More than 1.5 million women annually seek medical attention for domestic violence related injuries while the estimate is that between 2 and 4 million women are assaulted by their intimate partner annually. Domestic Violence is the leading cause of injury among females aged 15 to 44 and is higher than cancer, auto accidents and muggings combined. 90% of incarcerated women have been victims of sexual and/or physical violence as children and adults. 40% of female murder victims were killed by their intimate partner.
A woman who is assaulted behind the closed doors of her home, is again victimized when she emerges from behind those doors. By a system of professionals who ignore her cries for help, by friends, neighbors and co-workers who blame her for staying, by a system of patriarchy and traditional gender roles that reinforce her misguided beliefs about her own self worth and place in the world. In one case, a judge refused to grant a temporary protection order because the woman admitted to having fought back after she was assaulted. The judge stated “she didn’t need protection from the court.” She didn’t look enough like a victim. In a New York University public opinion survey of 1,200 people, 75% believed that the violence was the woman’s fault and over half believed that if she wanted to leave, she would. According to the National Center on Public Opinion, 49.2% of people believe that DV is a private issue and does not affect the general public. The cost of treating victims of DV is approximately $44 million annually – that seems like it should raise some interest in the general public.
If a woman gets hit once and leaves, she is not the same as the woman who either stays with the same abuser or has a pattern of picking abusive partners. It’s like the person who tries drugs as a youth as compared to the person who is an addict. In fact, in our society, addiction is viewed as an illness – not that person’s fault, there are precipitating factors that lead to the disease, the person needs treatment. A woman who stays in or repeats abusive relationships, is viewed as lacking in character, it’s her fault. None of the precipitating factors that would lead a woman into this pattern are considered by the general public. In fact, people are more comfortable with a drunk or high person in public than they are with a woman covered in bruises. Think of the angst you feel in your belly when you see that. How awkward you feel because you want to look, want to know what happened, and you feel a certain level of disgust – at her. She should be ashamed of herself.
The pattern of abuse is complicated and multilayered. Those of us who have lived, and continue to live it, struggle to recognize our individual patterns and step out of that cycle. The reasons women live this pattern are as multiple as there are women. I can map my road – literally – from being extremely unwanted as a child and told repeatedly that I was a mistake and good for nothing all the way up to the most recent event of being told that I was not safe and my entire life would be destroyed. The map never veers far off the path that was programmed into my DNA as a vulnerable toddler, reinforced in childhood and placed solid as concrete in my teenage years. I can chart specific events, hits, comments and practices by my parents that set up my choices. I’m not blaming, don’t get me wrong. My parents did the best they could with the tools they had available. But, if I can’t recognize the early mind mapping, I can’t navigate myself a new destination either.
Just as the bruises on my face, the hand print around my neck, the stiff body movements make you uncomfortable when you see me on the bus, my transparent recovery makes you equally as uncomfortable. I’m supposed to keep the abuse in the bedroom, or the kitchen, or the living room couch. The shame is supposed to keep me hidden.
To change requires an exchange. An exchange of lies for truth. An exchange of hiding for transparency. No one wants to talk about abuse because it makes everyone uncomfortable. We need to explore that uncomfortableness. Why do you find me less intelligent because I have a pattern of picking abusive partners? Why does it make you uncomfortable for me to talk about this out loud? If I was a drunk and said “I’m in recover” you’d say “good for you! I’m proud of you. That takes courage.” But if I say “something went real wrong when I was a kid and I’ve lived my adult life trying to work that out with abusive partners and now I’m in recovery from that” you run and hide!
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Gandhi. I may not be able to change the world, but I can change my patterns, unprogram my messed up belief system, teach my daughters from my life, and if even one other woman is positively impacted by my uncomfortable transparency, your discomfort is worth it.