October is a month known for many “awarenesses.” All are important; however, I am going to talk about only one: Domestic and Dating Violence.
DV knows no social-economic-racial bounds. While many of us are happy to get home after a long day, some women (a few men), and children are terrified to do so TONIGHT. Their definition of “home” doesn’t include the words: safe, peaceful, refuge, or love. Instead their definition may include: abuse, neglect, hunger, shame, anxiety, beaten, control, pain, bruises, alcohol, ER visits, screaming, loud, hiding, no sleep, stress, and fear.
We’ve got to stop blaming the victims. We need to focus on the abuser who is in the wrong. We need to help the victims believe that they are worth saving, and are loved. Instead of questioning why she won’t leave, we need to look at the psychological abuse that started way before the first violent act took place.
From the research I’ve gathered over the years, too many people see DV as a person in a happy relationship, then bam, one day the violence comes, and then they want to know why the victim won’t just up and leave. This drives me up a wall.
Control is the biggest factor. By the time the violence becomes physical, the victim is already in trouble. The victim has already been told over and over that: “no one cares about you like I [the abuser] do,” “you’re no good,” “I promise I’ll never do it again,” “I didn’t mean it,” and etc. The emotional and psychological abuse is just the beginning.
See the scary thing about DV is that it starts so small i.e. subtle hints that the victim isn’t good enough or doesn’t deserve anything nice. Here’s an example of how the cycle of abuse works:
The abuser (although occasionally a female, for my purposes I will refer to the abuser as a “he”) sometimes starts with controlling how the victim feels about herself. He noticed that she’s gained weight. The scale used to reflect 122. Yesterday it said 124. He accused her of not eating enough. She felt sorry for herself and indulged on some ice cream, so he called her fat. He met her friends, but he continues to convince her that her friends are fake. She brought him to a family reunion and he charmed everyone. A few told her that they didn’t like him, but no one said why. She defended him. She said that they don’t know him like she does.
They go out to dinner. He accused her of flirting with the waiter. They fought and made up. She wound up pregnant. What should have been exciting news, it sent him off into a tirade. He blamed her and told her that he doesn’t want it. She believed that he would be happy once the baby arrived. Her morning sickness changed the meals she prepared for them. He constantly complained about her choices. He decided to do all the grocery shopping. He made her stay on the couch. He returned from the store with his favorite items -ones that she couldn’t tolerate. She believed she was powerless. Her opinions were no longer important to him, the same for her preferences. If she asked him for a favor, he turned it into a big deal. He cursed and yelled at her because her favor caused him too much trouble – like the time he had to fix the garage door.
Then he started to control her freedom and finances. He said that she’s not allowed to hang out with certain family members or friends, especially other men. Then he developed a routine of telling her when she has to be home, and quizzing her about every step she took while she was out. He did not believe her story of going to WalMart, the sitter’s house, or to the post office.
He would twist her words around, and every argument was her fault. Baby number two arrived. He seemed indifferent. He started to hate spending time with either child – who were always on his nerves. He had zero patience for any misbehaving. They had to be perfect 100% of the time (which is impossible for anyone). There weren’t any bruises yet, but the wounds were there. She and the kids had to walk on eggshells because they noticed his temper flared up more often than it used to.
Maybe the following weekend, he returned home from a night out and tripped over the kid’s toy. He hurt himself, and he realized he has had it. He vowed to unleash his anger on the next person he saw. A shove, here. A slap, there. Or maybe he arrived home after a hard day at work. He got home later than usual, so dinner would be slightly overcooked and the baby was cranky. Dinner wound up on the wall, or in the trash. Maybe next time he wouldn’t break any dishes. She was caught by surprise when he helped her clean up. She felt better when he called for pizza. He apologized for overreacting. He kissed her like he used to when they met. She believed that everything would go back to normal.
Close friends and family started to see the indirect signs/warnings. The victim canceled on more plans than usual. Or whenever she and the kids were out, they seemed down/depressed/sad/angry; but they wore smiles on their faces. Maybe if they acted as though everything was okay, then it would be. Family & friends asked if they’re alright. The abuser stepped in and announced that everyone was doing great. She paid for their inquiries when they got home. Family & friends were told they no longer welcomed. He was slowly isolating her from those who really cared.
A few days later, the kids made too much noise while playing a game they made up. She was at church, which only ticked him off even more. He didn’t trust anyone at church. Good thing he didn’t know that the $5 bill she found under a sofa cushion was going into the offering plate. She returned to find that one kid was crying hysterically from being whipped with a belt, or thrown down the stairs, or had a red mark on his/her face. She vowed to never leave her kids alone. Now, she’s almost totally isolated.
He decided to take them out for a movie. He didn’t ask ahead of time, as the kids had scheduled sport games. He’s infuriated that she arranged those plans without his permission. The beating hurts really bad. The next day, he came home with flowers and promised to never fight with her again. For a few weeks, the man who she fell in love with came back. She relaxed and believed that the violence was over.
She woke up on the floor, bruised…she might have broken a rib. Her head was throbbing. She couldn’t recall what caused the fight. She panicked as she didn’t know where her kids were. She vowed to leave if they were hurt. She found one crying herself to sleep. She found the other sleeping under his bed. The guilt and pain grip her so hard, she feared she was being choking. She went to the bathroom and was horrified by what she saw in the mirror. Her face, chest, and arms were black and blue. She gently washed her face with a cool cloth. She knew she needed medical treatment. She shuddered, knowing what he would do to her if she went. She climbed into bed, and tried to find a comfortable position to lay in.
She thought about a way to escape all night long. Her abuser nudged her during the night once or twice telling her to do her wife duties. She pretended to snore, hoping he would believe it and leave her alone. In the morning after he had gone to work, she called out sick. She made the kids stay home from school. She made phone calls. She found out that nothing was in her name. The car, the bank accounts, and the house. She had no idea when the rug got pulled out from under her. She trusted him. How could everything be such a disaster? Where should she go from here? Her family & friends were angry that she “picked” him over them, and that she couldn’t see or call them anymore. Forget his side of the family, as they had been brainwashed into believing that she’s either insane, or treats him like garbage. No car, no job, no money. So she stayed. The beatings and the violence intensified. She feared that she would die at his hands. She hoped her kids would survive.
Or she might be in a form of “denial.” She claimed to the police that she did not want help. He had broken her down emotionally & mentally to the point that she couldn’t stand on her feet. He was her only source of food, etc. She believed he would carry out his threat to kill her or her kids.
This is also known as the Stockholm Syndrome. If she expressed anger at anyone trying to help, including police officers, she may have a psychological bond to her captor. A great article on this point is: Stockholm Syndrome
I hope by this combination of fictional and real DV cases (from research, the news, my law textbook, and from my time working at my law school’s Family Law Clinic), that anyone who (doesn’t have any knowledge regarding the truth of DV) reads my post will see how dangerous the cycle of abuse is. The first step is to break the silence. Victims remain victims if they can’t speak out. The second is to help spread awareness – survivors sharing their stories, guest speakers in schools, nonprofit shelters. The third is to get involved. Violence will not be stopped unless we engage in the battle to fight for those who cannot stand on their own.
We need to pray for all victims. We also pray for the abusers – that God deals with whatever issue that drives them to do what they do, so they get help & stop abusing others. We pray for healing and restoration. We donate money or clothes or toys or food to shelters. We learn the warning signs and be that ray of hope for another.