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Domestic Violence: been there

21 October 2010 2 Comments

Patricia Smith Melton

by Patricia Smith Melton
Founder, Peace X Peace
Editor, Sixty Years, Sixty Voices: Israeli and Palestinian Women

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month.  A coalition of organizations across community, tribal, regional, and national boundaries join together to focus our attention on domestic violence, a global epidemic that kills, tortures, and maims—physically, psychologically, sexually, and economically.


In the United States a woman is raped every six minutes, a woman is battered every 15 seconds. Around the world, country to country, between 20% and 50% of women suffer from domestic abuse. The figure in the US is approximately 30%. While poverty, cultural customs, and educational levels affect the percentage of violence, no culture, class, or group is exempt.

Those are data points. You are not thinking about data points when you are being hit. You are thinking of survival, where to place your hands, where you hid the spare car keys, if your kidneys are exposed, and not to yell as it fuels the raging energy that is assaulting you.

Been there. Second husband. Started 18 months after meeting, five months after getting married. The first time, I landed on my back seven feet away. Whenever I choose to remind myself that I am a survivor, I can run my tongue across the scar inside my lip.

Being a domestic violence survivor—and my tenure lasted another 2 ½ years—is to enter into a select group just as one does after a parent dies, after a major car crash, when you have a life-threatening illness. No one who hasn’t been there really knows.

But I know what it feels like to be hit, kicked, thrown, slapped, held down, and to realize no one is around to help you, that somehow you have become isolated. I know the shock of realizing that your life is suddenly in danger. I know the internal upheaval of running away—and then returning because, in fact, you love him and he is your second husband, after all. In the early 1970’s how many failed marriages was one allowed?

I also know the desperate need to believe that what happened two weeks ago would never happen again. He was your best friend, your champion, your gentle mate. He apologized, he promised. He was abused and shamed as a child, and you are strong enough to save both of you. And now it’s better, yes, we are in the good times, yes? It’s over, yes?

I know the slippery slope into isolation, and controlled behavior—watching everything you say, monitoring your every move, constantly reassuring him. And I know the moment when I stopped lowering my head on assault to look straight into his eyes—the moment I became my own witness. I often wonder how many abused women have enough leeway in the violence to do that.

Not all women who stay are weak. Some of us were strong and thought we could heal ourselves and our partners. I was wrong. I think most women who think they can heal their violent partners are wrong.

Several years ago a woman told me how her former husband had been violent to her. The hair on my arms rose. Something was terribly wrong. I wanted to escape, but I couldn’t because I was in a moving car. I deciphered that she was telling me this not from a place of authenticity but in order to hook me, to manipulate me.

More recently I found out that, in fact, she had fabricated the entire story. I hadn’t been able to see the extent of the distortion because I couldn’t imagine lying about domestic violence. But my body knew. We who have been there know, and we don’t lie to each other.

Statistically, 1 in 3 women reading this blog were or are victims of abuse. For you in your potential confusion, and to educate the rest of you, I list below common denominators of abuse. Several months after leaving my husband, I picked up a book in a bookstore that listed these. My knees buckled. If I’d known the syndrome, I would have been able to help myself earlier. (For men who are abused by women, simply change the sex below.)

  • You will become isolated. It is imperative to the abuser to control and dominate you, to “own” you, and to limit potential witnesses.
  • He will say it’s your fault he abuses you, that “you earned it,” “you deserved it,” “you asked for it.”  Do not be confused, no one ever deserves violence.
  • He was abused himself—and probably told he “earned” it, and he may believe that.
  • He relies on your shame to keep you from telling others, and he knows exactly how far he can go before you will leave or “go public.” If he abuses you in private instead of in front of the children is just an example in this complex interplay of psychology, history, culture, and circumstances.
  • He usually was emotionally and/or physically abused and shamed by his mother. And his childhood rage, surprise, is vented on you, whom he cannot separate in his mind from his mother.
  • He has limited communication skills. Yes, he may be able to hoodwink people, but he has no venue for real communication with others or outlet for his own pains and injuries.
  • He may have a public persona of being gentle, generous, even religious.
  • He may “not be there” when he is violent. I remember well, shortly before the end, discovering that my husband blacked out during his violence. He had no memory. He wasn’t there.
  • He will strongly resist professional help. His belief in himself as a person—perhaps subject to a few justified “outbursts”—requires not looking at what he does or letting anyone else see inside. Exposure is terrifying for someone raised to believe they are inherently lesser or guilty. They perceive this, rather than the acts that they do, to be the road to ultimate rejection.

If you are among the women—or the men—who are being abused, seek counsel. Now. You can go to the National Domestic Violence Hotline for resources and help.

Three and a half decades ago there were no hotlines. There were no support groups at a moment’s notice. There are now. Use them. Shame is a crippling emotion. Throw it out, remembering that you are beautiful inside.

If I could stand in a valley in Tennessee, isolated and frightened, and could for one second have imagined the life still ahead of me . . . . well, I couldn’t.

But your life is not where you are abused. Your life is where you are freely yourself in your full creativity, honoring your own opinions, your own talents, your own beauty, your own work, dance, and song. Gain your strength, find friends carefully, recapture yourself. You are a divine creature. Your God-given priority is to be safe and to flourish.

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2 Comments to “Domestic Violence: been there”
  1. Sarah says:

    “Not all women who stay are weak. Some of us were strong and thought we could heal ourselves and our partners. I was wrong. I think most women who think they can heal their violent partners are wrong.”

    This was me.

    Thank you.

  2. Anne says:

    I admire your work so much! Thank you for having the courage to share your story of abuse. My former husband and I went to counseling. He is one who did aknowledge the need for change and healing. His form of abuse was through short outbursts of physical abuse but also through verbal intimidation even in public among strangers. When he said “I know how to get to you, through your daughter (she was four years old) I left. i knew I couldn’t wait for him to get better and wasn’t sure he could. I understand how there is a sense of humiliation when there has already been one failed relationship. That was also my situation. The good news is that my daughter is now a strong, beautiful young woman.

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