Provocation – it’s a nasty word. Let’s get rid.


Today is the second 16Days of Activism for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. You may already be tiring of reading about it, I understand, but here’s my two cents if you can bear one more article. Even though I’ve said it before. I feel that strongly about it:

It’s always harrowing listening to coverage of and statistics about domestic violence cases – particularly those that culminate in murder. There’s the man, who strangled his wife and allegedly threatened to kill her on more than one occasion pleading guilty to manslaughter, not to murder. That’s just one issue I have. Then there’s the man who in a fit of jealous rage lost control because he just couldn’t bear the pain of losing her to another. Poor fella. Actually, there are too many examples to list here. I’ll cut to my chase.

The real issue I have, is the nature of the reasoning – men (or their defence counsel of whatever gender) saying they were ‘provoked’. This is a huge part of what keeps abuse active, secret and shameful for the victim.

And abuse cannot exist without shame and secrecy.


When he says she 'provoked' him into strangling her, he's saying it's REALLY not his fault #victimblaming Share on X

When we say that a woman provoked a man into strangling her so violently and for so long that he actually kills her, we are saying that it’s not really the man’s fault. Gawd love him. She made him do it. She did something to irritate him – like maybe not putting enough butter in his sandwich or worse – asking him to make his own. Maybe she asked him to take responsibility for something he did or perhaps she met a friend for coffee – a friend that he didn’t like. Maybe she wore something he didn’t approve of in public, or maybe she refused to wear something she didn’t feel comfortable in at home. Maybe she didn’t want to watch porn with him – the kind where it’s all about the aggressive sexual gratification of certain men and the women are not consenting. I mean, what woman wouldn’t enjoy that? Clearly that is unreasonable and a deliberate provocation…

These are things I and colleagues of mine have heard men and women say to me in the sanctity of the therapeutic space. They are things I have read about in psychological journals or simply on Twitter. This happens, every day, in a home near you. Maybe in your home. I hope not, but I also know that spousal abuse is so common that many people reading this have, or are, experiencing it. And men aren’t always the aggressors.

Here are very some sobering Irish statistics.

So when I hear someone say they were provoked into (choosing) a violent behaviour of any kind I get the rages, I really do.

The rages…

(But I don’t punch or strangle anyone…). We are all responsible for our own choices – good and bad. We alone choose to roar or shout or manipulate or abuse. If someone’s behaviour triggers a painful emotion and we feel anger as a result, we alone decide what to do next. We alone get to the other feelings underneath anger, like sadness, hurt, fear. There is no plausible excuse for abuse. It is never OK. Think about this: how is it that abusers choose their victims? Why don’t they beat everyone they know up?

I can tell you – it’s because there is a split moment when they assess whether or not they will get away with this action. And if the target is a vulnerable woman or child, not the big guy at the gym, then yes, they’ll likely get away with it. There is always a moment where a choice is made.

Abusers are not provoked. Just as rapists are not enticed, teased or provoked. To say otherwise is Victim Blaming and that needs to stop. We need to call people on it. We like to explain things away, I understand that. We like to think there is a reason other than some human beings can behave monstrously. And so some of us still look to victim and wonder – what did they do to make this happen?

And that is why so many crimes committed by people who are aggressive, abusive and utterly lacking in empathy go unreported. Vulnerable people fear judgement and not being believed. They fear the isolation that that means, and they know that the more isolated they are, the more dangerous it is for them.

And so I am appealing to you to not take the blame for another’s actions, ever. If you are promised that that behaviour will change and it doesn’t, please know that it’s OK to mind yourself by exiting that relationship – be it a sexual one or a friendship. And if you find that you yourself have behaved badly, be it by being controlling, aggressive, manipulative, or even ignoring someone as some sort of punishment – take responsibility for it and make amends. That’s more than apology. It’s understanding that your behaviour has consequences, and making a choice and commitment to change that behaviour. Knowing that your current partner has the right to choose to not be with you.

This is not ‘giving in’ or being less than, it’s being respectful and honest. People like that, people need that, people deserve that.

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