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Male Dominance Stereotypes Spur Domestic Violence, Prosecutors Say

 Culture change is needed to prevent violence, Domestic Violence Bureau chief Michelle Kaminsky said.
Culture change is needed to prevent violence, Domestic Violence Bureau chief Michelle Kaminsky said.
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DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — "Traditional" gender roles for men and women encourage domestic violence and make local prosecutors' jobs harder, the lawyers said Thursday. 

Violent incidents between partners are related to a wider culture of male dominance, said Michelle Kaminsky, domestic violence bureau chief for the Brooklyn district attorney. 

"You’re not going to stop everyone from doing this," Kaminsky told DNAinfo New York. "But we need a cultural change in how we see gender norms, gender roles, women are supposed to be submissive, men are supposed to be masculine."

Such stereotypes were in play in the case of Clinton Hill resident Alex Anselmo, who was sentenced to life is prison Thursday for kidnapping, raping and torturing his ex-girlfriend.

"The undercurrents in that case were, 'She was leaving him. She didn’t want to be with him anymore. She didn’t have a right to say no to him,' " Kaminsky said.

"He’s the man, he makes the decisions….She was trying to exercise a basic right, I don’t want to be with you, and he took that away."

Brooklyn police respond to more than 200 domestic violence calls every day, on average, and the DA’s office saw 10,492 DV cases last year.

The Brooklyn district attorney’s office held a conference at Brooklyn Law School Thursday to talk about the broader work around preventing domestic violence, including changing cultural expectations around male and female behavior.

Prosecutors said they also battle gender stereotypes in the courtroom, in the biases of juries and judges.

Assistant district attorney Ed Purce, speaking at the conference, slammed a recent Chicago Sun-Times column that said the rape of a sex worker should not count as rape.

"You don’t get to decide what a victim looks like. You don’t get to decide who is a victim," he said of the article's author.

"She still had a right to her body. That doesn’t mean that we don’t protect her. That doesn’t mean that we just forget about her.

"The person reading that story is going to potentially be a juror at some point."

Kaminsky cited a recent statement by Brooklyn federal Judge Frederick Block that a woman who was punched in the face by her ex-boyfriend and another victim were "not angels themselves," the Daily News reported.

Block referred to the women as "so-called victims," and ruled that the punch amounted to harassment, according to the News.  

"There’s a notion of what a victim looks like…passive, weak, like a Victorian notion, and our victims don’t present that way," Kaminsky said.

"So if a jury or a judge is looking at your victim and says, 'I don’t like that presentation, that’s not what I know a victim to be, she’s outspoken, she’s assertive…' that’s why cultural norms are important for our work in the long term."