Altman right to question why
April 25, 2005
I have long thought that domestic violence is one of the most cowardly crimes known to mankind and one of the most embarrassing blights on the male half of the human species. Men who physically abuse the women who love and depend on them single-handedly jeopardize the Homo sapiens’ ranking at the top of the food chain.
I’ve also never been a big fan of Rep. John Graham Altman of Charleston, alternately described in the press as “colorful” and “outspoken.” Altman, a 71-year-old lawyer from the Lowcountry, who served as then-Governor Fritz Hollings press secretary from 1959-63, is famous for “insensitive” remarks about blacks, homosexuals and women.”
Altman is one of South Carolina Democrats’ favorite targets, and he makes it easy for them, all the while thinking he’s actually clever or funny, or both. Conservatives are not well served by having Republicans like Altman on their team, so it wouldn’t bother me if the flamboyant Lowcountry lawmaker would follow the lead of his mentor, Hollings, and finally go away.
It is with some reluctance then that I ask why folks have gotten so exercised over Altman’s latest remarks regarding domestic violence. Last Monday, the House Judiciary Committee tabled a bill that would have toughened the state's criminal domestic violence laws by increasing penalties for offenses now classified as misdemeanors.
In an interview on WIS-TV in Columbia, Altman, who opposed the bill, said, "I do not understand why women continue to go back around men who abuse them. I've asked women that and they all tell me the same answer, 'John Graham, you don't understand.' And I say you're right, I don't understand."
That comment is viewed in some circles as so insensitive that Altman should not just apologize, but resign. Even the Republican Party has joined in the whipping. State GOP Executive Director Scott Malyerck called the comments “very disappointing and out of line."
What exactly make them so? The fact that they “appear” unsympathetic to victims of domestic violence? Women who suffer abuse at the hands of Neanderthal men may need sympathy, but they need good sound advice a whole lot more, and the first piece of sound advice at the top of any domestic violence expert’s list is to leave the abuser. Get away from him. Don’t look back.
To some, the question seems to imply that the woman is partly to blame for the abuse. It doesn’t imply that at all. It suggests that there’s something the woman can do to avoid the abuse, and she’s not doing it. To ask “why” is not only logical but also essential to helping the victim discover what’s keeping her from helping herself.
Sympathy and sensitivity is all fine and good, but if domestic violence victims are not getting the motivation they need to distance themselves from the abusive spouses, then they are not getting valuable assistance.
Altman should continue to ask the question. There may be perfectly good reasons that victims don’t leave their abusive husbands, but those reasons are obstacles that need to be overcome, not accepted. You can’t overcome an obstacle you are not willing to face. The person asking you to describe the obstacle, so you can learn to overcome it, is your friend, not your enemy.