Behind Closed Doors: Help for Domestic Abuse Survivors
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Editor's Note: This is part one in a series on domestic violence.
Everything was fine…until the light bulb in the living room burned out.
“Can you believe it? Can you believe it?” He pounded his fist into our sofa.
“It’s okay. I’ll go get another one,” I answered, darting into the kitchen for another bulb.
Returning, I began to panic when I saw his expression. “Gimme’ that!” he growled, bobbling the bulb until he nearly dropped it.
“Whoa, are you okay?” Stay calm. Breathe. Don’t let him escalate…
“What do you mean am I okay?” Raising his voice, his flushed, contorted face hovered just inches from mine, “You think that’s funny?”
Oh, no, what do I do now? I made him mad. If I’d been more helpful…kept that light from going out or kept it from nearly falling…I just can’t do it right. I always mess up.
“I’m sorry. I really am…”
I watched horrified as his eyes glazed over and his body lurched to intimidate. I wanted to run or hide, but I knew from experience that would only make matters worse. Instead, I hung my head, shielding my face with my arms.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.” I tried desperately to say something that would make it all stop. But instead, his anger exploded.
He took several swings, landing them in my forearms that shielded my face. As I took a step back, he bolted toward me and began shoving me around. He grabbed my arm, twisted it around, and bit me hard.
Things just escalated from there, and before I knew it, he’d cornered me in the bedroom. Please don’t let him hurt me, I prayed silently as his fists delivered blow after blow to my arms. Finally he slammed me onto the bed and eventually overturned the mattress, hurling me to the floor.
Suddenly his dark eyes were an inch from my face, and through clenched teeth he sneered, “I suppose you’re gonna act hurt now. You want me to think I hurt you. You always set it up this way.”
“No, I’m okay…fine.” Ignoring the pain, I stumbled my way out the room. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
“You better be. You always set it up this way. You push my buttons and make me the bad guy.” He shook his head in disgust, staring me down. “And you better not act hurt. I’m not gonna play that game with you.”
Just then a knock on the door. Oh, no, what if someone heard all that. What do I do? Maybe…will they help me? Please, help me! He headed for the door and shot a glare over his shoulder. I knew what that meant.
Vacillating between fear and hope, I waited in silence as he opened the door to find a policeman. Oh, maybe he’ll get what’s happening here and help me. But what if this gets me in worse trouble? What if we both get taken to jail and the police don’t know who’s telling the truth and they blame me? What if our church friends see it in the paper?
The officer nodded at both of us, and then addressed my husband. “We’re in the neighborhood just getting some information about this area and wanted to ask you a few questions.” It was obvious he had no idea what just unfolded. My heart sank as I realized there was no way to communicate what was going on. I wasn’t sure if he would believe me, and things would be so much worse if he didn’t.
“Thanks for your help,” I heard the officer conclude his questioning, and then I saw my last hope close with the door. My husband smirked arrogantly at me, and once again, I was left to face him alone.
Myths and Reality
This scene from my life twelve years ago contains the sights and sounds of domestic violence. I couldn’t believe the stark contrast between how I’d grown up and what I was living. Raised in a strong, sheltered Christian home, I was pretty naïve. Now, I lived in a foreign land, all alone in spite of being surrounded by family, church friends, and people I worked with. No one imagined the nightmare I lived behind closed doors.
Domestic violence is hard to imagine and difficult to understand. Following are a few of the myths and the realities of this issue.
Domestic violence is only a problem in low socio-economic groups.
Not so. In fact, domestic violence is a far-reaching problem affecting many educated, financially secure, and successful women. FBI statistics reveal that, in the U.S. alone, domestic violence affects one woman every seven seconds. It reaches across the borders of class, race, and religion. The issue revolves around anger and control, not a particular lifestyle.
Domestic violence should be easy to identify…no one can hide a problem that big.
Domestic violence involves control, and the abuser is generally able to control himself enough to choose a place “safe” enough to rage where he won’t be exposed. The abuser is often charming and able to put forth a good “front” for other people, but then alienates the victim from those she is closest to. And because she may fear exposing their “secret,” she may withdraw as well.
Domestic violence is not a problem in the church.
Unfortunately, the prevalence of domestic violence in the church appears to be comparable to the general population. Some statistics suggest that 25 percent of women sitting in the pews on Sunday live with domestic violence. The church may sadly end up being a “safer” place for a perpetrator to hide because few would suspect a man who comes to church and is involved in church activities to be violent and abusive.
Women in domestic violence aren’t smart, or they would just leave.
Many intelligent people can be victimized by violence. No matter how smart a woman is, she’s been psychologically affected by threats and violence. In fact, a great deal of emotional intimidation has already taken place by the time a woman is physically abused. Knowing what the abuser is capable of, these women fear for their lives and work hard to keep the “secret” so the abuser won’t be exposed. In their minds, to expose the abuser will most likely result in lasting injury or even death. The World Health Organization reports that 70 percent of female murder victims are killed by their male partners. In fact, it was reported in a Public Radio Interview that a woman is murdered in this country by a stalking ex-husband or boyfriend every two hours (deBecker, 1999). Their fear of death is very real.
Want to find out how domestic violence unfolds in a home? Gain insight when you read part two of this series entitled ‘Round and ‘Round We Go.
Berry, Dawn B. (1995) The Domestic Violence Sourcebook. Los Angeles: Lowell House.
Wilson, K.J. (1997) When Violence Begins at Home: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding and Ending Domestic Abuse. Alameda, CA: Hunter House.
The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, www.nrcdv.org
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