind rage, the violent attacks of a batterer are often calculated, premeditated measures to control and subjugate the will of the victim. Erlbaum seemed to identify this element of subjugation, commenting that he hoped Giraldo would “have the self-respect to stop acting like a slave.”

It can be frustrating and perplexing for outsiders to see that some victims of domestic violence refuse to cooperate with the police after an arrest, claiming to love and support the abuser or remaining in a toxic relationship, even when they have the resources to leave – which, unfortunately, so many do not.

But this common reaction on the part of the victim is more understandable when we realize that an abuser does enslave the victim, does rob her of self-esteem and self-respect, and does control and terrify her with an organized campaign of violence, threats, isolation, intimidation, humiliation, guilt and other mental and emotional control tactics. A physical beating is generally just one component of an abusive relationship. “Anger management” completely misses the mark.

It’s worth pointing out that the judge seems to be influenced by the fact that this is domestic violence rather than stranger violence. I wonder if the sentence would have been as lenient if Monserrate had attacked a stranger?

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