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Domestic Violence: Is Resisting a Political Act?

Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.: Tue, Apr 29th 2014

While domestic violence is still a "hush-hush" topic in our society, we all know that its prevalence is higher than we'd like to admit. Most of us know someone - a family member, friend, or even ourselves - who has been or is a victim of domestic violence.

hands refusingTheories abound regarding how domestic violence develops within a relationship and how to break the cycle. But one area we don't often talk about is the possibility of resisting domestic violence. What might this look like? And what are its long-term effects? Does an individual's act of resistance reverberate beyond that individual's life?

Rachel Pain, professor of human geography at Durham University in the United Kingdom, set out to explore these very questions. In her engrossing article published in the journal Social and Cultural Geography, she describes her qualitative interview research. Pain conducted 16 interviews with male and female survivors of domestic violence, uncovering patterns of emotion and behavior that resembled the seismology of an earthquake.

Through these survivors' stories, Pain was able to track how emotions build - kind of like the small tremors that precede an earthquake - until they erupt in some kind of resistance. The resistance might take the form of physically fighting back, or it might entail planning to prevent the abuse or taking steps to minimize the damage it does, especially on children. Sometimes it involves leaving, but Pain's research illuminated just how hard this is to actually do.

Pain found that when resistance occurs, in whatever form, this challenges power relationships in some way. Because power and politics are so closely intertwined, resistance actually creates a political struggle within the relationship. In Pain's analysis, this constitutes activism.

As resistance scaled up, Pain found that a social and political process occurs. First, the survivor's support networks are widened. Second, the survivor models activist behavior for the children. Together, these changes create a safer social environment for the future.

Pain makes another interesting point. She suggests that this trajectory - emotional upheaval, resistance, challenge of power relations, political struggle, activism - only exists in our society because we still see domestic violence as an individual, personal problem instead of a societal one. It's up to the survivor to begin the process on his or her own.

If we only recognized our collective responsibility in ending domestic violence, the structure of activism might change. We must all do our part to resist abuse, report abuse, support the abused, and advocate for the rights of abuse survivors in our legal, political, and justice systems.

I commend Pain for her substantive work on this important issue. Now, what are you going to do to be a part of the solution?


Pain, R. (2014). Seismologies of emotion: Fear and activism during domestic violence. Social and Cultural Geography, 15(2),


Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.

Itís a true blessing to have you visit my blog on mental health and wellness. I also write blogs on faith and caregiving in addition to teaching part-time for Columbia College of Missouri. For more information about my background and writing, visit my webpage at

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