MYTH: Boyfriends and girlfriends sometimes push each other around when they get angry, but it rarely results in anyone getting seriously hurt.
When I was 17, my boyfriend went for my throat and choked me in a fit of jealous rage upon learning that I had dated others before we became exclusive. I thought this was an involuntary reflex he could not control. I believed that his outburst showed just how much he really loved me and wanted me for himself. I quickly forgave him after he apologized, and in some morbid way, felt flattered to be loved so much.
I later found out that he was very much in control of his actions. He knew exactly what he was doing. People who abuse often use a series of tactics besides violence including threats, intimidation, psychological abuse and isolation to control their partners. (Straus, M.A., Gelles R.J. & Steinmetz, S., Behind Closed Doors, Anchor Books, NY, 1980.) And if it happened once it would happen again. And sure enough, that incident was only the beginning of more acts of violence that led to serious injuries throughout our years together.
FACT: As many as one-third of all high school and college-age young people experience violence in an intimate or dating relationship. (Levy, B., Dating Violence: Young Women in Danger, The Seal Press, Seattle, WA, 1990.) Physical abuse is as common among high school and college-age couples as married couples. (Jezel, Molidor, and Wright and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Teen Dating Violence Resources Manual, NCADV, Denver, CO, 1996.) Domestic violence is the number one cause of injury to women between the ages of 15-44 in the U.S. – more than car accidents, muggings and rapes combined. (Uniform Crime Reports, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1991.) And, of the women murdered each year in the U.S., 30% are killed by their current or former husband or boyfriend. (Violence Against Women: Estimates from the Redesigned Survey, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, August 1995.)
MYTH: Most people will end a relationship if their boyfriend or girlfriend hits them. After that first incident of abuse, I believed that my boyfriend was truly sorry and that he wouldn’t ever hit me again. I rationalized that it was only this one time. After all, couples often have arguments and fights that are forgiven and forgotten. My parents fought all the time, and I believed that behavior was normal and unavoidable in marriage. My boyfriend would buy me things, take me out, and show me attention and affection in an effort to prove his sincerity, and he promised that he would never hit me again. This is called “the honeymoon” phase. I believed the lie and within months I married him.
FACT: Nearly 80% of girls who have been physically abused in their intimate relationships continue to date their abuser after the onset of violence. (Uniform Crime Reports, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1991.)
MYTH: If a person is really being abused, it’s easy to just leave.
It was extremely complicated and difficult for me to leave my abuser, and there were several factors that delayed and hindered my decision to get away from him. I had a strong religious background and believed it was my obligation to forgive him and to submit to his authority as my husband. This belief kept me living in an abusive marriage. I also believed that even though we weren’t fighting all the time, it really wasn’t that bad. He owned a business, and at one point, was the pastor of a church. We were prosperous, had a beautiful home, drove nice cars, and I enjoyed the status of being the perfect middle-class family. And so, for the sake of money and status, I stayed. Another reason why I stayed was for the sake of the children. I didn’t want my children to be psychologically damaged coming from a broken home.
I had been psychologically and emotionally abused for so long that I developed low self-esteem and had a low self-image. He consistently reminded me that no one else would ever love me like he did and that I should’ve been glad that he married me in the first place. He would belittle my physical characteristics and remind me of my shortcomings and faults. I often went along with whatever my husband wanted to do just to avoid a fight and to avoid being left alone. I had my own guilt issues and believed that I was being punished and deserved the misfortune that happened to me. I believed that I could not survive without my husband and was afraid of being homeless and destitute.
And even after I left the marriage, I was stalked and almost killed by him.
This type of psychological abuse is often ignored by the victims of domestic violence. Since there are no visible scars we think we’re okay, but in fact, the psychological and emotional torments are the ones that have the most lasting impact on our lives even long after the abuser is out of our lives.
FACT: There are many complicated reasons why it’s difficult for a person to leave an abusive partner. One common reason is fear. Women who leave abusers are at a 75% greater chance of being killed by the abuser than those who stay. (U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics’ national Crime Victimization Survey, 1995.) Most people who are abused often blame themselves for causing the violence. (Barnett, Martinex, Keyson, “The relationship between violence, social support, and self-blame in battered women,” Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 1996.)
No one is ever to blame for another person’s violence. Violence is always a choice, and the responsibility is 100% with the person who is violent. It is my desire that we become educated about the warning signs of domestic abuse and encourage women to break the cycle of abuse by breaking the silence.