What is Provocation?

The 1983 Edition of Funk & Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary defines provoke as:

  1. To stir to anger or resentment; irritate; vex
  2. To arouse or stimulate to some action
  3. To stir up or bring about
  4. To induce or cause; elicit

The Alternatives to Domestic Aggression program believes that use of the term provocation with regard to men who batter serves to reinforce erroneous assumptions that men batter in response to women’s behavior. We believe that men batter in order to gain, re-gain, maintain or demonstrate their control over their partner and children. The decision to control and the choice to enforce control violently are always independent causally of any behavior by a partner or child. The desire to control is generated by an attitude of I want what I want when I want it. Or, more specifically, I am entitled to total obedience and servitude from my female partner, coupled with a life in which she takes care of me and assures that a minimum of stress impinges upon my freedom and sense of well-being.

The term provocation with regard to men who batter implies some justification of the assailant’s behavior; if not justification, at least participation or contribution to the “conflict” by the battered woman.

To say that battered women’s behavior provokes their partners is to say that they control their batterer or at least can prevent violence whenever they choose to. It is somewhat like the legal duty “to retreat”. The battered woman is expected to back down and change her behavior each time she understands any choice of hers may not meet with the approval of her partner. Not only is this unfair, it will not work. That is not to deny that at times battered women successfully avoid battering by altering their behaviors to accommodate their partners. They do and sometimes it works. There is no certainty, however, that on any given occasion, altered and self-sacrificing behaviors will enable the woman to avoid assault. The most accommodating, abnegating women are routinely assaulted with incredible severity.

Unless we can say with absolute clarity that a woman who acts intentionally to control the time and place or nature of her assaults has not “provoked” the violence, we are holding battered women responsible for the violence inflicted upon them. When battered women make the choice to act in a fashion that is likely to be met with violence, we must affirm these actions as part of her safety plan and as an attempt to minimize the consequences of an assault that she believes is inevitable. We must not call this provocation.

Utilization of the term provocation also serves to permit men who batter to see themselves as victims, controlled by the “provocative acts” of the women they batter.

Taken in part and edited from PCADV and Barbara J. Hart, Esquire, 1985