It is little wonder that society does so little to support the battered woman to a life free of assault and fear - abuse in marriage has been condoned for a long time, world-wide.2 Marriage has been interpreted as a covenant for men to freely abuse their wives. "The word "family" is derived from the Roman word familia, signifying the totality of slaves belonging to an individual. The slave-owner had absolute power of life and death over the human beings who "belonged to him." Wives were bought and sold as if they were livestock. Prospective husbands (the buyers) paid fathers (the breeders) a "brideprice" for their daughters, and ownership was transferred."3
In the Middle Ages, in Europe, "squires and noblemen beat their wives as regularly as they beat their serfs....The church sanctioned the subjection of women to their husbands `in everything.' Priests advised abused wives to win their husbands' goodwill through increased devotion and obedience."4 Occasionally, someone would have some empathy for women and would "protest on behalf of the wife/victim. Bernard of Siena in 1427 suggested to his male parishioners that they exercise a little restraint and treat their wives with as much mercy as they would their hens and pigs."5
Until the Bolshevik Revolution, Russian men had no restraints on killing their wives. An English physician to Tsar Alexei from 1660 to 1669, recounted "about a merchant who beat his wife until he was exhausted, using a whip about two inches thick. Afterwards he forced the woman to put on a smock that had been dipped in brandy, which he then set on fire. She perished in the flames, and the man simply went on about his business scot-free."6
Later, many Russian women fought back. They "went on a rampage, murdering their husbands in revenge for all the injustices they had been forced to endure. Although there was no law against wife killing, a law did exist to prohibit husband killing. As punishment, the women were buried alive, standing upright with only their heads left above the earth. A guard was set to watch over them until they died,"7 which often took seven or eight days.
The laws in the United States weren't much better. Our old common-law doctrine "explicitly permitted wife-beating for correctional purposes,"8 but was later "modified" to "allow the husband `the right to whip his wife, provided that he used a switch no bigger than his thumb.'" There is still an ordinance in an old Pennsylvanian town which reads that "no husband shall beat his wife after ten o'clock at night or on Sundays..."9
Even as late as 1973, an advertisement for a bowling alley ran in a Michigan newspaper, which read: "Have some fun. Beat your wife tonight. Then celebrate with some good food and drink with your friends."11
Are certain women destined to be victims?
When I first started writing this article, I kept wondering, "Why does the abused woman stay?", which led me to wonder how often that question is asked in comparison with how often this question asked: "Why would a man beat, maim, abuse, kill someone whom he supposedly loves? Why would he stay?" Why is this question not asked? Why is there such a double standard?
Is there a certain type of character, a certain kind of woman12, who will get into an abusive relationship and stay? I believe, society's doing - or undoing - almost all women have a self-esteem that is tentative at best. If any individual is slowly isolated, controlled, broken down and brainwashed (and this is condoned by the greater society around them) they will eventually succumb to whatever torture is being inflicted, will doubt themselves and believe the lies. Unlike prisoners-of-war, who once fully knew another society that treated them with relative respect and decency, who have a warmer past and home entrenched in their memories, battered women don't necessarily have the skeletal structure of a past that respected them as individuals and as females. There is a community for the POW's that believes that those torturing them are wrong and are exhibiting the most evil of human potential. Women undergoing a similar experience at the hands of their partners usually do not have this option. Misogyny is prevalent and reinforced throughout society. A woman does not need a battering husband to efface her self-esteem. All she needs is to look at the prevalent societal messages, laws and media onslaught. She often has no past or home that was self-affirming to her.
1 out of 4 women suffer battering by their partner at some point in their lives...
I don't believe one can put women into two categories: ones that would sustain an abusive relationship, ones that wouldn't. I do believe that some women are fortunate enough to be raised in warm, supportive environments that don't uphold patriarchal ideals, that there are some women who are born knowing what is best for them, and that many women wizen to (often from painful experiences) that what society expects is in direct conflict with their best interests. I believe that these women will not entertain a relationship that is abusive. For the majority of women, however, I believe their brush with abuse or lack of it is merely a matter of fortune. Or, an epidemic due to the societal conditioning and expectations of all women to be caretakers and co-dependents at all costs, even at the risk of their health and lives.
Del Martin states: "Wife-beating...is a complex problem that involves much more than the act itself or the personal interaction between a husband and his wife. It has its roots in historical attitudes towards women, the institution of marriage, the economy, the intricacies of criminal and civil law, and the delivery system of social service agencies. Blame is not easily fixed, nor are the causes of marital violence readily identified."13
There is a general, widespread ignorance about abuse and domestic violence, which is usually not shattered or delved into deeply until one has actually lived through it and survived. It is this ignorance and the perpetuation of misogynist myth that enables the thick bramble of abuse. I do not believe that the women who enter into abusive relationships are inherently "maladaptive" or masochistic - societal abberrants. The cycle of abuse is classic - although the stories changes hands and names and faces, the plot line is essentially the same. After the woman has been isolated, brainwashed, and eventually believes the faulty mirror her abusive partner reflects to her about how worthless she is, the woman often feels she has no personhood, which deflates the strength she needs to leave the abusive relationship.
Oftentimes, the woman doesn't even recognize that she is a "battered woman," or thought that this only happened to other people: to the poor, to minorities, not to somebody like her. The shock from the trauma of getting hit, beaten, kicked, pummeled, choked, thrown, stabbed, pushed, and threatened is enough for anyone to later forget that it ever happened - the abused will go through a certain shock and will forget many details or will "black out" whole instances of abuse. Post-traumatic-stress-disorder is a real condition that many war veterans endure, a condition the media has popularized, a condition that women who suffer domestic violence endure as well.
The media glosses over the very real and frightening consequences the physically abused endure, and focuses on what is "wrong" with the women, why they were ever in an abusive relationship, why they did not get out sooner. In addition, the abuser often acts, after he has injured his partner, as if nothing out-of-the-ordinary happened. If asked later about it, he will often become indignant, defensive, or rationalize his behavior. He will blame his partner, or a substance, such as alcohol, for his lack of control. Ninety-nine percent of the time the man will also feel that it is he who is the victim - not the woman - and that the woman is "deserving of" her due "discipline" or "punishment." Eventually, both he and his partner will start to believe his lie - and society's lie - that responsibility for the abuse somehow lies on the victim.
One does not blame the former prisoner of war for their paranoia, their occasional lapses of reasoning, their PTSD. Society acts like a large prison, and we are all, knowingly or unknowingly, prisoners until we realize a new consciousness, a new paradigm of thinking. The women who suffered abuse by those who supposedly loved them are, essentially, prisoners in a greater misogynist society.
"The isolation of the battered wife is the result of our society's almost tangible contempt for female victims of violence."14
Perhaps society points the finger at women and not at men because the men are so difficult to encapsulate and study. Abusers rationalize their behavior and are often belligerent and refuse to be observed or undergo therapy willingly.15 It is much like the lack of medical research done on women.16 Because the studies become complex, researchers shy away and then make generalizations. Both leave women in a lurch.
I believe the unwillingness of the abusers to partake in psychological studies and therapy is not at the root of why society blames women for the physical abuse. I believe it is a far more insidious cause - blaming the victim has its roots entrenched in a misogynist, patriarchal, minority in power, society.17 The shame that is encased around the woman who receives the abuse far outweighs the man who instigates the abuse. The entire happenings remind me very much of past courtroom experiences where defendants would shame the rape victim:
Likewise in the courtroom, O.J. Simpson attempted to rack up evidence to blame the slain victim, his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson as he had his "lead defense attorney Robert Baker attacked her in his opening statement as a promiscuous woman who abused alcohol and drugs, had an abortion to get rid of a baby fathered by one of her boyfriends and ran with an unsavory crowd...His goal was to counter the prosecution's picture of Simpson as a jealous ex-husband by portraying him instead as a concerned friend and confidant to a troubled woman."19
The double standard is prevalent everywhere: how laws and custom focus on the prostitutes, not the customers of prostitutes, how they expect women to be virgins, but men to have sown their wild oats (with whom? The prostitutes whom they demean and punish and jail?!!!) The treatment of the female battered victim is just another symptom of this diseased society.
"Why didn't you seek help?"
Even if a woman is strong enough to resist the media entrenched with patriarchal values, everyone close to her - therapist, mother, father, siblings, friends, religious leader, often encourages her to remain with her abuser and work things out, and many even go as far as assume or plant seeds of self-doubt in her head that it is somehow her fault that she is being abused, that if she was more careful her partner wouldnít raise a hand to her.
One woman who endured vicious abuse, in answer to "Why didn't you seek help?", wrote:
Nobody wants to know about the abused or the abusive relationship. Domestic violence is a taboo topic, and conversation hushes and quickly shifts when it is mentioned. People believe they should not intervene.
This isn't just isolated to unarmed civilians, but law enforcement reflects the same indifferent attitude: "One woman, Tracey Thurman, won a suit against the police of Torrington, Connecticut, who had stood by and watched while her estranged husband stabbed and slashed and kicked her nearly to death...."24 A federal district court, ruled, as late as 1984, because of her case, that "a man is not allowed to physically abuse or endanger a woman merely because he is her husband. Concomitantly, a police officer may not knowingly refrain from interference in such violence, and, may not automatically decline to make an arrest simply because the assaulter and the victim are married to each other."25 As late as 1984! New laws that have been written in favor of protection of the female victim has been solely due to groups and organizations of women supporting "battered wives" have been solely brought to the forefront because of this grassroots effort - civic institutions and the men that run them have been slow to change.
What happens when you leave....
My own story is too similar to every other abused survivor's, where I was neither believed nor taken very seriously by many.
When I finally decided to end the 2 1/2 year relationship with the man, "Raphael", who was physically and emotionally abusive towards me, I was living in a small town in Washington state, where both of us were attending college at an even smaller campus. Although he showed great indifference and neglect towards me at this point, and was interested in dating other women, to my surprise, he became obsessed with me when I firmly broke up with him. I was ignorant that this was just classic behavior of an abuser. I thought that his indifference had "let me off the hook" somehow.
But I was so wrong. That break-up initiated another six months of endless and repeated stalking: he incessantly wrote me letters with allegories as to how one day he would mail me my next lover's brain and organs in jars of Nutella, or fantasies as to how he would rape and then dump me. The phone rang ceaselessly and my answering machine picked up one message after another, only minutes apart, where he vacillated between wanting to kill himself, demanding that I come speak to him, talking "sweetly" and "charmingly", and spouting his deranged rationalizations as to why I should date him again. He broke into my apartment several times, he left gifts at my door, he walked around the neighborhood howling and crying loudly and nonsensically. Others noticed. An acquaintance of mine who lived across the lawn in my apartment complex observed him watching for hours from the laundromat, staring at my apartmentís general direction. My roommate also noted that he had placed himself at the picnic table that was in the front the apartment, that he had been there all morning, since she had awoken, but possibly even earlier. These examples are just a few.
I started reading books on domestic violence but found relatively few in our college library. My eyes opened to the statistic that 1 in 10 women die at the hands of their abusive partner, particularly when they attempt to end the relationship or flee - at that moment, I realized the complete gravity of my situation, and I decided to pursue a restraining order.
There were a few acquaintances I knew that were supportive of me - and those that received the story with understanding were more often than not, people who had gone through similar experiences. People that knew both my ex-boyfriend and me often took his side. Raphael was extremely charming, friendly, sociable - he would do anything to "help a pal". He was well beloved in social circles. I had often noticed his Jekyll-and-Hyde syndrome, but when I brought it up to him, I often "instigated" further abuse - and when I brought it up to others, they didn't believe me.
One "friend" of ours came up to me after I had put in an affidavit for a restraining order but was waiting for the court date to solidify it. He told me, over and over, that I "was being too harsh." I had barred Raphael from ever entering my apartment again or making phone calls to it, but my roommate, I discovered, had newly befriended Raphael, because, in her words, she was "charmed by him." When I told my parents, they laughed at me for thinking I was in any danger - they believed I was going overboard with the restraining order, that I had nothing to worry about - even though he solidly had 8 of 13 traits that are common with abusers that will either kill themselves or others close to them. 26 Raphael's mother called me and essentially tried to give me a guilt trip because I refused to see him. She, Raphael, our "friends" insisted that it was my responsibility to remain in contact with him, that it was I who wasn't being "fair" in wanting complete separation, after having had my life threatened by him several times!
I started seeing a counselor. The counselor helped me with the paperwork reality of the restraining order, making reports to the police, etc., but she refused to delve into my past relationship. I needed healing about that, but I quickly felt shamed by her that it was not something I should talk about. When I later had a different counselor, I brought up this past relationship and she told me, in no uncertain terms, "I don't understand how anybody could have brought that upon themselves." She dismissed my many years of pain and struggle and my courage to break free and rebuild myself with that one demeaning sentence. Despite the fact that I have made it a point to be a good listener to friends, I have never found a friend that has been willing to listen. The reaction is always the same: the friend says one line that is shaming towards me and, in all their gestures, skirts the topic. Nor have I, with my limited income, found a counselor willing to listen.
I was often asked, "Why didn't you leave?" or, "Why did you stay?" or basically had a finger pointed at me, shaming me, ridiculing me for being "weak". But who ever asked Raphael, "Why did you hurt someone you supposedly loved?" "How could you do such a thing?," "How could you have the nerve to attempt to harass someone or even contact someone who has made it explicit they no longer want contact with you?" Why didn't friends go over to his space and insist on shaming him? At that time, I did not understand why I was ignored, shamed and shunned. I had never asked any of our shared friends to choose sides - I merely wanted to be left alone to heal. Why was taking a stand to be left in peace a crime? I was baffled and became increasingly depressed. I slept constantly, taking naps 8 to 10 times a day. I fell behind in all my schoolwork, became frazzled and was paranoid, watching my back all the time. I jumped at little noises. I stopped leaving my house except to go to class or work. There came a day when I intuited that my "heart" had become black. I later fell apart physically - developing chronic insomnia and low blood sugar - which I believe was due to the 2 1/2 years of distress and the subsequent 6 months of heightened fear from the stalking - my adrenaline glands had done overtime and, when I finally felt safe enough to relax, collapsed.
The campus was small enough that I "ran into" Raphael constantly. Even after the restraining order was fixed, he still harassed me by walking the minimum number of yards behind me and whistling as I walked to class or home. I reported this to the campus police, but they were nonplussed. "Did he make physical contact with you?", a policeman would ask. "Or leave a phone message or letter?..If not, we have no evidence, so we have no case."
Essentially, the laws are written in the criminal's favor. I had to wait for something very major to happen - injury or death - to get Raphael arrested and away from me. Perhaps it was the nonchalance in any of the policemen's expressions that further "made light" of my situation (and I mean police "men" because the policewomen, though I had no direct contact with them about the situation, when they overheard me speaking about this, showed more empathy.) To them, what I was experiencing was not trauma brought on by someone who was deranged and abusive, but something that was almost illusory.
I was determined, at the end of the semester, when I finished my classes, to leave. A sympathetic friend of mine offered to let me stay with her in her apartment in Seattle. I thought seriously about the offer until, when I was visiting her, to my horror, I saw Raphael slowly bicycling down a street near her house (he had no idea where she lived and she was unlisted in the phone book.) Not even Seattle was large enough for Raphael and me. The whole state of Washington wasn't large enough, so I moved to another state, had an unlisted number, created a new life.
My story does not end there. Although the stalking happened over four years ago and I am still careful to not have my name listed, I apparently was not careful enough, because, just the other week, Raphael sent me an email. It is ironic that the people I know who know both him and me (namely my family and a few close friends), who have not been in abusive relationships themselves have laughed off my paranoia of keeping my whereabouts a secret. Like "Adam" who talked to interviewer Tracy Johnston27 about his ex-wife Julia, who had to "rearrange her hair or tie a scarf around her forehead to cover the bruises"28 from his violent outbursts, he never thought that it was completely over between the two of them, even after she "walked out on him one day without a word....Adam has not seen her since. But even after five years, he does not altogether discount the possibility of their getting back together."29
After reading so many accounts of women who have undergone the same nightmare as myself, I consider myself fortuRaphael - while the abuse was traumatic, it was not as frequent or as ferociously violent as some - and, despite my lack of support from some areas and some people, I did receive some support, at least in the legal aspects of dealing with a stalker. My life was uncomplicated - I was neither married nor had children - and the restraining order was simple to achieve. I surmise that, 20 years ago, I would have been receiving greater disdain and rejection and been told to "just work things out", that, "boys will be boys" or, "he doesn't really mean it, he really loves you," - the rhetoric so many women, then and now, have swallowed.
What will change domestic violence?
I believe our current widespread dilemma won't change, until society stops blaming the victim and starts taking women and the female experience seriously. Society needs to value everyone's right to a life "free of bodily harm," with no exceptions. Domestic violence needs to come out from the "taboo shadow", especially since at least 1 in 4 women will have experienced it at least once in their lifetime.30 And assault, in any situation, whether it takes place in the home with intimates or on the streets with strangers, should be treated the same and given no tolerance. Assaults that take place in the home should not be tried in civic and family courts but in criminal courts.
1 Del Martin, Battered Wives (San Francisco: Volcano Press, 1981)
12 I do not assume, when I write about "domestic violence" that this pertains only when a man is the abuser and the woman the abused. Many more incidents of men being abused, battered, by their spouses and partners are being reported, and this is often even more insidious because men are often not believed, and when they call the police, the police are often ready to take the victim males in handcuffs. And, at this point, there are few shelters for abused men. Lesbian and gay couples are no strangers to domestic violence, either. But for this paper, I will focus on the heterosexual couple, where the male partner is the abuser and instigator of abuse.
13 Del Martin, Battered Wives (San Francisco: Volcano Press, 1981) xiv.
14 Ibid. , 5.
15 Adam Edward Jukes, Men Who Batter Women (New York: Routledge, 1999) 48.
16 Carol Stevens, "How Women Get Bad Medicine", article from Women: Images and Realities (Mountain View, California: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1999) 269. Reads: " The exclusion of women from medical research was a deliberate policy. Women were excluded for two reasons: Their bodies are more complicated. And they can have babies."
17 William Ryan, Blaming the Victim (New York: Random House, 1976) 5.
18 Del Martin, Battered Wives (San Francisco: Volcano Press, 1981) 5-6.
19 Richard Zoglin, "Blaming the Victim: O.J. Simpson is Back in Court with a New Defense Strategy that Aims to Put his Slain Ex-Wife on Trial" Nation 4 November 1996.
20 Del Martin, Battered Wives (San Francisco: Volcano Press, 1981) 6.
21 Ann Jones, Next Time, Sheíll Be Dead (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994) 8.
22 Del Martin, Battered Wives (San Francisco: Volcano Press, 1981) 2-4.
23 Ibid., 16-17.
24 Ann Jones, Next Time, Sheíll Be Dead (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994) 23.
26 "Lethality Indicators" Catholic Services < http://comnet.org/adacss/LethalityInformation.html>
27 Ibid. 47.
29 Ibid. 48.
30 Stephany Borges, Intro to Women's Studies class, February, 2000.
31 Del Martin, Battered Wives (San Francisco: Volcano Press, 1981) 17.