An incident in Arizona detailed in The New York Times here between a senator and his now ex-girlfriend reminds us of the power privilege can have in domestic violence situations. Senator Scott Bundgaard and Aubry Ballard both admit to hitting one another during an argument after leaving a fundraising event. Their stories varied somewhat but more interestingly, so did their fates when the police arrived to the scene of the incident. While Ms. Ballard was immediately arrested under domestic violence charges and put in jail for the night, Mr. Bundgaard called on a legislative immunity clause of the Arizona Constitution in order to escape incarceration. According to OSU professor Steven F. Huefner, “The legislative privilege should not become a get-out-of-jail-free card or escape-from-ever-being-put-in-jail card for state legislators,” but rather was intended to prevent civil cases from getting in the way of legislative duties.
What does it mean that Senator Bundgaard could invoke such a privilege to escape taking responsibility for a domestic violence related matter? Arizona police have told the press that the decision to file charges now lies with the prosecution. Even if charges are pressed, however, it seems that Mr. Bundgaard will be proving his guilt while Ms. Ballard, already jailed and
without the protection of legislative immunity, will be proving her innocence. One also may wonder whether his status as an Arizona majority leader will once again work to diminish his guilt in this situation. While this may be a extreme case of an abuse of power (and then again maybe it isn’t?), the use of power and control over a victim can certainly look very different for different people in different situations.
An abuser’s socioeconomic status, race, profession and gender may influence both the power that exists within the relationship itself and the way outsiders view the relationship. A recent post on Post Secret, shows another victim’s reaction to having what society may consider to be an atypical abuser. The text of the postcard, itself a close picture of a bruise, states, “white, educated, upper middle-class he’s not supposed to hit.” Unfortunately, a stereotype that often persists within our society is that abusers are poor and/or minorities. This belief is problematic on multiple levels.
Stereotypes portray minorities and those of lower economic status as immediately suspect and potentially dangerous. It also leads to the misconception that abusers are easily identifiable. We have often seen the opposite to be true at FVPC. Abusers may initially act quite charming in order to gain the trust and love of their victims. They may also work to make themselves seem trustworthy to family and friends in order to discredit any future claims of violence or unhappiness within the relationship. The belief that all abusers are poor and/or minorities may also work to the detriment of a victim living with an abuser who is neither poor nor a minority as she/he may feel as if she/he is not believed or as if she/he did something wrong to make this person violent. This in turn may lead to the re-victimization of the abuse victim, thus adding to their trauma.
We at FVPC would like to encourage a dialogue about privilege and the way the two are intertwined both in domestic violence situations and in everyday. Try to put aside any preconceptions that you have and just *notice* the difference that may separate you from someone else, instead of judging it. If you would like guidance in any part of a conversation about relationship violence, please feel free to call our twenty-four hour hotline at 919-929-7122 and encourage others to do so.