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Victims of domestic abuse are beginning to break the code

May 27, 2007|By TIM ROWLAND

The Washington County Community Report Card published last month noted that the overall, local crime rate has remained fairly constant from 2001 to 2005.

But that's not the case with domestic violence, which increased 40 percent in the same time period.

In a way, that might be good news.

A victim of domestic abuse who agreed to talk put it this way: "There's a code of silence that abused women honor to protect their abusers, as well as their pride. I have broken that silence, and want people to know that (breaking it) didn't take my pride away, it gave it back to me."

Sheriff Doug Mullendore, who has worked closely with domestic-abuse issues, sees the same thing. While the numbers look bad, he says they actually reflect this: Women (and men) are more willing to report domestic violence than in the past.

In other words, this abuse has been going on all along, it just didn't become part of the stats because women were afraid to break the code.

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"It's mind control as well as physical abuse," Mullendore said. And there is often an economic disincentive if the abuser is the primary bread winner.

The woman who wishes to tell her story says: "I don't know how many times over the past last 11 or so years I looked at myself in the mirror and asked 'you are a smart girl, how did you get in this situation?' I still don't really have an answer, at least not one that most would understand. I thought I could save someone that didn't want to be saved."

That's true. If you haven't been in this situation, how can you understand? "He hit you? Well, just leave."

Victims who hear this for the umpteenth time probably just want to scream. It cannot be easy to step forward and say, yes, I was controlled; yes I was powerless; yes, I thought it might all be my fault; yes I made a bad choice; yes, I feel small, helpless and stupid for letting it go on.

If you are a victim who has thought all of the above, it may help to know you have company.

Our friend says there were plenty of signs that should have warned her off. Her first impression of the man was not positive. He was dating someone else when they met. Her family was not exactly enthralled, and he even had a history of abuse and had been served a court protective order.

With the gods in heaven practically screaming from above, "don't touch this man with a 10-foot pole" why would she?

Oh come on, we've all been there. Love is not the equal of the World Almanac of facts, and thank goodness for that. What makes love special is that it is not always tethered to logic and common sense.

And abusers are seldom total monsters. This man could be sweet, charming, attentive, warm and caring. Enough so that she believed he was a misunderstood diamond in the rough.

The reality exposed itself shortly after they moved in together.

"I remember the first time he put his hands on me and the rage in his eyes. I don't remember what set him off. I remember lying on the bed, his hands around my neck, he was choking me, his eyes were wild, like a vicious animal, and he said I was just like 'her,' referring to his ex. I was shocked, confused. It had come out of nowhere and I was terrified.

"Terror became a way of life for me. I never knew what to expect. There would be long periods where there was no real abuse and I would think maybe he had changed. Then, boom, there it was. The worst part was that he would always blame me - 'See what you made me do?' 'You drove me to it.' Stuff like that. I saw no way out, no real way out. Leaving was not an option. I was too scared to leave. As ridiculous as it sounds, I felt safer with the monster that terrorized and abused me than I did if I left him. I was sure he would kill me if I left. If he didn't kill me, he would kill someone I loved or he would make my life unbearable, worse than it already was."

Her descriptions of the treatment she suffered at his hands are horrific. She finally decided this: If she were going to be killed it would be because she had decided to leave, not because she had decided to stay. When she was finally able to get away, after a terrifying set of circumstances, she felt - guilt.

As other victims of domestic abuse have related to me, the ensuing court experiences were maddening and marginally productive. She's written to many people in positions of authority with no result. I suspect that's because American jurisprudence and society in general have generally treated relationships as a personal matter, not a matter of law. And the enforcement tools available to the legal system are often imperfect.

"A protective order is not a panacea," Mullendore said. Police routinely spot check to try to make sure abusers are not in violation of the orders, but the truth is they outnumber law officers and have time on their side. "Quite honestly, they have the advantage," he said.

And they will, until more women can come forward and abusive behavior is unlearned. The sheriff notes this seldom-recounted statistic - in more than half of the abuse cases, children are present and witness the unhealthy behavior.

Mullendore says as much as anything, this has to be changed so that kids don't get the idea that such behavior is normal.

By coming out and talking about her experiences, our friend hopes others will have the courage to follow suit, for themselves and for future generations. "I am in therapy and I'm working very hard to break the cycle of dysfunction in my life. I want to move on and live a normal, happy, successful life, and most of all be at peace. So far, so good."

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