Friday, October 3, 2008
Special Series: The Truth About Domestic Violence (Part I)
No Not Yet
You came to me one fine day,
So suave and debonair.
You made me feel so very special
As if you really and truly cared.
You tried to take everything away from me,
Like it was yours to take.
You didn’t care how you got it,
You slapped, you punched, you raped.
You gave me so many bad memories,
That I can and will never forget.
When I tried to take my own life, the Lord said to my troubled soul,
“No my child, not yet.”
When that wasn’t good enough for you,
You wanted me and my children dead.
When you put me back in the hospital as a result of your abuse,
The Lord said, “It’s not your time, but I’ll take your child instead.”
So, you see, you never were in control like you thought you were,
The Lord had other plans for me, because my life he spared,
So I can look you in the eyes and scream to the top of my lungs,
LOOK AT ME, I’M ALIVE! I’M NO LONGER SCARED!
(Excerpt from Silent No More)
If someone asked me to describe my experience in a few words, this poem says it all. I truly believe that this poem describes the experience of most women in violent relationships. In my 6 years as a military wife, and 19 years later since I left my abusive marriage, I have seen and heard domestic violence described in society as many things - a private matter between a man and a woman, in clinical terms by psychologists, as a subject to be researched by organizations, as statistics and numbers by the government to justify that domestic violence exists. But for some women and children in our culture, violence and fear is a daily part of their lives. In order to help a friend who you know is being abused, or confronting a friend who you know is an abuser, it’s important to educate yourself as to what domestic violence and abuse really is about. But be forewarned – when you begin to seriously explore the issue of domestic violence and abuse, it can cause us to reflect on our own personal relationships, and it may surprise us as to how we have treated people that we have come in contact with.
Statistics report that:
2004 – 2005, approximately 5,093 women were battered while pregnant New York’s 5 boroughs;
2006, there were between 3500 and 4000 emergency department visits as a result domestic violence. (Department of Health and Mental Hygiene)
2007, NYPD responded to 229,354 domestic abuse incidents; (Mayor’s office to Combat DV, Domestic Violence Fact Sheet Calendar-year 2007)
90% of domestic abuse cases still go unreported
Any type of physical, sexual, psychological (emotional, verbal, spiritual) and/or economic abuse that prevents a woman from making decisions for herself strips her of her dignity or protecting her children because her partner uses coercive behavior to maintain power and control over a her is what domestic violence really is. It can happen in intimate (man and woman, same sex partners) as well as in non-intimate relationships (parents and children or siblings). And, don’t get me wrong, we all know that men can be abused as well, but it doesn’t take a lot of numbers and statistics to know that the majority of the victims are women and children and the abusers are men.
So, how does a woman know if she’s in an abusive relationship? Keep in mind, that even if she’s not being physically hurt, it doesn’t mean that she’s not being abused in some sort of way. The emotional scars are less visible to others and take longer to heal than the physical scars. I once knew a woman who told me, “He knows better than to lay a hand on me”, then complained that he left 8 messages on her cell phone wanting to know where she was. So the question really is, what type of abuse is this woman suffering from? Maybe you can figure it out by the time you’re finished reading.
There are certain methods that an abuser uses to maintain power and control that are common to almost every abusive relationship.
Using threatening words or gestures to make her afraid or think that he’s going to hit her; smashing things or destroying her property. Even going so far as to abuse pets.
Put downs; name calling; playing mind games, telling her she’s blowing things out of proportion, always telling her she’s crazy. You say this to someone long enough, and they start to believe it.
Keeping her from achieving her personal goals, preventing her from going to school, always wanting to know where she’s going, when she’s coming back, who she’s going out with; where she’s at; finding fault with everyone (friends and family) she comes in contact with; telling he no one is looking out for her but him. This destructive type of isolation increases a woman’s dependence on him for social needs because any outside “distractions” threatens his authority. The more she tries to develop outside interests and relationships, the more he feels he has to exert more power and control over her to the point of violence to reinforce his authority. It’s often disguised as love and concern for your safety. For example, “Baby, you know I don’t like your friend. You know I’m just lookin’ out for you. I don’t know what I would do if anybody hurt you.”
Denial and Blame
Shifting responsibility for his abusive behavior to her; telling her that SHE made him hit her; everything is her fault. For example, it was HER fault that he hit her because she didn’t do what he told you to do. Or, “What are you crying for? You know I didn’t hit you that hard!”
When an abuser uses her child(ren) as a way to control her, it does more damage to them psychologically than if they saw him actually hit her. Abusers will even go so far as to threaten to take a woman to court and try to take her children away if she ever left him. A woman’s children is all she has left to hold onto.
An abuser will use this tactic to cripple a woman financially so she remains financially dependent on him and can never leave. She doesn’t know what money goes in or comes out. She’s not allowed to ask what he does with the money. Or, he may shift all the financial responsibility to her by putting all bills in her name but she would still have to account to him for every penny she spends. This is where most women, when they finally leave, have to file for bankruptcy.
Male privilege are the subtle rights that men have just because they are men compared to the rights women either don’t have or have had to fight for. Throughout history, society has given men certain rights just because they are men. Even in the bible, men are mentioned in the context of having authority, and women and children are mere possessions like cattle.
Coercion and Threats
Some of these methods also go hand in hand with using children. Abusers will threaten to report the woman to child welfare authorities; threaten to take them to court, even if it means making up a story. Some women spend years and years in court defending themselves against something they’re not responsible for. When I threatened to report my abuser to his company commander (he was in the military), he told me if I did, there would be nothing left of me to send back to my family. I reported him anyway.
This is always a sensitive subject with most people- domestic violence and religion. This type of abuse is two-fold; it can happen in the home– the abuser tells her that her religion is a cult, making insensitive jokes about her religion; not allowing her to go to church, and when he “allows” her to go, it’s a privilege that HE gave her. Spiritual abuse also can happen in the church – hearing distorted scripture that re-emphasizes the oppression of women; or that it’s a woman’s lot to suffer.
These methods I just mentioned, combined with the cycle an abusive relationship goes through comes at a woman from all directions and slowly wears her resolve down, and makes it harder for her to leave. So what is the cycle an abusive relationship goes through?
Stay tuned for Part II!
Have you figured out what type of abuse(es) the woman in the beginning of this article was suffering from? It’s Isolation.
If you are in crisis and need immediate assistance, please visit http://www.opdv.state.ny.us/about_dv/fss/resource.html or call 311 for helpful numbers and resources .
Ivette Attaud-Jones, is a social entrepreneur, former army wife and a 19 year survivor of domestic violence. After the loss of her infant twin daughter to domestic violence and beginning her journey to healing, she has made it her mission to speak out against domestic violence by raising awareness within the community. Ivette is the Founder and Program Director for My Life My Soul, The Unspoken Journey of Life After Domestic Abuse, an empowering support group for women, due to launch October 1.
She is also the author of Silent No More, A Woman’s Story of Surviving Domestic Abuse in the Military, due to be published in the near future. She has also served on the Battered Women’s Justice Committee of Voices of Women Organizing Project; regularly appeared on the Bronx public access show, Healing Touch on Channel 70; and has facilitated a domestic violence workshop for clergy members. You can reach Ivette at