October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
This is an issue that I feel very strongly about, and the following is a re-write of a blog post I wrote one year ago.
I will continue to write at least yearly about this problem, forever.
I am not going to quote statistics. I don’t think that’s necessary.
It is easy to see the violence that is perpetuated upon women, unfortunately, on a daily basis. Even if you never leave your house, it’s on the news and it’s certainly on the internet. I don’t think any reasonably sane person would argue that it doesn’t exist.
What I am here to write about is what you, as just an ordinary person, can do to help eliminate this problem. It doesn’t have to cost money, and it doesn’t even have to take up much time. But you can make a difference to some woman, somewhere, and I am going to tell you how.
For the edification of people who do not know me well, I have just a brief explanation of how this issue came to affect me.
I am a survivor of domestic violence.
Not just once, but a few times, beginning with the very first household where I grew up. I witnessed it, and I was a target of it.
The reason I go all the way back to my childhood is two-fold: first, to illustrate that violence against women has never really been taken seriously until recently.
Second, it is to show that the effects of domestic abuse can have far-reaching consequences, even for intelligent women with advanced degrees in psychology (I once had a policeman in Memphis ask me, when called to my apartment while an ex was destroying it, “Don’t you know any better? You’re a psychologist!”).
There were no shelters, really, back in the day. I am talking late 1950s up until around 1990 (in Memphis, in 2015, there is one domestic violence shelter, one, in a population of over 653,000). Growing up in a pre-feminist era, just in time to see the growth of that movement, it’s hard for me to explain what it was like growing up in the 1950s, 60s, and early 70s.
ALL abuse – child, spousal, and to a certain extent animal, was pretty much blamed on the object of the violence, not the perpetrator.
People did not want to “cause trouble” by raising these issues – though thank goodness people did, or we would still be living in a world where certain members of the population are blamed for acts of violence they neither started, perpetuated, nor deserved (as if anyone deserves to be assaulted!).
Women covered up bruises and other evidence of violence – and we still do that today. People saw the evidence but didn’t ask what happened, as it made them uncomfortable (“What if her husband hit her? What if he didn’t? Am I making a big deal out of nothing?”).
Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to have changed.
The police were not often called, and if they were, it was usually the man’s version of events that was believed (“She fell, she attacked me, she’s making a big deal out of nothing”, etc).
That has changed, thankfully.
I am not going to chronicle in detail the events that led up to me fleeing for my life to a domestic violence shelter in Altoona 5 years ago, because I am acutely aware of how very uncomfortable that makes people.
5 years ago, I was slapped, punched, kicked, tied to a chair, hit with various objects, strangled, smothered, had my hair pulled, spit on, pinched, bit (yes, really), screamed at, had my money/keys taken away, was isolated from everyone, had my spiritual beliefs mocked, had my pets threatened (I took them with me when I left), was stalked at work, and had my car sabotaged so I couldn’t leave.
I was humiliated in public several times. No one who witnessed those incidences said or did anything to stop it.
The long-term effects of this experience are PTSD, dental issues from having things thrown at my mouth, and probably a lifetime of second-guessing any future romantic involvements I might ever have.
I am recovering from it. Each year gets better. This blog helps.
I want to make people aware of what these things are, these aspects of abuse, so if you or someone you know is experiencing them you can know it’s not right/normal/deserved.
Physical abuse: I have detailed that previously but I think everyone knows this is anything that physically hurts or terrifies you – including throwing things, breaking things, and slamming doors. Oh and not letting you call an ambulance when he injures you.
Emotional abuse: Telling you who you can/cannot talk to/be around/communicate with on the internet, making fun of you (the kind that isn’t playful teasing), isolating you from friends and family by telling you they don’t care about you, telling you “no one can love you like I love you/no one will ever want you”.
Deriding your education/skills/talents, calling you ugly/stupid/worthless/crazy/fat and other awful things, putting you down to others, threatening to kill your pets, and generally making you feel like less than nothing.
If you already have self-esteem issues, and/or if you grew up in an abusive environment, this isn’t hard for someone to do to you.
Economic abuse: Controlling your money, hiding your money/keys/personal effects, interfering with your job, getting you fired or forcing you to quit (neglecting your children when you are working and he is home – for me, that wasn’t this last time, it was when I was married). Telling you what you can and cannot buy. Returning things you bought without your knowledge or consent.
Spiritual abuse: Making fun of your beliefs, not allowing you to attend services (or, in my case, conduct ceremonies), or threatening violence if you do not convert to whatever belief system your abuser has (this did not what happen to me, but to women I have known). Making it really uncomfortable for you by arguing with you about your beliefs, or making it uncomfortable for you to even express those beliefs.
It comes down to a lack of respect, really, and a lack of acceptance of you as a person.
No one who loves you is going to act like this.
Sexual abuse: I think most of us know what that is, but it also includes forcing someone into lifestyles they are not comfortable with (swinging, bdsm, etc). The key is “something they are not comfortable with” – I make no judgments about lifestyle choices, as long as they are choices.
Basically, your body is yours, not someone else’s, and you are the one who says what is or isn’t done to it.
If you are experiencing any of this – and I would hope, as someone connected to me, you would come to me for help – get to a safe place.
Call me! Email me!
Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7223) or visit their website.
Go to a friend’s house, or a relative’s.
You do not have to live like this. I know it seems hopeless and scary and exhausting and deeply sad, but you can get out. You can live a life that you want. You can be happy. You are worthwhile, and there are people who really do care.
If you know someone you suspect is being abused, there are many things you can do. Most of them will not cost you anything in terms of time or money:
1. If you hear screaming or yelling or crying coming from out on the street or from someone’s home/car, call the police. Don’t be hesitant that “maybe it’s nothing”. It’s the job of the police to assess the situation and deal with it. They will not think you are wasting their time. You could save someone from being hurt or killed.
I cannot express to you the horror I felt when a neighbor passed by my previous residence and told my ex to “keep your woman quiet next time”, even as he noticed the scratches on my ex’s arm from where I attempted to dislodge it from around my throat.
Another time, a neighbor – this time a woman – passed by as I was sitting on the porch and said to me, “You shouldn’t let him hit you like that.” Then turned to my ex and said, “You know, if it was me I would have beat your ass.” Later that night, I paid for her remarks. I know she meant well, but these things do not help.
Those 2 experiences left no doubt in my mind that the neighbors heard my screaming, but did nothing.
And all anyone had to do was pick up a cell phone and push 3 buttons.
2. If you must intervene, tackle the abuser at the time of the attack, and disable him while someone else calls the police. Making angry or snide comments may only serve to get your friend hurt. Not all the time, but just be aware the person she is dealing with is unstable.
If someone comes to you for help, by everything that is righteous, help her! Listen to her, take her for medical care if she needs it, take her in or take her to a shelter.
Call her relatives and explain how serious it is (they might not know) and ask for their help. I don’t think my family had any idea how bad things were with me; I like to think they would have come and gotten me if they had (they all live out of state).
If she won’t leave, or she returns to her abuser, be patient – a woman leaves an average of 7 times before she leaves for good (“50 Obstacles To Leaving: 1-10”, National Domestic Violence Hotline article, 2013).
3. Remember that every little kindness helps. And here is something you might not know – the longer someone is away from their abuser and around normal caring people, the more likely she is to leave for good. So take your friend out somewhere – to lunch, to a park, to have coffee, whatever, and do it often. Show her that the way you act is normal, and the way he acts is not.
This way she can see that it’s not something she has done, she can see that he’s the one with the problem.
4. Get her a copy of “Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men” by Lundy Bancroft. It not only explains (doesn’t excuse) the different types of abuse and the warped minds behind it, it also reinforces that it’s not her fault.
Lundy Bancroft runs a treatment center for men who are abusive, and it’s not the (ineffective) “anger management” stuff most social service agencies who attempt to deal with abusers use.
His program is confrontational and hits at the heart of what’s going on – the power issues and the beliefs that these men hold about women. It is based on Ellen Pence’s (1948-2012) excellent Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project (aka The Duluth Model).
Here’s the link to Bancroft’s site, where you can buy the book and also read some interesting and helpful thing.
5. Help your friend make a safety plan. Some of this might involve you holding her important papers for her (birth certificate, etc). It might involve a code word she can use so you know when you need to call the police.
There are other things you can do, too, of course. You can donate money to your local shelter. You can attend any number of domestic violence month programs in your area. You can wear a purple ribbon this month, and speak to people who ask you about it.
If you are really ambitious, you can help me start a shelter – the one I was in was woefully inadequate, had no counselors, and sometimes took in people who did not belong there.
It also didn’t have any space for pets or women who had adult children with special needs (you think a woman is going to leave if she can’t take her child – no matter how old – with her??).
Some of this is funding, but some of it is a lack of education and training in disability issues and substance abuse assessment.
But the result is that women who need help are not getting it.
I want to change that. I WILL change that. And I hope when future generations read this blog, they can see the history of this problem and be thankful it’s either been eradicated or dealt with properly (I can only hope things will get better).
Domestic violence survivors/victims are your mothers, your sisters, your aunts, your grandmothers, your daughters….and me.
I am a survivor of domestic abuse.
As I’ve told you before, I really admire your courage to face this head-on like you do. But knowing you like I do, it’s not surprising. Once again, a great post.
Thanks! Your support means a lot to me, and comments like yours encourage me to keep on writing.
I so appreciate your very helpful explanation of ways to be there for women and children dealing with many types of violence. As we know, not all of it is hitting. Bless ya, sister!
Thank you so much, Susan, for your kind words!