There have been a number of reports in the media lately about high profile allegations of domestic violence. It is sad to be occurring at all, but, at least, it starts people talking about a topic that all too often is hidden in the shadows. Unfortunately, some of that talk inevitably turns to blaming the victim. How often have we heard things like, “Why did she stay?”, “I would have left”, and “I would have kicked his ass.” It is statements like these that keep domestic violence in the shadows. What victim of domestic violence is going to be comfortable coming forward knowing she will only be faced by scrutiny, judgment, disbelief and scorn?
Many have talked about the cycle of violence. Often the cycle discussed is the one that shows how violence can continue in a relationship. The idea is this – violence is but one part of the relationship, often one of the smallest parts that have the biggest impact. (I’m going to use the pronoun “he” for the perpetrator and “she” for the victim for simplicity sake. I fully recognize there are situations where the abuser is a woman against a man or when the couple is of the same sex.) The cycle of violence begins when the man abuses the woman in some way. After the abuse, she is upset and scared, maybe angry, and considers leaving. The cycle continues with the man begging for forgiveness, promising to never do it again. Often there are statements about losing control because he loves her so much. They enter into the honeymoon period where everything is good – maybe even great. The honeymoon period only lasts so long. She begins to feel the tension in the air between them and senses his growing anger. She might even try to avoid it by being who she thinks he wants her to be. Unfortunately, the explosion is unavoidable and a new round of violence occurs. The cycle repeats and repeats and repeats until something finally stops it. It could be an arrest, a death, or some other deviation.
There is another cycle of violence that often gets overlooked. This is the steady increase in frequency and severity of violence over the course of the relationship. What people often fail to realize is abusers do not typically walk up and punch their dates in the face on their first outing. If these women were punched on day one, most would immediately get out and never speak to the jerks again. It is much more insidious than that. Most violent relationships I have heard about start out fairly typically. The couple date and enjoy each other’s company. Often the man is overly attentive which can be flattering. He wants to spend all of his time with her and becomes overly concerned with where she is when they are not together and, more importantly, who she is with. He gradually becomes more and more controlling, discouraging her from spending time with her friends and family. Before she knows what is happening, she is isolated from everyone else but her boyfriend or husband.
Somewhere within this time, he begins to get physical. This usually starts out mildly, with a shove or a slap. This is quickly followed by an apology and promises to never do it again. He may even blame his strong feelings for her as the reason for his behavior. (i.e., “I just love you so much I can’t control myself.”) The next time he becomes angry, it isn’t a slap or a shove, but a punch or restraint. This process continues to escalate over the course of the relationship until he is arrested, she somehow gets away, or she is killed. If she or the man is famous, they might end up on a video shown on TMZ. If not, it will be a little known story in their local paper.
I am fortunate enough never to have been struck by a boyfriend, but I did have a male friend in high school slap me across the face in the heat of an argument. I don’t even remember what we were fighting about, but he kept telling me to, “Shut up” and I wouldn’t. (If you had known me back then, you would not have been surprised – I had little restraint in those days). So, he slapped me. Hard. I was absolutely shocked. I backed out and left his house. I was so surprised I didn’t know what to do. I went home and lead life as normal. I came up with an excuse for the small cut on my lip (cat scratched me) and went to bed. The next morning, I went to school. I did the same the day after that. He was not at school either day. The second day, I went to work after school and was closing the store (alone) and there he was. I am not going to lie, I was scared. He apologized. He cried. He thanked me for not telling anyone. I just wanted him to leave. He did. Strange thing is I have no idea what happened to him after that. I do not remember him every being at school again and have no idea what happened to him.
You may ask why I am telling you all of this. I’m telling you because I want you to pay attention to the warning signs. If you are in a relationship with someone who wants you all to himself – be watchful. If he doesn’t want you to have any friends (typically because they are all “bitches” or “whores”) – be careful. If he lays a hand on you when angry (no matter what you may have said or done first) – get out. You deserve someone who treats you with kindness and respect. If he doesn’t, he isn’t good enough for you.