October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month; it is a cause near and dear to my heart. Last year I did a series RLD on DV, outlining the reasons why folks stay with their abusers and resources to help those who are victims.
It is interesting to note, and bears repeating, that this is an issue that affects all levels of the socio-economic rainbow. I love hearing stories of women who overcame violence to find success. In the months since I published the story about singer Michel’le and the abuse she suffered at the hands of rapper/producer Dr Dre in my piece “Straight Outta PR: Hip Hop, Violence Against Women & An Apology”, Lifetime TV did a movie about her story. I think it is critical that the stories continue to be told on the small and big screens.
In pain, there can be found resilience and strength. I absolutely adore Taraji P. Henson — I watch her religiously every week on the hit show Empire. There is an intense story behind her glory — before the fame and the awards (as in Golden Globe, Emmy, and NAACP Image Award), there was an abusive mate. She left him, even though that meant she would have to struggle as a single mom; but found success beyond her wildest dreams. See her story in People Magazine.
But let us not forget the perils of leaving. A tragic story out of Chicago where a woman tried to break off her engagement — she went to her ex’s apartment to return the ring, where he stabbed to death and subsequently took his own life. It is heartbreaking to know that in her last moments, she called her father. The tale of this victim is a cautionary one; if you are trying to leave someone who is abusive or unstable, do not encounter the person alone. Never underestimate the power of desperation to control and violence.
What gives me hope is some of the great programs that working with victims of domestic violence. It is more than just the abused spouse; it is the children who have to witness their family member — the person that is supposed to protect them — abusing and being abused. The “Camp HOPE America” program featured in the Huffington Post does a great job working with the children of trauma in domestic violence relationships. Also, one morning on the Tom Joyner morning show, I learned about Daylight Inc, a program started by a DV survivor in Atlanta which helps women leave. Sometimes shelters are not available exactly when you need them; her program seeks to fill the gaps.
Domestic violence is a serious serious crime. It hurts so many; we must not turned a blind eye and assist those who are trying to make a difference in their communities.
If you are a victim of domestic violence, the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. If you are a friend of someone who is going through a violent situation, stand by the person. Abusers thrive on isolating victims from support systems, their families, and the outside world. Make sure that your friend knows that you are there to assist them. It does take several tries before a victim will eventually leave the relationship; often as many as 4 to 5 attempts to be finally free. It’s a tough situation to be in, but just know that your actions may save a life.
Continuing this month’s series on Domestic Violence Awareness, I wanted to touch on three more distinct stories, with separate themes. The first is a horrible story from Kentucky, where a man used the family dog as part of the instrument of violence against his girlfriend. I have prosecuted cases where offenders will often abuse the family pet, knowing that this is another way of upsetting the victim. But this offender took it one step further. See her story here.
The next story explores the trauma of a Miami woman who did leave her husband, but he found her, and shot her. He is still at large; his picture is below. Please read her story here. This Miami Herald story also discusses the challenges involved in domestic violence cases.
Lastly, Oscar Pistorius, the South African athlete who was known as the “Blade Runner”, was released from prison yesterday to serve the rest of his murder sentence under house arrest. He was tried for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Reeva was shot by Pistorius through a locked bathroom door in the home they shared because, as he stated, he believed she was an intruder. Despite the evidence that came out at trial indicating she was afraid of him, the presiding judge found him guilty of the lesser charge manslaughter and sentenced him to five years in prison. After serving only one year in prison, he will spend the remainder of his sentence in his uncle’s mansion in Pretoria.
This is a reminder that domestic violence affects all races, all ethnic groups, all socio economic backgrounds, and all countries. I have worked with domestic violence victims who covered their bruises with Chanel sunglasses, to those who scraped by on government assistance. The evil disease that is DV does not discriminate; neither should we in our assumptions.
It’s the age old question asked of domestic violence victims — why stay? If your partner is abusing you, you should leave.
Then comes the judgment, and my favorite line:
“If that was me, I would never stand for that. I would leave immediately!”
Sometimes, it’s that easy. 90% of the time, it is not.
Keep in mind, an abuser never hits you on the first date. Or even the second date. An abusive relationship begins much like any other relationship — with love, trust, and wooing. But somewhere along the line, the abuser becomes controlling. S/he begins to isolate the victim from friends and family. The abuser begins to break down the victim’s self esteem. Emotional abuse becomes a key factor. And then physical abuse (if used) begins.
To further complicate matters is the concept of the cycle of violence. Once the abuser hits the victim, the abuser becomes incredibly apologetic, even tearful. The s/he promises this will never happen again. There may be gifts, as well as a temporary change in behavior. This is called the honeymoon period. But after the honeymoon enters a period of tension and escalation, until there is another violent episode. The cycle begins anew.
Rihanna, in a recent interview with Vanity Fair, spoke about her highly publicized relationship abusive with Chris Brown. She said:
“I was that girl…that girl who felt that as much pain as this relationship is, maybe some people are built stronger than others. Maybe I’m one of those people built to handle s%&* like this. Maybe I’m the person who’s almost the guardian angel to this person, to be there when they’re not strong enough”. She admitted that she believed she could change him.
See her full interview here.
Her thought process is not unique among victims/domestic violence survivors. Some believe that they can change the abuser, or that the abuser can go back the kind person they fell in love with. But there are other common themes among victims and survivors of domestic violence relationships: fear, love, family, money, shame, and isolation.
The Huffington Post did a powerful article featuring the stories of six survivors and why they stayed. Please read with an open mind — it may give some insight as to the grueling journey the millions of women and men endure every day. Read the article here.
24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner.
That’s 12 million men and women per year.
Think about that, and read more stats here.
As always, comments are welcome!