No, Texas, Spouse Abuse Isn’t Foreplay

The prospective DA for a Texas county with abysmally high domestic violence rates has issued the woeful opinion that abuse is really just a prelude to sex.

Lloyd Oliver proves that it’s not just Republicans who completely misunderstand any and all things related to sex and women’s rights. The Democratic candidate for district attorney in Texas’ Harris County argued that domestic violence is over-prosecuted because folks just don’t realize it’s part of foreplay.

The prospective DA both discounts and fetishizes domestic abuse. In an interview with the Texas Observer, Oliver said “Family violence is so, so overrated.” And it is overrated if you believe, as Oliver stated in 2012, that it’s a “prelude to lovemaking.”

Oliver’s comments are disturbing enough as is, but even more so considering the record of abuse in the county in which he’s gunning for DA. Harris County has the highest rate of domestic violence in the state, which is saying a lot. Some 35 percent of women murdered in Texas are killed by an intimate male partner, which is higher than the national average of 28 percent. And 114 women in Texas were killed by domestic violence in 2012.

The harsh reality of domestic abuse in his county and his state has not stopped Harris from whitewashing it. On a Houston PBS political forum he said “There are some people. I don’t understand it, but part of their making love is to beat up one another first.” He added, “Why do we want to get involved in people’s bedrooms?” Apparently, protecting women from unwanted physical harm is not the correct answer.

And the unwanted part is what’s critical in Oliver’s and many others misconception of what constitutes domestic violence and not a lead-up to something kinky or makeup sex. In the past, domestic abuse was cast as a “lover’s quarrel,” in which the police had no right to interfere in “private affairs.” Oliver is putting a twist on his abuse justification, suggesting there is something sexually pleasurable to both parties about it that make it a personal matter for the bedroom, not the authorities.

Nancy Levin, the chief development of officer of My Sister’s Place, a domestic abuse and human trafficking shelter in New York, said that sexualized conception of domestic abuse is ridiculous. Domestic abuse, she said, is “all about power and control of one person over another. It has nothing to do with beating up each other as foreplay.”

Because Oliver is apparently not an expert in the art of more illicit or kinky sexual pleasures, he overlooks an essential part of S&M: consent. All parties are in control and are actively agreeing to the sexual, physical, and emotional discourse.

For this reason, Rona Solomon, the deputy director of the Center Against Domestic Violence, explained if some physical harm resulted from being “part of some elaborate S&M foreplay, the injured party wouldn’t be calling it in as abuse.”

In contrast, domestic violence by definition, is “the exertion of power and control of one partner over another using force, fraud, or corruption to behave in a way they don’t want to,” said Levin.

More people are (sort of) aware of S&M practices thanks to the popularity of the 50 Shades series and other “mom erotica.” But unfortunately, people misunderstand the practices and end up fetishizing and justifying domestic abuse.

Therefore, while there are certainly forms of non-abusive sexually intimate relationships where violence does take place, “If there’s uneven power in a relationship, then someone cannot give consent,” explained Solomon. “Consent isn’t just the ability to say no. It’s having the ability to say yes. It’s being able to affirm you want something without being afraid of being hurt physical, emotionally, financially, and sexually.”

Just because something occurs in the context of a romantic relationship doesn’t automatically make it a form of affection. “If you were walking down the street and someone beat you’d up, that person would at least be charged with second degree abuse,” said Solomon. “You deserve the same in the bedroom.”