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Tears of Shame,
Domestic Violence in America

By Madona Smyser

 

Today I am a very outgoing, outspoken, strong willed person but that was not always the case. Many people who know me now would find it hard to believe that I spent 11 years of my life cowering in fear from a man who was not more than 4 inches taller, and several pounds lighter than myself. I lived my daily life not unlike many prisoners of war. My every action was completely controlled by my abuser and I became the victim of mind warfare. I was told what I could eat, what I could wear, how to fix my makeup, even what I could watch on TV. I was pushed, thrown, punched, slapped, kicked, choked, bitten, pulled around by my hair, spit on, humiliated, degraded, burnt and watched helplessly as my pets were beaten. I was completely cut off from everyone I loved or that loved me. I wasn't allowed to have friends and if by chance I made any friends my abuser would quickly get rid of them. I was told on a daily basis that I was stupid, ugly, fat, crazy, and undeserving of my abuser's love. After awhile, I started to believe it.

So why would I want to tell anyone of the humiliation I have endured? Because I want to make it clear that this can happen to anyone. We all have insecurities and self-doubt and those insecurities are exactly what abusers thrive on. I also want you to see that it is possible to break free from a violent relationship and regain your dignity. It is not easy though; many victims must walk through the fires of hell to escape. Sometimes escape can be more dangerous than staying with the abuser.

I have spent many years recovering from my abuse and I dedicate a large portion of my life trying to educate people on the many components of domestic violence.

I have collected data from thousands of victims that have contacted me and combined it with my own experience to write a guide to understanding domestic violence. It is my sincerest hope that after reading this you will walk away with a better understanding of how women can become involved in violent relationships and why so many women stay with the men who abuse them.

Some Myths about Domestic Violence:

Myth: She must like it or she wouldn't stay.

Reality: No one wants to be beaten. A woman who stays in a violent relationship usually feels she doesn't deserve any better or that she is the cause of the abuse. She MUST find confidence within herself and recognize her own self worth for within that realization she will find the strength to leave.

Myth: An order of protection protects victims of domestic violence.

Reality: An order of protection secures proper prosecution of the abuser when and if the abuser is caught violating it. An order of protection can alert local authorities to the abusers potential for violence. It is NOT a bulletproof cloak that can protect a victim. Often times it can enrage the abuser and escalate the violence. It can also be a deterrent for some abusers.

Myth: Domestic violence is primarily a problem of minorities, the uneducated and those living in poverty.

Reality: Domestic violence is an equal opportunity epidemic that reaches every race, educational background and economic situation.

The Forms of Abuse

Physical Abuse includes hitting, shoving, choking, biting, kicking, slapping, punching, pulling hair, burning, bruising, twisting, preventing access to an exit, or using a weapon to threaten and/or coerce.

Emotional abuse is the hardest for women to self identify. Emotional abuse is the systematic degrading of the victim's self-worth. This may be accomplished by withholding of affection, making threats, name-calling; abusing pets, using put-downs, giving the details of affairs, refusing to talk, showing jealousy, refusing to allow a partner to have/make friends, taking anger out on the children and pets, not allowing the victim financial access, convincing the victim that she (the victim) is crazy.

Sexual Abuse can include forcing sex against a partner's will, forbidding birth control, physically hurting partner during sex, verbal abuse including degrading sexual remarks, forcing unwanted sexual practices on partner, concealing a sexually transmitted disease from partner, and forced sex with objects.

Economic Abuse is accomplished by preventing the victim from working outside the home, not allowing the victim to make any financial decisions, having to justify all spending, unjustified blaming for financial problems, withholding of financial information, and withholding access to finances.

Reasons Women Stay

Helplessness:

Often a woman who is a victim of domestic violence is financially dependent on her abuser. There are several reasons for this; an abuser will frequently try to alienate the victim from anyone or anything that might provide support either emotionally or financially. This allows the abuser more control over his victim, without interference from those who might provide the victim assistance. This isolation causes the victim to become dependent on her abuser, and it insures that she will have no where to go should she chose to escape. Even when a victim has the desire to escape the violence, the basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing for her children generally supersedes her need for safety. To leave a domestic violence relationship, a woman needs a place to live, a source of income, childcare and transportation. Most victims are denied access to these things in a violent relationship, leaving her escape resources bankrupt.

The most difficult issue a victim must overcome in order to escape is her fear of her abuser's threats to kill her. Unfortunately, this fear is not always unfounded. Abusive men often escalate violence after a victim flees to safety and often times he will recapture his victim and her children. In fact, as many as 75% of visits to medical emergency rooms by battered women occur after they have separated from the violent partner (Even Stark & Anne Flitcraft, 1988).

The Guilt of a Woman:

We have all thought "If only I had dressed my child warmer maybe he/she wouldn't have gotten a cold" or some other instance where we feel guilty that something bad has happened that we feel we could have prevented. Now take this just one step further and you will understand why some women believe they actually caused their own abuse.

"If only I hadn't burnt dinner he wouldn't have gotten so angry with me" or "if I had remembered to wash his pants for work he wouldn't have yelled at the kids".

This is the way some women view their abuse, as if there were something that they (the victim) had done that caused the violence. This stems from women not recognizing their value as human beings and the outdated belief that women are responsible for shouldering the responsibility for everything and everyone within a household. I call this the Donna Reed Syndrome.

Mrs. Fix it:

Some victims cannot accept that there are things and people in this world that she cannot 'Fix'.

Many of us have known a person who was really a great person BUT they had this problem...maybe it was being a gossip or they would really be a nice person IF ONLY they didn't drink. Maybe you or someone you know has said "I know so and so has a ______ problem but deep down inside he is a good person. It is that ' but deep down inside ' person Mrs. Fix it will not let go of. She is so intent on 'saving' this person or bringing out the good in this person that she sacrifices herself. She spends the majority of her time trying to figure out what happened that 'caused' her abuser to become angry and then spends hours pondering how to do things differently or how to handle her abuser to change the outcome. Some victims practice what is known as 'scripting', they frequently rehearse what they will say to their abuser the next time he becomes violent.

Love is Blind:

One would think that when a woman wears a turtleneck in August to cover the handprints on her neck that she has to know she is being abused however many woman do not even realize that what they are experiencing is actually abuse. Many women in violent relationships have been abused most of their lives either as children or young adults. They become 'numb' to the abuse and so convinced they are the cause that they cannot mentally make the connection that they are being abused.

Fearing the Unknown:

This one may sound a bit strange at first but an abused woman stays with her abuser because with her abuser she knows what to expect. People tend to fear the unknown and here is an example:

Imagine you were offered a one way ticket to a place far, far away to escape violence. You would be taken to a place inhabited by people who weren't anything like you, who didn't even speak the same language. You would be cut off from everyone and everything you have ever known, would you go?

This is the concept of why many women who are raised by an alcoholic go on to marry an alcoholic-- because it is 'known' to her. With everything a victim is going through in an abusive relationship the unknown can be far too overwhelming for them to cope with emotionally.

Not worth a Plug Nickel:

Most abusers use mental tactics to violate their victims, repeatedly telling them they are worthless, no good, ugly, stupid, and that no one else would love them. This serves to validate the victim's own feelings of unworthiness. Mind warfare has been a common tactic used on POW's but most people do not realize this same technique is being used on millions of women by their own life partners. They completely strip a victim of self-esteem by continually degrading them. Convincing the victim that all hope is lost and that she is forever a captive. These are just a few examples of mind control.

The Defender:

Sometimes a woman who is abused can express all the awful events of her abuse and seems to realize her partner is an abuser until YOU say it. The moment someone else repeats to her that he is an abuser she will immediately jump to his defense and rattle off all his redeeming qualities usually followed by "But he is a good person most of the time". This abuser is a BIG part of her life, he is often her husband, the father of her children and her financial provider, defending him is like defending her life and her life's choices. The shame factor jumps in here and in order for her to perpetuate the fantasy that things will get better she has to defend or minimize his actions.

The Believer:

A victim wants to believe that she is loved and that no one who really loves her would want to hurt her. An abuser generally follows his abuse by profuse apologies, commonly using tears, loving words that a victim needs so much to hear and gifts. Most often empty promises will also follow the abuse. The abuser may admit that he has a problem and cannot control his behavior and promises to get professional help.

The regret usually lasts until the next time the abuser becomes angry. The abuser tends to be apologetic on occasion to preserve the victim's hope that things will change, remind the victim that the abuser is capable of good behavior, and reinforce her belief that if she changes her behavior she can earn good treatment more often.

The Pity Party:

Often an abuser will follow up his abuse by long sobbing periods of how horrible his life has been, how he was abused as a child or he watched his own mother be beaten and how awful that made him feel. These are just a few examples of how an abuser tries to gain his victim's sympathy. It is yet another mental tactic an abuser uses to lure his victim into feeling sorry for him and it enables the abuser to excuse his behavior.

Characteristics of an Abuser

Most abusers are emotionally needy.

Abusers need to feel in control; they use violence as a means to control their partner.

Abusers are likely to behave normally toward other family members, friends and work associates. Often times close friends would never expect that the man they eat lunch with everyday goes home and beats his wife.

They are usually extremely insecure. Overpowering their victim gives them a sense of power.

Abusers are often very critical of their partner.

They can be extremely jealous.

Abusers often deny responsibility for their actions and can even deny that any abuse ever occurred.

They minimize the abuse and blame their partners for their violent behavior.

THE CYCLE OF ABUSE

1. Tension Building:

Minor incidents occur and tension begins to build. The victim usually tries to control the situation by apologizing, making promises and accepting blame. The victim will usually try to "smooth things over" and solve the problem in order to curb the violence.

2. Attack:

Tension escalates until there is verbal abuse that will often lead to physical violence. A victim frequently minimizes or denies the severity of her injuries to soothe her perpetrator with the hope of preventing additional violence. Pleading from the victim during this phase usually only serves to heighten the violence.

3. Apology and Forgiveness:

The abuser acts sorry and seems confused by his behavior, often times the abuser will cry. The abuser promises to 'never do it again'. The victim focuses on how loving her abuser can be.

*Note: In relationships that lack the 'apology' stage the victim tends to leave their abuser sooner and is less likely to return to the relationship. Data indicates that there is a direct correlation between the apology stage and a victim's willingness to remain in the relationship.

Conclusion

It is apparent from the data collected that the key to preventing domestic violence is in education. It is especially important for us to teach young people that violence is never an acceptable solution to any problem. We must bring domestic violence to the forefront of our society and not allow it to be a taboo subject. We must positively reinforce the worth of each person in our society.

To help those already involved in violent relationships there must be more focus on the self-esteem issues of the victim. Once a victim has a sense of self-worth she is more likely to leave a violent relationship and not return.

Economic programs must be in place within a community in order to take away an abuser's second biggest weapon- financial control. There is a great need for more 'safe-houses' in America. Domestic Violence Shelters provide a safe haven for women and children to escape the violence. There is a need to institute programs within these shelters to provide education and offer opportunities that a victim may not otherwise have access to. It is imperative that the locations of these safe houses remain confidential to ensure the safety of the occupants.

Finally, a victim must know that opportunities for a safe escape exist. We must dedicate more resources to publicly admonishing domestic violence and informing victims of the programs available to them and instructing them on how to find help. All the programs in the world will not help if the victim does not know they exist.

 

Copyright 1998-2001 Madona Smyser

All Rights Reserved

*Authors note: There are many male victims of domestic violence in America. However, I have not received sufficient feedback from male victims to compile any meaningful data in this area. This booklet deals primarily with the affects of violent relationships where the victim is a woman.

**The author of this booklet is not a licensed counselor. She is a survivor of domestic violence and has conducted extensive research in the field of Domestic Violence. It is the opinion of the author that a victim of domestic violence will often feel more secure talking to a survivor of domestic violence and is more open to discussion about her/his abuse.

For information on lectures available by the author please write sadv@ladymadona.com