While I was researching resources for a domestic violence related academic paper I working on not long ago, I came across a handbook so eye-opening and important that I bookmarked it. But then again I also bookmark videos of cute dogs running errands, those are important too. For the purpose of this article I’m going to refer to the Oklahoma Department of Human Service Domestic Violence Awareness Guide as ‘The handbook’ and Domestic violence as ‘DV’.
DV is an epidemic, and one that is hugely underestimated, under-reported and every other possible unders. When you hear the phrase domestic violence your mind automatically completes the sentence with ‘against women and children’ and you’re not wrong, these forms of violence are the most common and most dangerous usually because women and children are not usually physically and emotionally strong enough to help themselves or seek help. But then again some women do kick their men’s behinds, so DV can go both ways but for the purpose of this article I’ll be focusing on domestic violence against women. DV, especially against women, can be defined as a pattern of behavior used to establish power and gain control over another person using tools such as fear and intimidation, threats and violence. Domestic violence usually starts and grows when one person holds the belief that he is entitled to maintain coercive control over his partner.
Let me give you an example. I shared an apartment with a family, a very dysfunctional family, about 2 years ago. The wife/mother of the family had died recently so it was just the man, his disabled son and me living in the apartment. My landlord, let’s his name is Gavin, had a friend who he didn’t really like but he has a thing for his hot wife/girlfriend (I don’t know their deal). One night, the lady in question came over to see Gavin and probably spend the night with him, and her estranged husband or boyfriend soon followed her. It was all peaceful and friendly when they were all drinking and laughing out loud together but then things went south around midnight when their intoxication started approaching dangerous levels. A fight broke out and I don’t know why because I was fast asleep, but as I would later find out the lady’s husband/boyfriend didn’t like the nature of her relationship with Gavin and he also didn’t like her dismissive attitude towards him.
What woke me up was the sound of the woman’s voice crying and screaming ‘get him off me please, he’s an animal’ and Gavin was too drunk to be of any help to her. I quickly rushed out and found the man pulling her hair because he was too drunk to do anything else really. As it turned out she had previously broken a bottle or something on his head and he had a big cut on his head that was still bleeding. I separated them, took the lady to my room and told her to stay in there, went back for the man and attended to his wound, and then gave them both some analgesics because they were going to need it. The lady was still crying in my room and decided to call the police, and the man was also trying to get in my room to probably pull her hair more or hit her. This is one very common case of domestic violence that might seem ‘mutual’ on the surface but violence by any other name is still violence. This whole process somehow repeated itself again on that same night after the police took them all to their station and they all returned together a few hours later. It would happen a few weeks later, and then a few months after that. These are just the ones I witnessed and that took place in someone else’s apartment. Who knows what goes on under their own roof?
The handbook debunked some myths about DV and offered some simple truth and facts. One of those involved the myth that DV is usually an isolated event or a one-time mistake as so many men will often apologize after hitting women and promise never to do it again, but then repeat the same process time and time again. The fact and truth about this is that domestic violence is a continuous and ongoing behavioral pattern. It may become wore and frequent as time goes on. That is the simple truth that might be difficult to accept for someone who’s already emotionally broken. Remember this story I just told you, it didn’t just happen once it happened over and over again, but the man like he did once in my presence always apologizes and promises to change.
Domestic violence often begins with threats, name calling, violent behaviors in her presence (such as fuming/raging, punching the wall), damaging of objects and properties or being cruel to pets etc. And then it escalates to pushing, punching, kicking, slapping, restraining etc. Many apologies and promises to change might occur in-between. The man might sob, buy flowers, pet the woman and promise never to hit her again. But these occurrences may soon become life threatening with instances like choking, breaking bones and limbs, using weapons etc. at which point it might be too late to do anything.
There is a pattern to domestic violence with which you might be familiar, some red alerts you need to take note in your relationships and seek help while you still can. I’ll list them all out for clarity and refer you to ‘The handbook’ for some more detailed information and instruction. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual or emotional. You need to be on the lookout for these signs;
- Coercions and threats (such as threatening to leave you, making and carrying out threats to hurt you, threatening to commit suicide, making you do illegal things among others);
- Using intimidation (making you scared and afraid by using words, gestures, looks and actions, smashing and destroying your properties, abusing your pets and displaying weapons such as pocket knives, pocket guns, baseball bats etc.);
- Using emotional abuse (putting you down privately and publicly, making you feel bad about yourself, calling you demeaning and humiliating names, playing mind games, humiliating you and making you feel guilty);
- Using isolation (controlling what you do, who you see, who you talk to, where you go, restricting your outside involvement and using jealousy to justify these actions);
- Using denial and blaming (making abuse seem like a light issue, not taking your concerns about his behaviors seriously, denying that these abuses happen, refusing to accept blame or blaming you for causing it);
- Using children (making you feel guilty about your kids, using children to send passive aggressive messages, threatening to take the kids away);
- Using male privilege (treating you like a servant, making all the decisions even those solely concerning you, acting like the ‘king of the castle’, being the one to define your roles and his roles);
- Using economic abuse (preventing you from taking or keeping a job, making you ask or beg for money, giving you or withholding allowance, taking your money, restricting your knowledge or access to family funds and income) among others. Domestic violence comes in different forms, shapes and motives. It might take diligence and proper awareness for you to detect one in your family or relationship.
There is a cycle to domestic violence and it goes this way; tension – crisis/attack – seductive calm – tension – crisis/attack – seductive calm – you get the point. I’ll quickly explain these phases.
- Tension: This is the stage in which stress builds up, there’s a breakdown in communication, victims sense impending danger and try to avoid abuse, minor violent incidences, frequent recurrence of incidences, blame game, and victim hopes things will somehow change for the better.
- Crisis/attacks: This is where things breakdown completely, and tension reaches its peak. Minor assaults begin to happen too frequently and there might even be one or two major assaults and the duration of these attacks might last for minutes, hours and sometimes lasting days. The victim might initially try to protect herself but soon stop trying in bid to avoid prolonging the attack. A combination of psychological and physical abuse can cause irreparable damages. In the crisis phase there might be some major uncontrolled violence, injuries or even deaths, the abuser places the blame on the victim, anxiety reaches its peak, victim adapts to survive, victim might leave only to return again when things calm down, and the abuser may even use emotional and physical isolation to keep control over the victim.
- Seductive calm: This is a period of manipulation, and one of the most dangerous stages of domestic violence. The abuser will apologize, promise to change and use other manipulations to convince the victim to stay. The victim might also blame herself for the abuses and feel obliged to forgive and forget. The abuser might use the welfare of the children as a manipulation tactic asking what will happen to them if the victim leaves or should the relationship end. But when things are calming down and it feels like the storm is over, the abuser begins to feel like he is losing his control over the victim and then the cycle begins again with tension.
Why do women stay?
This is a very good question. Several factors might cause a victim to stay with her abuser. Religious, cultural, social and economic factors might restrict the woman’s options and she feels like she doesn’t have a choice but to stay. Some women leave but then return when they don’t have enough economic resources to cater for themselves and their children. Some ‘exercise faith’ and chose to forgive their abuser believing he will change. Some stay to protect the public image of their abusers. Some stay because of the shame and stigma that follows victims of domestic abuse. Unfortunately, people are often too quick to judge asking why she didn’t leave earlier or saying things like ‘I will never let a man do that to me’, or ‘I’m not that weak or stupid’. Comments like these do not help the cases of people suffering abuse.
Love, Hope and Fear keep the wheel of domestic abuse moving. Love says – I love him and need him; Hope says – He will change and keep to his promises; Fear says – he promised to kill me the next time I try to leave, so I’m going to stay. Breaking this cycle can be difficult, but if you’re a victim of domestic violence please seek help with relevant agencies or people that can help before it is too late.
This topic might not be a topic or controversial enough for negative comments bashing an innocent writer for his naivety, judgmental attitude or condescension. But this is really an epidemic and one that requires both individual and collective efforts if it is going to be tackled. Victims of abuse will need a less judgmental community if they’re going to report their abusers or open up about domestic violence in their homes. Let us all work together to make our homes and communities peaceful, habitable and violence free.
You might not agree with some of my points or those of other writers, but before you write those demeaning, disgraceful and hurtful comments think twice. Writers are humans and some of these comments to get to us, at least some got to me. You don’t need to put down people that take risks to maximize their talents just to validate yourself. That is some cowardly attitude that needs to change. Don’t be an anonymous gangster, fierce on the internet under the cloud of anonymity but spineless in reality.
Be happy, be healthy, and please be safe. God bless you all.
Image via Detroit Free Press