Tag Archives: domestic violence

ASK JANICE SPECIAL: Wanna Know Why I Never Told You He Was Beating Me?

When I fled my abusive relationship for the last time (yes, I left and went back), one of the first things my well-meaning friends and family asked was why I never told them what was happening to me.

“Why didn’t you say something,” they’d ask, looking concerned and confused.  “I could have helped you. I could have done something!”

And I believe them. Had they known how horrible my life had become, I have no doubt that they would have done their best to help me. But all this happened more than twenty-five years ago. Today, I’m healed, emotionally healthy, and over it—and have the clarity of hindsight to see that my friends and family would have helped me.

But back then, not so much. Because when you’re in the thick of things, in the middle of a Hell that you’re convinced is of your own making, you can’t see anything clearly. Fear and shame consume you—they’re your constant companions. And when you look at your family and friends, you often can only see judgment and derision. You know their opinions about women who stay in abusive relationships.

Here’s the thing, though: 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. 1 in 4! And Black women experience domestic/intimate partner violence at rates 35% higher than white women. In other words, it’s is happening more often that you realize because we don’t talk about it enough!

Consider this scenario: You have a childhood friend with whom you’ve always been close. Lately, she’s not around as much as she used to be. You assume it’s because she’s all wrapped up in her new relationship. And at first she was. When things were new, she couldn’t get enough of him. They spent nearly every waking moment together.

But back then, you still heard from her—she called you. And even though she mostly just bragged about her new love, it didn’t matter. She was happy.

Then the calls became less frequent. And when you called her, she’d rush off the phone, sounding hurried and distracted. Mutual friends casually mentioned that they hadn’t seen her in a while. “It’s her new guy,” you’d tell each other. “They’re never apart these days.”

Soon you get used to her absence, to not talking to her as often. You miss her, but you don’t want to be that friend who seems like she’s trying to sabotage her new love.

One day you bump into her at the grocery store, and you’re shocked by her appearance. She’d always been so meticulous about how she dressed, especially in public. And now she’s wearing sweat pants—she’d never be caught dead wearing those outside of the house or gym! Yet here she is, not only in sweats, but they’re stained, and she’s wearing a baggy T-shirt, her hair, usually perfectly coiffed, now pulled into a sloppy ponytail. Her fingernails are ragged and unpolished.

She looks tired.

But you’re so happy to see her you pull her into a tight hug. She stiffens in your arms, as though she’s in pain. You let go—surprised. And then you take a really good look at her face.

She won’t meet your eyes.  Her mouth trembles a little, and her lips are chapped. Is that a fading bruise on her cheek? You’re thinking. No, it must be the lighting.

You exchange pleasantries, but you can tell she’s not really engaged in the conversation. You get the feeling that she wants to leave … that she’s not really happy to see you.  You feel uncomfortable, but you can’t exactly put your finger on why.

“How are you?” You ask again, only this time you mean it.

“Fine,” she answers briskly. “Really, I’m fine. Just in a hurry. I need to get home.”

“I won’t keep you, then.”

Something tells you she isn’t fine at all. You have an inexplicable urge to pull her into your arms again, but you don’t. Against your better judgment, you ignore your instincts and send her on her way. And in your gut you know that something is terribly wrong with your once outgoing, vivacious, beautiful friend.

Here’s what you don’t know: Your friend would love nothing more than to fall into your arms and ask for help. But she won’t. She can’t. She’s too ashamed. As awful as you think she looks, she believes she looks even worse. In a relatively short period of time, her boyfriend has gotten into her head and convinced her that she’s ugly, stupid, and worthless.

Your friend no longer puts any effort into her looks because he’ll either accuse her of dressing up for some “other man,” or he’ll just tell her she looks like crap anyway—so there’s no point in trying anymore.

Sweatpants are her new best friend.

She doesn’t call anymore because she’s embarrassed by her life. That wonderful guy she bragged about in the beginning has turned into a monster. And she knows that if her friends knew how bad things were, they’d think she was just as stupid as he says she is—and maybe she is. After all, she still loves him. So maybe she’s getting exactly what she deserves. At least that’s what she thinks.

You don’t see her as much because that’s what abusers do: They isolate their victims from friends and family. They do it subtly, though. He’d never go so far as to say that she isn’t allowed to see you—that’s too direct and he’s much smarter than that. Instead he manipulates her into staying away by doing things like picking a fight with her when she comes home.  That way, the next time you invite her out, she’ll decline in order to avoid another fight. Or he’ll accuse her of loving her friends more than him. So that she’ll stay home instead of upsetting him. He uses her love for him like a weapon.

And those fights she’s so eager to avoid? “Fight” isn’t exactly the right word, not when she always ends up sprawled on the floor. At first, it was more yelling than anything. She could hold her own back then. She always did have an acid tongue. But then he became cruel, saying things that cut her to her core. And he twisted her words and used them against her.  And all the while, he was playing the wounded one who couldn’t understand how she could treat him so badly when he loved her so much. There were the accusations and recriminations, wild scenarios forged in the deep valleys of his twisted mind. Her smart mouth never stood a chance against his emotional brutality.

By the time the first punch landed on her jaw, her psyche had been beaten to a pulp. And don’t be fooled by the shell of a woman you just saw at the grocery store. She used to fight back. She even got a few good punches in, especially that first time. But he’s stronger than her. Bigger than her. He’s been throwing punches all his life and she never even got a spanking as a child, so she never stood a chance against him physically, either.

You ask yourself, If it’s so bad for her, why didn’t she say something to me? I was right there! We’ve been friends since childhood. Surely she knows that I would help her!

Does she know that, though? Does she really? Or does she look at you, her childhood friend, and remember the time you said, “I don’t understand why women stay with men who hit them”?

Remember when the Ray Rice abuse story first broke a few years ago, and you all were having drinks? Remember what you said? You said, “If a man beats me once, shame on him; if he beats me twice, shame on me. That woman was an idiot for marrying him after what he did to her in that elevator!”

Your friend remembers those words. And even though she knows you love and support her, she can’t help but wonder how she’d change in your eyes if you knew what was really happening. Understand that she wants desperately to leave her current situation, but doesn’t know how. She may also be convinced her abuser will hurt whoever does try to help her. Remember, he’s in her head, even when he’s not beating her.

Trust your instincts, though. You know your friend. And from that encounter in the store, you know that something is definitely wrong. So please, don’t be afraid to follow up with her.

Start with a phone call. But ease into it: Don’t immediately launch into how you think she’s being abused, or anything like that. If her abuser’s at home when you call, she won’t say anything of substance, anyway. You simply want to convey the message that you’re concerned and want to help. Keep your words loving and gentle—and pressure-free.

Say something like, “I know you’re busy now. But when you have a few minutes to yourself, give me a call. I’m worried about you and want to help. I love you.”  Keep the call brief, but be clear: You’re worried, you want to help, and you love her.

If she doesn’t call back right away, call her again. Keep reaching out to her, but try to reach her when you know she’s away from him. Remember, your goal is to help, not endanger her any further.

Be prepared for her denials. Shame, guilt, fear, and even worry for your safety will keep her from opening up to you. Just gently remind her that if she’s in the kind of trouble you suspect, she has no reason to be ashamed. You love and respect her, and just want to help.

The reality is that professional intervention, possibly involving law enforcement will likely be required. If that’s the case, don’t attempt to handle this on your own. The deadliest time for a woman trying to leave an abusive relationship is from the moment she thinks about leaving, up to a year after she leaves. So you must seek professional guidance from the experts. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-779-7233. Let the experts help you help her.

You need to know that an abuse victim leaves her abuser on average seven times before she leaves for good. So, even if your friend leaves this time, she may go back. This is where your friendship will really be tested. You’ll be disappointed and even angry that, after all the work you did to help her escape, she willingly goes back. And your anger is understandable.

But an abuser’s most lethal weapon is his ability to manipulate his victim’s mind. Breaking his hold on your friend will take time, patience, professional help, and a whole lot of hard work on her part. You just have to keep loving and supporting her, even when she disappoints you. 
Try to resist judging her: It will only make things worse.

It’s painful to watch someone you love suffer domestic abuse. It’s also hard to understand why women stay with or return to the men that hurt them. But leaving is far more difficult than people think. Fear, lack of financial resources, and shame are just a few of the reasons women stay (or return). If children are involved, it’s even more complicated. Many women truly have nowhere to go. Shelters fill up fast and are few and far between. And sadly, as far as we’ve come in this country with regards to strengthening laws to protect women, it’s still way too easy for abusers to track down their victims and murder them. So some women just stay, hoping to survive another day.

As friends and supporters of abuse victims, we need to be more educated about the dynamics and mechanics of domestic violence. And most of all, we need to shed our own preconceived notions about the victims. They need our support and empathy. I learned that the hard way. I used to sit in judgment of women who stayed with their abusers, too. And I stayed on that high horse until the man I loved knocked me off with a punch.

Photo Credits: Black Doctor dot com, Elixher dot com, Jet Mag dot com.

(Janice first published this article in Dame Magazine on October 29, 2014. She updated it for this publication.)

Power & Control: My Night Of Terror – JANICE

The first hit woke me out of a deep sleep. Stunned, it took me a few seconds to register what was happening. Beyond the ringing in my ears, I could hear a familiar voice, shouting angry words I couldn’t quite understand. Then he dragged me out of bed and slapped me, knocking me to the floor. I finally opened my eyes.

The only light came from the adjacent bathroom. Even in the semi-darkness of our bedroom and not fully awake, I could see how dangerous he looked with his clenched fists and raging eyes. I was terrified. And then it got worse.

That night, more than 27 years ago, the man I loved beat me for the first time. We’d been living together for about a year and half at that point, in a one-bedroom apartment near one of the city’s prettiest parks.

I don’t remember when I came to understand that jealousy was at the root of his rage, but I shouldn’t have been surprised. An ugly, twisted jealousy had lurked beneath the surface of our relationship from the beginning. In hindsight, there were several red flags throughout the relationship that foretold that beating. I just didn’t see them for what they were. Or I ignored them.

We met when I was in my mid-20s, and my self-esteem was at an all-time low because I’d stopped getting treatment for my depression. I was also lonely and tired of having one failed relationship after another. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was a textbook target for an abusive personality.

Then I met HIM. We were set up by his cousin, who was dating one of my best friends at the time. He immediately stood apart from the other guys because he was really into me right away. That was the first red flag I ignored.

He fell fast and hard, and took me right along with him. At last, here was a man who made me his only priority from the start. With him, I was the smartest, coolest, most beautiful woman in the world! He was sweet and charming, and no one had ever treated me better.
His over-attentiveness was the opposite of what I was used to. In my previous relationships, I’d always felt like more of an option than a priority. That’s why, when more red flags popped up, I ignored them.

It’s sweet that he’s so possessive, I told myself. He must really love me!

The first major incident occurred a few weeks after we started dating. He flew into a rage just because I had a phone conversation with an ex-boyfriend. He ripped the phone out of the wall and flung it across the room. I know it’s crazy, but at the time I was more worried about my roommate’s phone than my own safety.

It shames me to admit this, but I actually liked his over-the-top reaction! I thought it proved he loved me, and so I happily promised to cut all ties with my ex. I know now that his behavior and my reaction to it were the genesis of the sickness that would consume our relationship. And it led to one of the worst nights of my life.

The night he beat me, his face was twisted with a rage I’d never seen. I almost didn’t recognize him, he looked so deranged.
Somehow, I got to my feet. He hit me again, which surprised me because I honestly thought he was done. I tried to get away from him, but he was too fast. Plus, he had the advantage of surprise. He grabbed me and hit me again, even harder.

I’d never been hit like that in my life, by my parents or anyone. I’d never even been in a real fight! For the first time in my life, I felt real terror and pain.

I fought back, though. All these years later, I’m still proud of how hard I fought back that night. Once I knew he was really trying to hurt me, I hit back. I kicked back. I even hit him over the head with an empty liquor bottle like they do in the movies!

It’s funny what we remember about traumatic events. While parts of that night are blurry, I still clearly remember that empty bottle. It was a gin bottle, and it was useless against his rage.

He got more vicious. He punched and kicked me all over the apartment, forcing me into survivor mode. I remember protecting my face and head.

Domestic violence (also called intimate partner violence, or IPV) is abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetuated by one intimate partner against another. It’s not just physical assault and battery, but also includes sexual assault/rape and psychological, emotional, verbal, and financial abuse.

IPV is so pervasive, a woman is beaten every 9 seconds in the United States. While men are often targets, 85% of abuse sufferers are women. It can happen to anyone, regardless of race, color, age, class, religion, sexual orientation, mental or physical ability, socio-economic status, education, gender identification or geography. Still, nobody ever thinks it’ll happen to them.

I certainly never thought it would happen to me. I didn’t grow up with domestic violence. My father never raised his voice, much less his hand to my mom, my sister or me. A social worker who spent most of his career advocating for abused and neglected children, my father didn’t even believe in spankings!

On the other hand, my abuser saw his step-father beat his mother often, which was another red flag I ignored. His parents had long been divorced and married to other people by the time we started dating. We spent a lot of time with his father and step-mother, who were always good to me.

I only met his step-father and mother once, though. And that was enough for me, because his step-father was clearly a cruel and bitter man. Unfortunately for me, he was also the man who raised my boyfriend, since his mother got full custody in the divorce. So my abuser spent much of his childhood in their toxic home.

Even though he harbored deep resentment towards his step-father for beating his mom, my abuser still continued the cycle. Many children who grow up in violent households end up becoming abusers or abuse sufferers, themselves.

Anyway, as good as those early days were, the beating that would change me forever wasn’t the beginning of our troubles. Before that first punch ever landed, he’d already established a pattern of power and control that was actually harder to recover from than the bruises he inflicted.

His jealousy soon included all my friends and family. He resented any time I spent with anyone other than him. I didn’t even realize it at the time, but I slowly started isolating myself from my loved ones to avoid conflict.

He was really insecure, which manifested itself subtly through emotional bullying and manipulation. For example, he was intimidated by my college-educated family and “bourgie” upbringing. Conversations would turn ugly the moment he felt outmatched intellectually. He’d pout and whine if I read books for any length of time. And he always found ways to disparage higher education, once referring to libraries and colleges as “buildings full of lies”.

I dumbed myself down to protect his ego and avoid conflict. I even stopped talking as much, lest I prompt an argument. Normally a talkative social butterfly, I actually got quiet. I didn’t even recognize myself! He bullied me into dimming my own light so that he could shine, and I let him do it to keep the peace. After all, I loved him.

The isolation was the worst, though. He never explicitly forbade me from seeing my family or friends. But as soon as I returned home from seeing them, he’d pick a fight. He was especially ornery if I came home happy, even admitting that he hated the idea of me having fun with anyone other than him. Eventually, it just got easier to stay home rather than risk his foul moods.

Isolation is an abuser’s primary tool, and another major red flag I ignored. Remember, back then I saw the world through the lens of my low self-esteem and untreated depression, so I couldn’t recognize his manipulation. Besides, it all happened so gradually, I didn’t even notice it.

Between blocking his blows and begging him to stop hitting me, I finally figured out what triggered his violent tirade that night. This was the early ‘90s, before cell phones and the internet made communication effortless. My best friend had moved across the country, from Detroit to Seattle, for a job. Between the time difference and long distance rates (remember those?), we didn’t talk as often as we wanted. Letters were fine, but we missed talking.

I think it was her idea to start making tapes instead of writing letters. One of us would record ourselves for 30 minutes (one side of a cassette), and then send the tape to the other via snail mail. Then that person would listen, flip the tape, record a reply and mail it back.
That night, he found a tape that I’d made but never mailed, where I vividly described sleeping with this really hot guy from my past. As this was for my best friend’s ears only, I got very explicit.

Back then, most of our music was on cassette tapes stored in our entertainment center. Somehow, the tape that never got sent to Seattle made it into our combined music collection. He often went to bed later than I did, and would sit in the living room listening to music through headphones so he wouldn’t disturb me.

That night he heard me describe my night of passion in great detail. It didn’t matter that I’d made the tape long before I even knew him. It was my voice, directly in his ears, talking about having great sex with another man.

I know this because he stopped hitting me long enough to grab me by the hair, throw me onto the couch and force me to listen. Then he started hitting me again.

Why didn’t I run out the door and leave? Why didn’t I scream for help? Why did I stay in that apartment, crying, begging and apologizing?
By this time, I was a mere shell of my former self. Between my untreated depression and months of his bullying and manipulation, I couldn’t think clearly. Besides, it was the middle of the night and I was only wearing a t-shirt and panties.

Anyway I did try to leave, but he caught me and threw me against the wall. Hard. I remember seeing a smudge of my blood on the wall near our front door, and being shocked. I don’t remember what part of my body was bleeding, but it wasn’t my face. Miraculously, my face barely showed signs of the attack.

Things are a blur after that.

I don’t know when the beating ended. The next conscious memory I have is of us lying in bed. I know he cried and apologized. I know we had sex, and that I was both ashamed and relieved that my body still responded to him.

But even as I quietly accepted his touch, I was planning my escape. I still loved him, but I had to go. I left the next day, taking only a few clothes and necessities, and fled to my parents’ house across the border in Canada.

By far, even worse than the beating was the deep shame I felt telling my father what happened. I had to look into the eyes of the man who’d raised me, and tell him that the man he never liked anyway had beaten me. The look on my dad’s face when I lifted my shirt to show him my bruises still breaks my heart to this day.

The only time I felt worse was when, a few months later, I had to tell my father that it happened again.

Yep. After all that, I went back.

I’m not proud of that fact, but I’m not alone. Most survivors leave an average of 7 times before leaving for good. Thankfully, it only took me one more time to leave forever.

After a blissful period the experts call the “honeymoon phase”, he hit me again after flying into a rage about yet another guy from my past. This beating wasn’t as bad, though. For one thing, I was wide awake so I saw it coming. Also, I didn’t really fight back. I didn’t even cry! I just ducked and covered my head. But that was it for me.

This time, I planned my escape more efficiently. Some friends helped me pack up all my stuff while he was at work. Thanks to my boss’ influence, the police were waiting with me when he came home. They couldn’t arrest him for hitting abuse (no witnesses or bruises, this time), but they got him for driving with a suspended license and threw him in jail.

I never talked to or saw him again.

I was lucky. I could easily leave because we weren’t married, we didn’t have kids, and I had my own money and somewhere to go. Far too many women aren’t so lucky.

That’s why I continue to write about IPV and advocate relentlessly for survivors. That’s why I share my story, even though parts of it still fill me with shame. I raise my voice for those silenced by violence, shame and fear. I do it to offer hope and encourage anyone suffering to hang on until they can get help.

And I do it so that I can continue to heal.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. If you or someone you know needs help, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 any time, day or night.

His Brother’s Keeper: ASK JANICE Domestic Violence Month Special

I have a serious question for all the good guys out there who know men that beat women: what have you done to stop it?  Do you ever challenge your friend to change?  Do you ever “check” him, or offer to get him some help?

Or do you look the other way, saying and doing nothing at all?

I’m not suggesting that it’s anyone’s responsibility to stop an abuser from beating women other than the abuser himself.  The abuser bears the responsibility for his actions, as we all do.  That’s not what I’m trying to uncover here.

What I want to know is whether or not other men even try to stop the abuse from happening?  If you know your friend, colleague, frat brother, cousin, golf buddy, or fantasy football league member beats his wife or partner, do you do anything?

Do you pull him aside and say, “Hey man, you need to get some help.  What you’re doing is wrong.  You need to stop, and if you can’t stop, I’ll help you”?

I started thinking about this a few months before my father died.  He was, as he had been for quite some time after his cancer diagnosis, very reflective about his long life.  One evening, he started telling me about someone very close to him (but no longer living) who was exceptionally “cruel and sadistic to every woman in his life”.  He recounted story after story about the awful things this man did, things that made me cringe.

I let my dad ramble until I finally had to ask, “Did you do anything to get him to change his behavior?  Did you ever do anything to protect the women he hurt?”

In hindsight, I feel guilty for challenging my 88 year-old, terminally-ill father like that.  He was one of the gentlest souls ever, never raising a hand or even his voice to my mother, my sister or me.  I’m sure my tone was pretty harsh and I feel bad about that now that he’s gone.

Yet he, better than anyone, knew my history.  More than two decades earlier, I’d been on the receiving end of psychological and physical abuse at the hands of my live-in boyfriend.  My dad was there when, battered and terrorized, I came running home.  He took the pictures of my bruises, himself!  He saw firsthand what this man did to me and reacted as any father would: with disbelief, anger and sadness.

My father’s sadness hurt me more than the beatings did.  I’ll never forget the look on his face when I raised my shirt to show him my bruises.

So when, 25 years after I left that abusive relationship for good, I challenged him about his own inaction towards someone close to him who was a serial abuser, I did so from a place of deep hurt.  My scars, scabbed over by years of recovery, are still there.

Dad was taken aback by my questions.  He looked surprised and even a little hurt.  Then our conversation was interrupted by one of his many home health care visits, and I left it alone.

I’d obviously struck a chord, though.  A few days later, my dad brought the subject up again and admitted that I’d gotten him to “re-evaluate some things”.

“In all honesty, I don’t think I did anything,” he told me, sadly.  “I should have.  I don’t know why, but I just didn’t.  I know I at least told him he was wrong, but that’s about it.”

My father was dying.  And he truly was a good man.  So I let him off the hook and never brought the subject up again.  But, it made me wonder about the other men in abusers’ lives and whether they ever did anything.

These questions resurfaced with this summer’s release of “Straight Outta Compton”, the movie about the rise of the rap group, NWA.  Full disclosure: I saw and enjoyed the movie.

But I also joined the chorus of voices who protested the absence of Dr. Dre’s well-documented history of violence against women.  On the one hand, I totally understand why this wasn’t covered by the movie.  If I made a movie about my life, I certainly wouldn’t put any of my bad deeds in there.

On the other hand, the complete erasure and subsequent “statements” from Dre and Apple, with whom Dre has a very lucrative business relationship, were galling.  And for me, it speaks to the larger issue of how little women are regarded not only in the music industry, because misogyny certainly transcends rap and hip hop, but in our society in general.

Did anyone try to protect Dee Barnes while Dre beat her?  Did any of his “boys” intervene on her behalf?  Did they challenge him at all on his violent acts?

We’ll never know, of course.  Only the people who were there really know what happened.  And I hope that Dre’s apology was sincere and that he truly has changed his ways.

In many cases, it’s probably too much to expect an abuser’s family to be very helpful.  After all, this is the same family that either created the abuser or grew up in the same home as the abuser, and so was probably just as damaged.

But what about friends?  Is it too much to expect the friends of an abuser to “check” his behavior or offer to get him help?  How can you just look the other way when someone you know is beating their wife or partner?

I’m not naïve.  I understand that most abuse happens behind closed doors where no one can see it.   And that’s by design.  Abusers isolate their victims from family and friends.  So it makes sense that the abused woman’s people don’t really know what’s going on in her relationship.  He’s isolated her, and she’s so beaten down by shame and fear, she’s likely to keep her mouth shut.  I know this because I was that woman.

But what about his people?  Surely, in a significant number of cases, the abuser’s friends have at least a vague idea of what he’s doing.  Do they just ignore it?  Or do they challenge it?

For the record, my abuser’s family and friends did try to help.  They did speak up and some even begged me not to go back to him after the first incident.  That I did go back is totally on me, and I’m ashamed of that fact to this very day.  But, I’ve always been grateful for their efforts to change him.

I was lucky, though.

According to statistics, about 4,000 women die from abuse every year.  Many die while trying to escape their abuser’s clutches.  I have to wonder how much that number would drop if more men close to the abusers intervened.

Domestic partner violence can never be eliminated through the efforts of women alone.  It’s going to take everyone, especially the billions of men who believe beating women is wrong.

So to the good men out there, be your brother’s keeper.  Help us eradicate domestic violence forever.  If you see something, speak on it.  Trust your instincts and act accordingly.  You just may save someone’s life.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month here in the U.S.  If you or someone you know is being abused, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is safe, discreet and available 24/7, 365 days a year.  Call 1-800-799-7233.