October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. On average three women a day will be killed by their partners everyday. As of today, October 30th, eighty-four women have died died at the hands of their spouses and partners. It is estimated one in three women will experience some kind of domestic abuse during their lifetime. To paint this picture more vividly, it means in any given day, in any given place you go (grocery store, church, the DMV, the workplace etc), every third woman you see could possibly be a victim of domestic violence at some point during her life. What’s more, perhaps every third or fourth man you encounter, could be an abuser. This is a silent epidemic.
The term of domestic violence has expanded to include all sorts of abuse, emotional abuse, emotional isolation and manipulation, belittling and degrading one’s partner and of course the physical beatings. This is important to point out because for a long time, people pictured domestic violence victims as the woman who turns up at work with a black eye but she says she fell down a flight of stairs or tripped on the concrete. The ‘falling down the stairs’ is the most often used excuse for visible physical injuries. But domestic violence need not have physical scars to be considered abuse. The abusers have gotten smarter, they’ve learned to not leave visible scars, this can mean abusing their partners in areas of the body where clothing will cover up her bruises or scars or mental abuse and torture.
The most often used method by abusers is isolate his victim from her nearest and dearest, degrade his victim by convincing her that he’s all she’s got, no one else will have her, no one else can love her because she’s so vile, so she’s got put with up with the piece of trash that is he and when he’s totally robbed her of her identity and self-esteem, he removes her financial autonomy so that she couldn’t leave even if she wanted to, he controls the routines of the children and finally he beats her at will, for any reason, for any excuse. The dinner is too hot, dinner is too cold. It’s got too many vegetables, it doesn’t have enough vegetables. The woman spends all her waking hours trying to avoid him and his wrath, trying to do everything perfect to not incite his wrath, trying to protect her children from the grotesque scene happening at home. This formula of abuse hasn’t changed much since its inception.
If prostitution is the oldest profession in the world, then domestic violence must be the oldest crime in the world. It’s also the least prosecuted crime, the least understood crime (Why don’t you just leave? Why did you wait until now? Why do you keep having children with him if he has been beating you for 20 years? Why do you still have sex with him? Why didn’t you tell anyone?) and sadly the most tolerated crime, even in the West. Domestic violence crimes in America, unless grievous bodily injury is inflicted, is considered a misdemeanor. This means an abuser can verbally threaten his partner until she’s scared out of her wits but as long as he doesn’t inflict grievously bodily harm, he will get a slap on the wrist, serve 30 days in jail, a bullshit restraining order which he’ll violate at will and somehow worm his way back into his victim’s life. What law enforcement does not understand is that most victims are too traumatized, demoralized and are most likely suffering from PTSD or other types of psychological trauma to effectively carry out and follow through with legal proceedings and processes to keep their abuser away. If the victim is suffering from financial distress as a result of her abuser being locked up and she’s got no other backup from family, friends or survivor’s groups, she will have no choice but to let him back in.
I am a domestic violence survivor. I am the statistic of one in three women who has suffered domestic violence some time during her life. I won’t go into the details of my abuse except that I needed to go to the hospital to get treatment for my injuries. The mental scars are far worse than the physical scars. I suffered nightmares, flashbacks and possibly undiagnosed PTSD. I had PTSD brain for several years after the event except I didn’t know what PTSD brain was. I was very confused at my own behavior which wasn’t present present prior to my assault. For example, why at certain voices or situations, I just froze and became a robot and went into autopilot mode. This is not me, I am a fighter. After my attack, I just wanted to move forward. I just wanted to put it all behind me and start a new life, which I did. But I didn’t attend to those old wounds and the reason is not because I didn’t have the resources, I did. The reason was I was too ashamed. I was too embarrassed. I will not be one of those weak, battered women cowering in the corner and weeping through therapy sessions. Not on my worst day. He won’t rob this last ounce of my dignity too.
Oh the shame, the embarrassment of being a battered woman is the strongest impediment I have had to overcome. Despite reading a lot of literature on domestic violence and what it does to people, I could not accept that I was ‘one of those people’ that let someone do this to me. And I hated being a ‘victim’, even though my head acknowledged that I was a ‘victim’, my heart refuses to allow it. You see, being assaulted by cowardly bastard wasn’t supposed to happen to me. I am educated. I am smart. I am tough. I can hold my own in many situations and I didn’t grow up in a home where there was domestic violence, this isn’t supposed to happen to me. I know that from countless studies and research, domestic violence can happen to anyone, in any culture, in any social class. No one strata or group of people is immune from domestic violence. A doctor, lawyer or university professor teaching Greek Classics is just as likely to abuse his partner as his working class counterparts. I read it. I comprehended it. I get it. But still, it shouldn’t have happened to me. And I was embarrassed. I was embarrassed that moving forward, should I prefer, I can refer to myself a domestic violence survivor and I hated it. I shuddered at the thought of it. I didn’t go so far to blame myself. I left after the one and only incident and never looked back, never talked to him again. Yet I was still ashamed that it happened to me.
It’s an incident I never mention or talk about. I pretend it never happened. I was lucky in the respect that I didn’t depend on this person financially nor did I have children with this person. I just left and never looked back. I did report my incident to the police but the ‘investigation’ was a joke and results so abysmal, it was a huge waste of my time. Reporting my attack didn’t make me feel better or feel that any sense of justice was served, except when he nearly got deported and was locked up in ICE detention for many months not knowing his fate. He was quaking in his boots and I enjoying a case of serious schadenfreude. Being deported is the worst thing he could imagine happening to him and the mere fact that he thought he was going to be deported and was sitting in jail worried sick, the thought makes me feel vindicated for all the stuff I put up with. This was my justice. Through a mutual acquaintance, he asked for my help (imagine the gall) to put in a good word for him so that he wouldn’t get deported, I told him to fuck off. That felt good too. It felt good that his family had, one by one, came to me, begging me to put a good word in for him so he won’t be deported back to some barren, sand swept, God forsaken place. They said it would be the last thing I have to do for him, I told them all to fuck off. These were the same people, months prior blaming me for his predicament, for ruining his life and they threatening to ruin mine.
Thinking about this chapter of my youth still fills me with dread. I cannot believe I allowed this to happen to me. Today, I feel better because I promised myself to harbor no more shame, blame or guilt about anything which has happened to me. But I still feel prickly when I think back on this episode. I’ve learned a lot about myself, I’ve set boundaries for myself of what I will allow to happen to me and what I won’t. No matter what, I don’t allow my self-esteem to get so low which would allow another person to treat my like garbage.
I am also fighting the urge to stay silent because of my daughter. She is four years old right now, I don’t know if I’ll ever tell her about this. I suppose I would if the opportunity came up but most importantly, I don’t want her to think that being a domestic violence victim is something to be ashamed of. I don’t want her to stay quiet if she encounters any form of abuse in the future. I want her to come running to me, to tell me who did what to her and how to appropriately respond. I don’t want to in any way impart the message of shame, due to my own personal issues, onto my daughter. I want send a clear message to her which, if anyone treats her badly, whether she’s in the first grade or 12th grade, it’s unacceptable. Most importantly, I don’t want my daughter to ever feel trapped any situation. As long as I am alive and have one breath in my body, I will be her safety net. No matter what, she can always come home to me. She will never have to endure any abuse because she has nowhere else to go. I am forever her safe harbor.