A few months ago I wrote an article about the fact that neither domestic violence nor alienation are caused by mental illness. I am not surprised Sarah Palin did not read my article. Accordingly, when her son was arrested for a domestic violence crime she sought to blame her son’s PTSD, and even President Obama, for her son’s abusive actions.
Governor Palin’s mistake was a common misconception in the 1970s, before we had research about the causes of domestic violence. Many of the widespread, flawed practices still used in custody courts can be traced to this false assumption which led to courts relying on professionals without the necessary expertise to recognize and respond to domestic violence.
There are many abusers who ALSO have mental health problems, and this has contributed to the slow pace made in correcting the false assumption. Domestic violence is caused by sexism, and more specifically, a belief system that men are entitled to coerce and control their female partners. It is based on a very strong sense of entitlement. If a man believes it is unacceptable to assault or otherwise abuse his partner he will not do so–even if he suffers a mental illness or is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Accordingly, most men with mental illness do not commit domestic violence crimes.
I am sure Sarah Palin loves her son, but she performed a serious public disservice by seeking to shield him from responsibility for his actions. It is not just that she spread misinformation and contributed to a popular myth. The widespread misinformation about the causes of domestic violence can and too often do have tragic consequences.
The only responses that have been shown to discourage abusers from continuing to abuse their partners are accountability and monitoring. Even today many criminal courts resolve brutal domestic violence crimes by sending the offender for therapy. This was the response in the Ray Rice case. So now he thinks he is entitled to a second chance without doing the work or facing any meaningful accountability. The custody courts almost never impose any consequences and expect victims and children to just get over it.
Track Palin should certainly be treated for his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). And Track Palin is solely responsible for his alleged assault on his girl friend and should receive meaningful penalties if he is found guilty. As a society we cannot allow his mental health condition to be used as an excuse to brutalize his partner. Such faulty practices can only encourage domestic violence and make women and children more vulnerable.
I believe it is important that Sarah Palin be treated respectfully especially by those who strongly disagree with her. At the same time, when someone has a powerful public platform, it is important to avoid using it to spread misinformation that is likely to harm many women and children. Senator Moynihan used to say that everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts. The research is very clear that mental illness does not cause domestic violence and it is irresponsible for someone who has easy access to the media to repeat these dangerous fallacies.
Domestic Violence Writer, Speaker, and Advocate
Barry Goldstein is one of the leading domestic violence authors, speakers, advocates, and a frequent expert witness.