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There is a double helix in most stories of domestic violence – one strand a cycle of adoration, abuse and remorse; the other, a strand of belief, embarrassment and forgiveness.
When the second strand breaks, the emotional remnants are mostly fear and despair. Many are fortunate enough to have mustered the courage and support to leave an abusive situation; many of those who remain do not survive the abuse.
In Beth Schaefer’s “Women Are With You,” 32 survivors of domestic abuse tell their stories. Their stories are at once familiar and unique. They suffered physical, mental, sexual and financial abuse, each of these a symptom of the need by the abuser to control.
To protect the privacy of the survivors, Ms. Schaefer has used pseudonyms and altered locations. Each survivor, though, speaks in her own voice and, at the end of each story there is a reflection, most often to let those in a similar situation know that women are with them.
From Georgia: “No matter how hard it may seem to survive – despite materialistic things and money – you must get away from him. … Don’t make excuses. You’re not doing anyone any favors. I’m not saying there won’t be times that you struggle and you feel like you need him and you only have two dollars to your name. But all those things don’t matter if you’re not here anymore. You CAN do it. You CAN.”
From Grace: “When you feel the need to leave, GO GO GO. Don’t look back, because it’s not going to change unless they change. We have to train our mind, because we’ve been told how bad we are – for so long – that we have to reshape
From Kimberley: “I understand. It’s a dialogue in your head. You may think, well, somebody has it worse than you.
But remember, it’s not a competition. Pain is pain.”
From Naomi: “Writing things down, even in the heat of the moment, is the most helpful thing. It’s easy as time goes on to think, ‘Maybe it wasn’t that big a deal’ or to completely forget that those signs and signals ever happened. But if you keep a record of it – even if it’s just for you – it helps give you clarity. Take those signs and signals to propel you forward.”
Domestic violence (also called intimate partner violence, domestic abuse or relationship abuse) is a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship. It cuts across the entire spectrum: male, female, heterosexual, gay, lesbian and transgender of any race, ethnicity or social class.
Here are some statistics from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:
On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.
One in three women and one in four men have been victims of [some form of] physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime.
One in four women and one in seven men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide.
Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime.
The YWCA Evanston/North Shore offers suggestions to help someone in an abusive relationship:
Listen. If someone is confiding in you, resist the urge to have all the answers. Validate your friend’s feelings. Don’t judge. She may already be feeling shame and embarrassment.
Be careful about the words you use.
If you are approaching someone because you suspect abuse, you might say, “I’ve noticed you’ve been injured recently” or “I’m concerned about you.” Do not speak negatively about the abuser.
Focus on the victim, not the abuser. Help the victim reflect on the power and control she has and reinforce that the abuse is not her fault. Don’t tell the victim she has to leave the relationship immediately. The victim may still love the abuser, and leaving can be one of the most dangerous times for the victim.
Recognize that every domestic violence situation is unique. Your friend’s situation may be different from others you have known, including your own.
Gather resources and talk about safety planning. If your friend recognizes that she’s in an abusive situation, you can help her develop a plan.
Remember that solutions take time. It can be frustrating, but you don’t want to be another person attempting to exert power and control over the victim. She needs to find it within herself.