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October 6, 2011 - Jodelle Greiner
Domestic abuse is an insidious problem that takes hold like malignant cancer and is even harder to eradicate. It flourishes in the dark and thrives on secrecy.
The root of domestic abuse is a lack of respect. If you respect a woman, you don’t hit her, you don’t verbally tear her down, you don’t manipulate her emotions. It is the PERPETRATOR who has a problem, not the victim. The abuser needs someone to abuse, it’s not that important to them who it is, they just need someone to dominate. Whoever they fixate on is just a convenient target.
One thing that most abusers have in common is they tell their victims “Don’t tell anyone.” It doesn’t matter if it’s a man hitting a woman or a pedophile sexually abusing a child. The only difference is the manner in which they do it. A pedophile will cajole the child “This is our little secret, right? You don’t want to tell anyone because this is our special secret.” A batterer will threaten, “If you tell anyone, I’ll break your other arm!” THESE PEOPLE DON’T WANT ANYONE TO KNOW; THEY WANT TO KEEP THIS SECRET SO THEY CAN KEEP ABUSING THEIR VICTIM. They know full well that if others know, it will be much harder for them to continue to dominate their victim. Keeping the secret — because of pride, fear, innocence — is never a good idea. Secrecy gives the abuser power. Take that power away from them. Tell someone and keep telling someone until you are believed.
Believing their abuser is another hurdle for victims. Ironically, it’s a double-edged sword. Abusers control their victims by telling them, “You’re ugly, if you leave me, no one else will want you.” “You’re stupid, you can’t make it on your own, you can’t support yourself.” Many women stay in these relationships because they believe these lies. The flip side is abusers will threaten to injure or murder their victims, “Nobody else can have you. If you leave me, I’ll kill you!” Many victims don’t really believe their abuser will do it, but statistics say a woman is 75 percent more likely to be killed by her abuser when she leaves. That’s because the abuser is losing his victim and he panics, he needs her to stay so he can continue to dominate her to make himself feel better.
When someone threatens to kill you, BELIEVE THEM. Do whatever you have to do to get away from them. There are women who say, “He didn’t really mean it; he was just mad and blowing off steam. He’ll calm down and be sorry he said it.” NO, HE WON’T. Take him seriously. A lot of women say, “I can’t quit my job in this economy; I’ll never find another one! I really like the house I’m living in; I’m not going to let him scare me into leaving. My kids are really happy in their school and it’s a good one; I don’t want to pull them out.” No job, house or school is worth your life or the lives of your children. If he has threatened to kill you, chances are he means it and he will do it. It may not be next week or next month, but he will find a time. Run as far and as fast as you can. Get help from a domestic abuse or crime victims’ organization and have them help you come up with a safety plan for leaving.
Abusers don’t announce themselves by hauling off and hitting you when you’re introduced, the abuse creeps into the relationship slowly. Proceed cautiously in any new relationship and get to know them over the course of several months. Don’t tell them where you work or live right away, especially if you live alone. Once they know where to find you, you’ve lost control and they have it; they can (and do) drop in at any time. Do take advantage of public record: find out if he has restraining orders from other girlfriends, multiple ex-wives, a record of violence. If he has a history of violence with women, you will not fare any better than any of the other women in his life.
The most important thing is to know the signs of a potential abuser and stay away from the men who exhibit these behaviors. The common denominator is an abuser does what he wants and disregards your opinions and feelings. He doesn’t care if you don’t want to, HE wants to and that’s all that matters to him. • Emotional abuse. This one is tough to quantify. It won’t leave visible bruises. Some red flags include remarks meant to “put you in your place”, that humiliate you, undermine your self-esteem or are derogatory to women in general. A lot of abusers start with emotional abuse and work their way up to more violent abuse. • Economic abuse. Stealing money from you, insisting he be in charge of all finances, insisting you turn your paycheck over to him are some ways an abuser will try to control you financially. • Sexual abuse. Like emotional abuse, it can start off in a gray area. He might insist on always having his hands on you, like your shoulder or back, even in a public place. He’s establishing “ownership” of you and if you tell him you don’t like it, he’ll tell you you’re being too sensitive or that you’re so sexy he just can’t keep his hands off you. Sexual abuse can escalate into him pushing a sexual relationship faster than you want to go, pressuring you into performing sexual activities you don’t want, or even rape. • Any physical abuse. That means hitting, of course, but also includes holding you down, physically keeping you from leaving when you want to, even if it’s just refusing to let go of your wrist and insisting you stay. He may pin you to the wall or floor and brush it off by saying he was “just playing”. It’s not playing, it’s abuse.
I adapted that list from the Joyful Heart Foundation’s website. There are many good websites with great information. I found one for the Mid-Valley Women's Crisis Service at mvwcs (dot) com which says abusers are usually very charming people and use isolation, jealousy and emotional abuse to control their victims. This is also under the “redflag” section:
“Control “Abusers are very controlled and very controlling people. In time, the abuser will control every aspect of the victim's life: where she goes, how she wears her hair, what clothes she wears, whom she talks to. He will control the money and access to money. Abusers are also very controlled people. While they appear to go into a rage or be out of control we know they are very much in control of their behavior. “The following are the reasons we know his behaviors are not about anger and rage: “• He does not batter other individuals - the boss who does not give him time off or the gas station attendant that spills gas down the side of his car. He waits until there are no witnesses and abuses the person he says he loves. “• If you ask an abused woman, ‘can he stop when the phone rings or the police come to the door?’ She will say ‘yes’. Most often when the police show up, he is looking calm, cool and collected and she is the one who may look hysterical. If he were truly ‘out of control’ he would not be able to stop himself when it is to his advantage to do so. “• The abuser very often escalates from pushing and shoving to hitting in places where the bruises and marks will not show. If he were ‘out of control’ or ‘in a rage’ he would not be able to direct or limit where his kicks or punches land.”
If you are in an abusive relationship, please have the courage to take the first step and get help. If you are not in an abusive relationship, protect yourself and know the warning signs of an abuser. If you suspect someone you know is being abused, reach out to her — you may be saving her life.
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