Wednesday, June 13, 2007

What Is Wrong With Those Trapped Victims?

That's the question many people ask when they aren't denying or dismissing long-term domestic violence -- although most of them notably don't include the word trapped.

Having been raped by a boyfriend who loved me and having been choked by a husband who loved me, I have to ask: What's wrong with all those people who don't ask what's wrong with those who use violence against loved ones? What is wrong with people who don't put distance between themselves and someone they care about instead of staying and hurting them?

Love isn't expressed through wrapping your fingers around her throat and squeezing until she gets the message that you are the boss. Love isn't expressed through saying, "I never did any permanent damage and I easily could have." Love isn't expressed by telling the person you just raped, "It always hurts the first time."

What is wrong with people who swarm escapees of violent relationships demanding that the escapees forgive their terrorists and reunite with them because the violent person now feels bad and hates being alone? What is wrong with people who deny evidence of physical and psychological violence?

When we ask ourselves why we don't intercede when we witness domestic violence and want to do something to help, we see the barriers and the risks. Someone who will harm those closest to him or to her may decide that harming us is an act of self defense. Police know that when they respond to a domestic dispute that they are going toward a potentially lethal situation.

Yet too many people flippantly ask why didn't she (or he) just walk away?

Sometimes victims are trapped because they are treated like prisoners who will be subject to more violence if they escape and will be treated well if they don't attempt escape and do as they are told. Other times the traps are booby-traps and landmines that lay in wait for unsuspecting victims and which are kept armed by people who would never commit an act of physical violence themselves.

This topic is covered in the book Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life (Interpersonal Violence) by Evan Stark.

An excerpt: Underlying the question of why battered women stay are the beliefs that they have the opportunity to exit and that there is sufficient volitional space between abusive incidents to exercise decisional autonomy…these beliefs are demonstrably false in the millions of cases where abuse is unrelenting, volitional space closed, or decisional autonomy is significantly compromised. An equally controversial presumption implicit in the question is that exercising the option to leave will reduce a victim’s chance of being hurt or killed. In fact, around 80% of battered women in intact couples leave the abusive man at least once. These separations appear to decrease the frequency of abuse, but not the probability that it will recur. Indeed, the risk of severe or fatal injury increases with separation. Almost half the males on death row for domestic homicide killed in retaliation for a wife or lover leaving them. As we’ve also seen, a majority of partner assaults occur while partners are separated. So common is what legal scholar Martha Mahoney calls “separation assault” that women who are separated are 3 times more likely to be victimized than divorced women and 25 times more likely to be hurt than married women.

This verifiable information shows that the traps are real and potentially deadly. Yet too many people continue to insist that all of the traps are internal to the victim and that there are no logical, external traps which keep victims in violent relationships.

We can begin to make a significant difference by asking: What are the external traps and obstacles which hinder victims of violence from escaping and recovering from what they have endured.

More importantly, we can ask how we can eliminate those traps and obstacles?

Every time we see someone involved in an abusive relationship, we should ask: What needs is the abusive person getting met either during the abusive acts or because of those abusive acts?

For an answer think about people who have a habit of wishing that an abused person were partnered with them. They don't want to abuse, but they like the way the abused person focuses on the abuser.

From what I've seen many abusers are emotional black holes. They want other people to fill them up, but a black hole can never be filled. Rather than recognizing that fact, abusers blame their victims for not keeping them filled like they should.

Too little study has been done on how emotional black holes are created and how they can be replaced by something healthier. Unless we address the root cause of abuse we'll be scrambling to deal with the fallout of domestic violence.


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 9:43 AM   5 comments links to this post


At June 13, 2007 9:38 AM, Blogger Seeing Eye Chick said...

What is shocking to me, is once I was in a debate at a UU church on Domestic Violence. And many stated they would never interfere with an incident.

I was speechless.

When I stated that I could not watch something like that and do nothing, I was shouted down as a meddling person.

I do not understand how one person can watch another individual abuse someone, anyone; adult or child.

As for leaving, you have to all but disappear. You never know who will give you up. Your identity can now be followed online as well as by more conventional means.

And when police and other agencies refuse to take the necessary steps to protect a woman [and possibly her abuser] what choice does she have other than to employ deadly force as a self protective means?

Women have 1/3 less upper body strength than men on average. They simply cannot compete without tools. So when threatened with immanent physical danger by violent males, using deadly force is not only tempting, it could be a biological imperative if one wants to survive these encounters.

A woman cannot trade blow for blow with an opposing male. She has to find a way to incapacitate her attacker to make her escape.

Without community support from law enforcement, neighbors, family, and the courts, I dont see a whole lot out there that offers us options under these circumstances?

Because if he gets back up, its not just a pounding you are going to get.
An enraged male will kill you.
End of story.

At June 13, 2007 12:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"An enraged male will kill you.
End of story. "

That reminds me of that quote mfrom Margaret Atwood. To sum up:

Men, when asked what scares them about women, said "We're afriad they'll laugh at us."

Women asked the same questions said: "We're afraid they'll kill us."

That's a remarkably different world women and men exist in.

At June 13, 2007 1:40 PM, Blogger Seeing Eye Chick said...

I wonder how Stand your Ground laws and Make My Day laws affect cases involving domestic abuse and stalking.

Make my Day, or the Castle Doctrine, where if a person forces their way into your home you can use deadly force to protect yourself.

The stand your ground law takes it a step further. You do not have to try to get away or warn an intruder or person who is menacing to you or to other samaritans, some states extend that to include your Personal Vehicle.

1975: Joanne Little who was raped by a guard while in jail, is acquitted of murdering her offender. The case establishes a precedent for killing as self-defense against rape.
The World Split Open by Ruth Rosen ppxxvii.

In addition to that we have new laws on the book regarding the exposure of people to deadly stds [HIV].

Women face more than just the threat of violence against their bodies in singular violent encounters.

They face the possibility of unwanted pregnancy, and exposure to sexually transmitted diseases in addition to the psychological after effects of a violent crime.

and for women who live with abuse daily, they live in a war zone, often with their children.

I have heard from others {but do not have stats} indicating that many females in jail are there due to killing or violently assaulting their abusive spouse.

I wonder how many times anyone thought to invoke the castle doctrine on their behalf?

Or does that not count in domestic abuse cases?

Saying no and being able to enforce that are clearly mutually exclusive endeavors.

At October 26, 2007 6:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


One of the posts for this article made me cry. I'm 16 years into an emotionally abusive relationship. The isolation is the hardest. About six years ago, I decided that I could break that isolation by attending a Unitarian (UU) Church. Our family attended for several weeks until one day he became angry because we were late and became violent in the parking lot.

I remember that people I wanted to get to know were simply staring at us. No one approached. No one said a word. Some people walked away after stoping: other people just starred. With all the eyes staring at me, I picked myself up and went home. I never returned because I was embarrassed. I never heard from anyone at the church either.

I'll never forget that day as long as I live. I would have welcomed the meddling (concern).

Thanks for your articles.

At October 26, 2007 9:16 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

Anonymous, I am so sorry that your attempt to reach out was met with such a pathetic response. Please know that there are plenty of us out there who are concerned about you and who have empathy for you.

I bet the anger and violence that day had nothing to do with being late and everything to do with the desire to drive a wedge between you and the members of that church.


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