Reprinted from the September / October 2013 issue of “Christian Woman” Magazine.
“I didn’t mean that.”
“Please forgive me.”
Words of apology are more easily spoken when we say and do things that are less than kind to those we love – especially to a spouse. Sadly, such words ring hollow for the victims of domestic violence. To them, hearing “I’m sorry,” means, “This will happen again,” and is often followed by “You made me hurt you.”
NBC News Health aired a report in June about the first systematic study of available data concerning assaults against women. The report showed that globally, 30 percent of all women aged 15 and older have suffered intimate partner violence which includes physical and sexual attacks. Nationwide, more than 1.5 million women have been victims of physical assault, and one in four will experience domestic violence during her lifetime. The actual numbers of physical and sexual assault against women are likely higher than the report found, because women are often reluctant to report or admit such crimes.
In addition to physical and sexual attacks by intimate partners, women face other forms of intimidation from partners who can be equally controlling. Rita Smith, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence based in Denver, said, “What is important to notice about this report: there’s a whole other layer of violence that happens that isn’t physical – emotional, economic, verbal, stalking, threats with weapons – that would raise those numbers exponentially.” Smith added that she wasn’t surprised by the percentages revealed in the study.
Before you think these are only statistics, think again! We are talking about real women, with real names, living in real fear, with real needs of finding help. We may want to turn a blind eye to domestic violence and pretend that it doesn’t affect you, me, a loved one or a dear friend – but it does. These women are all of us – mothers, daughters, siblings, best friends or sisters in Christ.
“If someone talks to you about being abused, believe her,” said Liz Todaro, community educator with the YWCA in Nashville, Tenn. “As hard as it may be to make comments, don’t try to be the expert and don’t try to rescue her. Provide her with information about local resources and let her know that she is not alone. Help her to stay safe.”
Todaro suggested that you should always be aware of your personal safety and do not do anything that puts you or your friend at risk.
“The power of verbal and emotional abuse is very powerful,” Todaro said. “A person who is being abused finds it hard to believe that the person they love is capable of doing these things. Often, they are embarrassed.”
The Domestic Violence Division of the Metropolitan Davidson County Police Department acknowledges that “domestic violence does not tend to end, but escalates in both severity and frequency the longer a victim waits before taking action. There is help, and information is available to break this cycle of violence.”
Domestic violence is any pattern of behavior that attempts to control an intimate partner or family member through the use of fear, manipulation, isolation, intimidation, and physical, sexual and/or verbal abuse. Its sole purpose is to establish power and control over another person.
Typically, this control starts out slowly and increases over time. By the time physical abuse is present, verbal, emotional and sexual abuse have already been established. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, women experience about 4.8 million intimate partner-related physical assaults and rapes annually. Less than 20 percent of battered women sought medical treatment after an injury.
Generally, violence does not occur constantly, but in a cycle, according to the YWCA. The cycle consists of three stages: seduction/peacemaking, tension building, and violation/ explosion. Seduction/peace making is characterized by gifts, reconciliation, physical affection, attention, promises, and apologies. “I’m sorry.” “It won’t happen again.” “It will be different this time.” Tension building is that period of increasing pressure, mood swings, irritability, demands and emotional withdrawal. This phase may feel like “walking on eggshells.” Violation/ explosion is when the abusive outbursts occur, not always physical but extremely painful all the same. The promises are broken, and threats are carried out.
We may wonder and even ask, “Why don’t they just leave?” Love is usually the reason women don’t leave, as well as promises of change, religious beliefs, no knowledge of options, no job skills, or no place to go.
“Leaving can be one of the most dangerous times in an abusive relationship, and there are countless reasons that victims are unable to leave,” Todaro shares. “Leaving is not easy. On average, it takes a victim seven times to leave before staying away for good.”
The question of why women in these situations don’t leave also places blame on the victim, and it undermines the difficult, complicated nature of leaving the abuser. Victims of domestic violence are often in denial about the danger they are living in, believing instead that if they could be better wives, the abuse would stop. They may also believe the excuses that are made to justify the violence, blaming it on job stress or not being appreciated. Others fear that the threats to kill them or the children are real.
Domestic violence is very real and crosses all socioeconomic boundaries. But it can be stopped.
Love is not rude; it does not insist on its own way; it is not arrogant; it is not irritable or resentful. If you are a victim of domestic violence, there is help. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE. ❏
Wanda Southerland is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in Christian Woman. She is a businesswoman and editor-in-chief for a company that produces several Nashville-area newspapers She and her husband, Howard, live in Taft, Tenn., and worship with the Plainview Church of Christ in Hazel Green, Ala.