This weekend, the New York Times published an op-ed pushing back on the idea that encouraging marriage could help reduce sexual assault.
Although the piece does not directly mention it, the Times op-ed refutes a controversial piece published by the Washington Post, in which two researchers argued that women would be safer if they were married or had married fathers.
Critics of a Washington Post opinion piece, originally titled “One way to end violence against women? Stop taking lovers and get married,” said the authors cherry-picked research on domestic violence in order to present marriage as one of the solutions to high sexual assault rates.
In the New York Times, Sara Shoener, a public health researcher, argued that the value given to marriage actually endangers many women. She wrote that during her research, she learned that “one of the most common barriers to women’s safety was something I had never considered before: the high value our culture places on two-parent families.”
Shoener described multiple scenarios in which women were afraid to cut ties with an abusive partner because of how society might perceive them as single mothers. And she said that the value of marriage has been institutionalized.
“Mental health professionals, law enforcement officials, judges and members of the clergy often showed greater concern for the maintenance of a two-parent family than for the safety of the mother and her children,” she wrote. “Women who left abusive men were frequently perceived at best as mothers who had not successfully kept their children out of harm’s way and at worst as liars who were alienating children from their fathers.”
She acknowledges that children who grow up in two-parent homes are on average better off, but argues that the focus on children having two parents can be detrimental.
“However, I have seen the ways in which prioritizing two-parent families tethers victims of violence to their assailants, sacrifices safety in the name of parental rights and helps batterers maintain control,” she wrote. “Sweeping rhetoric about the value of marriage and father involvement is not just incomplete. For victims of domestic violence, it’s dangerous.”