Tag Archives: October Domestic Violence month

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.)

ASK JANICE SPECIAL: How Do We Respond To Domestic Violence?

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and this year, the issue of domestic and intimate partner violence hit particularly close to home.  My friend’s daughter’s allegedly abusive boyfriend shot her in the head several months ago.  I say allegedly, as the court case is still pending.  That he shot her isn’t in dispute, though.  He’s admitted to that.  Thankfully, she survived.  But her recovery, though miraculous, is long and arduous.

But this column isn’t about my friend’s daughter, or any one of the many cases I learned about this year.  Rather, it’s more about we respond to these stories.

Here’s what I mean: at the beginning of the month, I shared a story on my Facebook page about a mother of three young children who’d recently been murdered by her husband.  One of my FB friends, a man whom I deeply respect and admire, commented “This is horrible!  Where are the brothers on this?  We men really have to teach our girls what to do when a man puts his hands on them!”

His heart was, and is, in the right place.  In fact, he’s one of the few of my many male Facebook friends who publicly speaks out against domestic violence.  But I think his response to the story I shared, though a common one, was a little off, which I gently (I hope) told him in my reply.  I said, “How about the brothers teach boys and men how not to be abusers?”

You see, he’s not alone in his assumption that the onus is on girls and women to prevent abuse.  Just like the outdated thinking that a woman can prevent being raped based on her choice of clothing, this mindset completely absolves the abuser of any responsibility.  As the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) says on their website, “it is solely the choice of the abuser to abuse.”

You’d think that in 2017, we’d be past counselling an abused woman to modify her behavior so that her husband or partner won’t hit her.  Sadly, we’re not.  Too often, the person being abused is blamed for their torment, especially when it’s physical.

As the NCADV further states, “unfair blame is frequently put upon the victim of abuse because of assumptions that victims choose to stay in abusive relationships.  The truth is, bringing an end to abuse is not a matter of the victim choosing to leave; it is a matter of the victim being able to safely escape their abuser, the abuser choosing to stop the abuse, or others (e.g., law enforcement, courts, etc.) holding the abuser accountable for the abuse they inflict.”

That’s not to say that the person being abused doesn’t have a responsibility for their own health, safety and well-being.  But it’s not their fault they get beaten or otherwise abused.  The fault and blame lie squarely on the shoulders of the person inflicting the abuse.  Period.

Besides, it isn’t always a matter of “just leaving” an abusive situation.  There may be financial barriers, child custody issues, and other legal impediments, as well as a general lack of resources and somewhere to go that may prevent someone from leaving.

And there is the fact that the most dangerous time for a person being abused is from the moment their abuser even suspects they’re planning to leave up to one full year after they do leave.  This is when most domestic violence homicides occur because abuse often continues even after the survivor escapes.  Abusers will continue to stalk, threaten, harass, and try to control the survivors, even when the law says they should leave them alone.

Consider these statistics: one-fifth of homicide victims with restraining orders are murdered within 2 days of obtaining the order; one-third are murdered within the first month.

Further, 20% of intimate partner homicide victims weren’t even the ones being abused!  They were other family members, friends, neighbors, law enforcement responders, or even innocent by-standers! (NCADV)

So “just leaving” an abusive relationship can prove deadly, not just for the person being abused, but anyone who tries to help.  That’s why escaping domestic violence requires careful planning and should involve the experts.

And escape is a must.  Domestic violence kills, and grows deadlier every year, largely due to the proliferation of guns.  When a gun is present in an intimate partner violence situation, the risk of homicide increases by 500%!  And while men can be abused, statistically, more women tend to die.  For example, 72% of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner; 94% of the victims tend to be girls and women.  In the United States alone, there have already been 484 gun-related, domestic violence fatalities as of October 10, 2017.  (NCADV)

Guns aren’t the only problem, though.  Only 34% of people injured by an intimate partner get the medical attention they need for their injuries.  I suspect this is a conservative estimate (from NCADV), though.  It’s almost impossible to measure who doesn’t seek medical treatment for abuse.  Also, untreated injuries can, over time, can lead to life-threatening medical problems; not to mention how the psychological effects of repeated trauma can (and often does) shorten a sufferer’s life.

Still.  Despite these statistics, which are available to anyone with access to an internet connection, the knee-jerk response seems to be how we need to teach our daughters, nieces, sisters, etc., how not to be abused.  Just like we (and by “we”, I mean all of us) police the behavior and fashion choices of girls and women to prevent them from being raped or sexually assaulted, we place the onus of being safe on those statistically more likely to be harmed rather than on those statistically more like to do the harm: men.

Why is this?  I recently saw a social media post which raises this issue.  I can’t remember the exact wording of the post, but it basically pointed out that we know all the statistics about how many women are abused (see all my above stats), harassed, assaulted and raped, but hardly any of the statistics about how many men commit these crimes.

I can cite many of the stats I’ve listed above in my sleep.  What I can’t do is tell you what percentage of men commit rape.  I’m not familiar with how many men sexually harass women in the workplace.  I don’t know how many young men, 18-24 years old, have engaged in intimate partner violence; but I do know that young women, 18-24 years old, are the group most commonly abused by an intimate partner.

So I’m just as guilty of not holding men accountable for these crimes as anyone else.  And that’s a huge problem.  I believe that we absolutely must focus on helping, healing and saving the millions of girls and women who get abused.  Of course we must also focus on helping, healing and saving the many boys and men who get abused, too.  But we also have to do better about holding the (mostly) men responsible for committing these crimes accountable.  We need to focus more of our energy on teaching boys and men how not to be abusers in the first place, despite their backgrounds, upbringing and everything they’ve been taught about manhood and masculinity.

I, for one, am totally over reminding men that they have mothers, daughters, wives, sisters, etc. to get them to actually care about issues like domestic and intimate partner violence.  Honestly, that it takes a man having a daughter to realize that girls and women are actually human beings deserving of respect makes my stomach hurt.  And it makes me realize that we (again, everyone is culpable here, including me) do a horrible job of raising men if they don’t recognize a woman’s humanity until they have a daughter of their own.

We have to do better.

In the meantime, we need to be intentional in our efforts to involve men in the fight against domestic and intimate violence.  Keep talking to the boys and men in your life about this issue.  Don’t limit your cautionary tales to girls; include the boys, too.  Teach them how to treat girls and women with respect and basic decency.  Free yourself from the mindset that it’s only on girls and women to control how men treat them, and teach boys and men to control themselves.

One of my Facebook friends, a man, suggested that just like we have a sex crimes registry, we should also have a public registry for anyone convicted of domestic abuse.  I “loved” his post, of course, because I wholeheartedly agree.  That’s a good place to start, anyway.

What do you think?  How can we do a better job of raising boys into men who don’t abuse?  What can the men you know do?  Leave a comment below, please.  We’ve got to get to work quickly!

Photo Credits: Essence.com, SwagHer.com

Are You In An Abusive Relationship? An ASK JANICE SPECIAL

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month!  The team at SuzyKnew! is all about raising awareness and advocating for this important issue.  Too many people fail to understand the nuances and dynamics of an abusive relationship.  In fact, many people don’t realize that domestic abuse is much more than just physical violence.

Domestic violence, or intimate partner violence (IPV), is defined as any abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetuated by one intimate partner against another.  It can include physical assault & battery, rape/sexual assault, psychological violence, emotional abuse, verbal abuse and financial control/abuse. 

In the U.S. alone, IPV is the leading cause of injury to women, ages 15-45, higher than car accidents, muggings and rapes, combined.  A woman is brutalized every 9 seconds, and women between ages 18-34 are especially vulnerable.

Contrary to popular opinion, IPV doesn’t discriminate.  It can happen to anyone, regardless of race, color, nationality, sexual orientation, gender, gender identification, physical ability, religion, socio-economic status, education, or geography.  It happens in small towns, big cities, rural areas, and suburbia.  It happens in affluent communities and poor neighborhoods.  It happens in LBGTQ relationships and straight relationships.

from-hello-beautiful-dot-com

It. Can. Happen. To. Anyone.

Could you or someone you know be in an abusive relationship?  Here are a few things to look for if you’re wondering (in no particular order):

  1. You feel scared for yourself, your kids, or your pets most of the time.
  2. You feel guilt and shame about your relationship.
  3. You feel controlled financially. You have limited or no access to money.  You’re forbidden to earn your own money.  You don’t participate in any financial decisions.
  4. You feel controlled You’re isolated from friends & family; you may even isolate yourself out of fear or shame.  You don’t do the things you used to enjoy.
  5. You’ve been coerced or forced to have sex when you didn’t want to (which is rape, by the way, even within marriage).
  6. Your partner demeans you and calls you names, making you feel like you can’t do anything right.
  7. Your partner is overly possessive of you, your time and your attention.
  8. Your partner threatens suicide if you talk about ending the relationship.
  9. You, your kids, your family or your pet(s) have been threatened.
  10. You, your kids, your family or your pet(s) have been threatened with a weapon.
  11. Your partner threatens to take your kids or pets away from you if you don’t comply with their demands or talk about leaving.
  12. Your partner physically attacks
  13. Your partner rarely takes responsibility for their behavior. If he/she gets in trouble at work, it’s someone else’s fault. Or, if he/she beats you, it’s your fault for whatever you “did” to make him/her upset.

If you or someone you know is in trouble, don’t hesitate to seek help from domestic violence professionals.  Be careful, though.  When attempting to help someone else, do NOT do it alone.  You may be putting yourself and the person who’s being abused at risk.  Work with professionals.  In the U.S., you can call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. 

Outside the U.S., please use caution when searching online for help.  Many IPV help sites can be exited quickly, without leaving a digital trace.  Still, always be diligent about clearing your search history if you can’t use a safer device than your own.  Domesticshelters.org may also be able to help.

Stay safe, and do your part to End Domestic Violence Now