By Listening, We Will Give Strength to Their Voice

By Beacon Staff

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the month devoted to bringing attention to the impact this epidemic has on our community. It is hoped that awareness will elicit responsiveness and, ultimately, change. It’s a difficult task. At the Violence Free Crisis Line, most of our interaction with the community is working directly with people already well acquainted with domestic violence; those who are personally affected by abuse, whether currently in crisis or continuing their battle with recovery. But this month is aimed at the remainder of the community, those unfamiliar with the severity of the damage, destruction and lasting effects domestic violence has on our community and our people. Awareness is really about gaining an understanding and, though not having first-hand experience with domestic violence impedes any attempt for having empathy for its survivors and victims, this month presents no lack of opportunity for gaining sympathy for the many people in our community who have been touched by domestic violence.

Perpetrators of domestic violence hide behind masks – myths, misconceptions and excuses that all serve to minimize the severity of abuse and quiet the voice of victims. The voices are there. And during this month, we can honor survivors and victims by listening to what they are saying.

Domestic violence is characterized by the use of power and control, which is very often minimized or misunderstood by believing the abuser has “just lost control” or the situation “just got out of hand.” Abusive behaviors are not caused by drinking alcohol, doing drugs, mental illness or bad days. Abusers choose their behavior; they are very much in control. After all, most abusers are only abusive toward their partners – keeping destructive behavior within the home – and, therefore, maintaining their “Nice Guy” persona in the public.

Abuse is physical: Abusers beat their partners so severely when they attempt to leave, she is frightened to try again. It is emotional: Abusers, through continual insults and put downs, severely damage their partners self-esteem and make her believe she deserves it. It is sexual: Abusers rape their partners, claiming it’s their right, that they are entitled to sex as husbands, boyfriends and men. It’s spiritual: Abusers manipulate scriptures to pressure their partners into staying. It’s psychological: Abusers isolate their partners from friends and family, so she doesn’t have anywhere to go. It is financial: Abusers prohibit their partners to hold jobs and restrict monetary resources, so she cannot support herself when she leaves.

People wonder, “If it’s really that bad, why doesn’t she leave?” Women in abusive relationships say, “I love him.” They say, “I believe he will change.” “I’m staying for the kids.” “I can’t feed them on my own.” And “I have no place to go.” As someone so wisely said, if you tossed a frog into a pot of boiling water, it would jump out, but if you put a frog in a pot of water and turned the stove on, the frog would boil.

Abusers use the different aspect of power and control to sever their partners’ social ties, deteriorate their self-image and isolate their resources. If a person got violent on the first date, no one would continue into a relationship with them. It is a process and the more time that passes, the more difficult it is for the abused partner to leave. And it is the abuser who makes it difficult; their identity is very much linked to their partner and the power and control they exert over them. The most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence – the time when the abuse most often escalates – is just after they leave.

At the Violence Free Crisis Line, most of our interaction with the community is with those personally touched by domestic violence. They need shelter, assistance with filing, an order of projection or just someone to talk with. To work toward prevention, however, everyone in the community needs to hear the victims and survivors. By listening, we will give strength to their voice and, one day, we will end domestic violence.

Jill Hoxmeier is community outreach coordinator for the Violence Free Crisis Line