October is domestic violence awareness month.
That’s right peeps. I’m writing about domestic violence. It’s funny, cause when I started this blog it was meant to be funny, light, a way to release my feelings. Instead I end up writing about suicide, rape, prisons, domestic violence….
Well, one must follow where one’s muse goes.
This is a tough tough subject. Part of the reason for that is because it is taboo to talk about. People don’t want to talk about it. People don’t want to say that they have been abused, or that they have abused, or that they have witnessed abuse. They don’t want to talk about why they stayed, or why they left, or why they can’t control themselves. They don’t want to be “a statistic.”
One in four women will be a victim of domestic abuse. That’s a lot of people. 85% of domestic abuse victims are women. Domestic abuse is the leading cause of injury to women in America. More women are injured by someone they love than are injured in car wrecks, falls, stranger rape, bike wrecks, kitchen accidents… More often than anything else, women are injured by a loved one.
Those are the “statistics”.
My mom grew up in a home that had domestic abuse. I don’t know how severe it was. I know my grand parents split up when my mom was young. I know that she didn’t tell us about it for a long time. I know that my mom was smart to pick a man who could hold his temper in a fight because she couldn’t. It could have been a perpetuation of the cycle if she hadn’t picked my dad.
I had a friend named Amber. She was lovely, funny, smart, pretty, fun to be around, a good cook. She was dating another friend named Brett. In fact, Brett was my friend first, I met his girlfriend later. They lived together. They had for a long time. I want to say 6 years. They were young, they both worked and made good money. They seemed happy. Brett was a funny, likable fun guy. Brett also had a bad drinking problem and sometimes did drugs that made him more aggressive. He was already pretty aggressive to begin with.
I had witnessed Brett being controlling of her a couple times. One Sunday afternoon a group of friends was sitting around watching football or movies or something. Brett showed up without Amber. He was mad, really mad. He was complaining about how she never folded the clothes after she washed them. She put them in the basket and left them there for several days and then his clothes were wrinkled. She started calling him on and off. He would yell at her over the phone and tell her when she could do things the right way he would come home. That was the worst I ever saw. And I confronted him about it. And I asked her about it. She of course said she was fine – he just got mad sometimes.
One night in the middle of the night Amber called me. She wanted to say goodbye because she was moving back to her parent’s house in another state. She was at a hotel which she wouldn’t tell me the name of. That weekend had been Brett’s birthday. He had been drinking heavily and doing drugs for several days. They had a nice birthday party, but when they got home, he had exploded. She didn’t know why he was mad, just that he scared her to the point that she had to leave. He hit her a few times (not the first time by a long shot apparently) and then he locked her in the bathroom. She thought she was going to die. She thought he was going to get his gun or a knife or something and would come back to kill her. He didn’t. He left the apartment and she waited a few hours then broke down the bathroom door to get out. (He had installed the handles backward so he could lock her in there.) She left the house with just her purse and her car. She didn’t stop to get clothing or jewelry or anything. She ran. She called her parents, they put her in a hotel and started driving our way to get her. She dumped her car somewhere and took a taxi to the hotel. Her and her dad took a police officer to the apartment the next day to get just the most important things and then left the state without looking back.
I think about Amber a lot. I think about why I didn’t realize she needed help. Honestly, there weren’t a lot of signs – she didn’t have bruises or marks. She didn’t flinch when he leaned in to kiss her. She was outgoing and funny and laughing and fun. When I asked her about the few things I did see, she swore she didn’t need help. Did I miss the signs? Did I misunderstand what was happening? Could I have done more, sooner? Why didn’t she call me that night? I would have helped her.
I never heard from Amber again. I did see Brett a few times. By that time our friends had heard about what had happened. Many of them didn’t want to associate with him anymore. His best friend, a gentle giant of a man who “lifted car engines for a living,” took him aside when he saw him again. “Explained to him” his views on hitting women. “Told him” how he felt about him hurting Amber, who this friend had loved dearly.
I have had several other friends that told me of their abuse – sometimes years later, sometimes months. I had a college friend who I hadn’t talked to in a while call me and tell me of a particularly scary incident. Luckily all of my friends have lived through it, but not all victims of domestic abuse do.
I want to help the Ambers out there. I’d like to help them before they get to the point that they can’t be helped anymore. I’d like to help them before they loose themselves and can’t find their way back. I’d like to help them before they HAVE to run. I’d like to help prevent more Ambers.
One thing that needs to be fixed in our country is the dialogue we have about abuse. If you read my blog with any regularity you will see that I talk a lot about changing dialogue. In my opinion nothing can change until we change the way we perceive things. Changing the dialogue which we as individuals use can help those around us see things in a different way. By changing the words we use to talk about any certain thing we can change the perceptions of others, open windows and doors to people’s consciousness.
What needs to change in our dialogue?
Let’s begin with victim blaming. Victim blaming in any situation is dangerous. In the cases of rape and domestic violence it is deadly. Women don’t want to come forward and ask for help because they are ashamed. They are ashamed “they didn’t leave”, they are ashamed “they weren’t strong enough to stop him”, they are ashamed “their children were witnesses, or worse were abused as well”, they are ashamed that they love a man that hurts them. It is truly an endless list. What makes them ashamed? The fact that we as a society blame the victims for “some part” of the abuse. The fact that the authorities often either believe both parties are to blame or sweep it under the rug as a simple dispute. The fact that we as a society look at these women as not only “broken”, but also as “broken so thoroughly that they can’t be fixed.” We have to change the conversations we have. We should not ask why she stayed, what she did, or how she could let this happen. We should instead use words that turn the focus onto helping the victims. “How can I help?” “Who can we call?” “What do you need?”
Talking about the abusers as if they are dirty rotten scum. I know, that is my first instinct too. I let a string of cuss words a mile long go when I found out my friend was beating his girlfriend. I called him very very dirty things. The problem is, this doesn’t help either. It doesn’t encourage abusers to find help. It doesn’t encourage abusers to walk away. It doesn’t encourage people to seek counseling or give them hope that they can change. Abusers are often themselves products of abuse. It is a complicated thing – the reasons people abuse other people. It is a whole mess of psychological issues, past issues in their culture/home life/friendships/relationships/ etc. Honestly, no abuser is like another and we shouldn’t just write them off as permanently broken either. I believe that some abusers can change – they can get help and learn to deal with their feelings in a more appropriate manner. If we aim hatred and vitriol at them, how does that encourage them want to ask for help?
We need to stop providing excuses. Charlie Sheen called it a “big misunderstanding”, Chris Brown is still playing concerts and clubs and in movies, Mel Gibson – despite very terrifying recordings of his threats – is still just as welcomed in Hollywood society as ever. Why is this? Why do we allow public figures to “get a pass” on abuse? This needs to stop. Abuse is not a misunderstanding, or a mistake, or an accident, or a one time thing. Abuse will not stop until we start to say “abuse is never ok. No matter who you are, where you are from, how much money or influence you have. Abuse is NEVER EVER EVER ok.”
We need to have more open discussions about abuse. There are a number of organizations out there that are trying to bring this topic more towards the front of society. To talk more openly about abuse. There are walks and runs and pamphlets and school assemblies and college groups. There are a lot of ways to help if you look. The best way to help is to be vocal. Say “Domestic violence happens. Until we start to TALK about it, we can’t change it.” Discuss it with friends and family and neighbors.
Have serious heart felt talks with your sons and daughters. Talk to them about what domestic violence is and what we can do to help our loved ones who find themselves in this situation. Talk to them about finding help right away for any victims they know. Teen partner abuse is at an all time high right now. We need to be talking to our children about this way before they start dating. I know, I hate HATE to have to tell my son that there are terrible things in this world. I hate to tell him that there is racism, sexism, war, violence, rape, domestic abuse, human trafficking I hate it all. I wish WISH we lived in a world where he didn’t have to witness these things. But we don’t. And he needs to know.
Last, but not least, if you read my rape post you already know I am going to say this. Talk to your sons. Talk to your nephews. Talk to the young men in your life. Talk to them about not hurting others. Ever. For any reason. Tell them what abuse is – in all it’s forms – and that it is never ever ever ok. Talk to them about not hitting people. Not just women. Not hitting anyone. Talk to them about how the need to control becomes the need to hurt because controlling another person? That never works. Talk to them about the feelings they have. Help them to find good healthy outlets for stress, for control issues, for low self esteem problems. Help them at a young age to know it’s ok to ask for help if you don’t know how to handle your emotions and all that STUFF that is happening inside you. Teach them how to find that help.
Here are a couple links to some good orgs that are trying to do a lot of good in this country. There are many many more out there.