Stranger Danger

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Why do so many of us fall into a trap of being conned by those closest to us? Whether it be a sibling, a parent, a spouse, or a friend, we seem to be blinded by love or by their sweet words and promises. Yet from a young age, we are taught about “stranger danger” and to be wary of those trying to scam us out of our hard-earned savings or cheat us into buying a worthless car. We are told to never trust a TV evangelist or a door-to-door salesman. Our mothers are constantly warning us to never walk alone at night and always have mace handy. “Stranger Danger” is something that is preached to us at home and at school. In our mind, we are conditioned to believe that the most harm that can come to us is from a stranger. But the sad truth is, we can receive more harm from our “loved” ones.

Why is that? Why are we warned about the dangers of strangers over the dangers of those we think we know best? How long has society just accepted domestic abuse as a part of life? And how many of us have thought it would never happen to us or anyone we know?

For years, domestic abuse was a hush topic, even more so than it is today. Victims were blamed for the abuse or shamed for it. There were no laws or orders of protection that would help the victims. And there were no shelters. Hundreds of years ago, it was even legal for a man to beat his wife, just as he could beat his apprentices and children. In some areas of the world today, it is still a legal practice. This is because women and children were considered property. They had no individual rights and were solely dependent on the man who “owned” them. When women began to have more legal recognition and gained the right to vote or to own property themselves, then the law began to change its attitude toward domestic abuse. The first shelter for battered women was opened only as recently as 1973. And, even more recently, The Family Violence Prevention Services Act passed through Congress in 1984 (one year before I was born). So there’s probably many around my age or older whose parents never gave them a talk about domestic abuse.

I was never shown the Power and Control Wheel. Sure, I knew that domestic violence was totally a thing and definitely a danger to look out for. But I wasn’t told specifically what signs to watch for. I knew what attributes to look for in a man—responsible, caring, handsome, polite, and funny. The problem with that is, they all start out that way. They are charmers. They say and act exactly how they think you want them to and when they have you where they want, the truth seeps out. Little things, here and there. Little comments that begin to undermine your sanity. My ex, when we first started dating, claimed he loved to cook for those he cared about. He started out cooking all the time for us. Then it eventually morphed into him complaining that he always cooked for me. Then he tried to train me to cook for him. Then I could never cook right or cooked too loudly, waking him up while he was napping. In the beginning, he was on his best behavior.

In our mind, we are conditioned to believe that the most harm that can come to us is from a stranger.


My lack of education in regards to abuse was no fault of my parents, they also were not told of the dangers of verbal or physical abuse. And those that may have experienced abuse themselves, may have just assumed their abuser was a rotten egg. There was no information floating around in the cosmos, warning people of the pattern of abuse. There were no courses at school warning us of how damaging domestic abuse could be to ourselves and those around us. We were shown videos on how to say no to sex and drugs—don’t even get me started on my thoughts about the state of sex education in our schools. We were shown presentations on the dangers of drinking while under the influence. But there was never a presentation of domestic abuse, no questionnaire, no Cycle of Abuse diagram, no Power and Control Wheel, not even a pamphlet or brochure. I didn’t even know emotional abuse was a thing, until I googled it in an airport restaurant immediately after breaking up with my abusive ex-boyfriend. I had only ever heard of physical abuse. I did not realize emotional manipulation was something to watch out for in a relationship. I just thought some people could be shitty to one another. I had no idea that there was a name for it or that there was a clear pattern of behavior, or even the damaging effects it could cause both mentally and physically.

This needs to change. We have to educate our kids about abuse. The biggest danger out there can come from those we trust, those we let in to our lives. I don’t want our children to grow up fearing intimacy. I don’t want us to spread paranoia. The more information we give on abuse, the more informed our kids will be in making life-changing decisions. Let’s teach our children and the children in our communities that domestic abuse is no longer acceptable and we all have the power to stop it.

~Lindsey V.

Not Just a Statistic

 

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There I was again. Sitting. Alone. Crying. Over what? Most of the time I was left confused, and struggling to understand why I was being yelled at and degraded, yet again. What did I do to deserve this, was a question that constantly plagued my mind. This time was different. He had wrung out every last hope I had for us. I had been mistreated, disrespected, degraded, and neglected for so long I had no room to accept any more empty apologies. This time, I left for good.

As I sat across from a desk and listened intently to my lawyer, the severity of my situation quickly came to light. He strongly suggested that I get myself and my children into a Safe House until the situation died down. I had just explained to him the chain of events that had taken place over the last several years leading up to leaving my ex. My lawyer looked at my father and me with sincere concern. He stressed the fact that he had seen far less abusive situations, in which the estranged spouse had no history of domestic abuse, PTSD, or drug abuse, still end in tragedy. My ex possessed all of those histories. The realization of the possibility of becoming a statistic was chilling.

. . . 1 in 4 women will experience severe physical violence in their lifetime.

Against the suggestion of my lawyer, I opted to move two hours away from my ex, instead of staying in a Safe House. Besides, the Safe Houses near me were all full and I didn’t know about other organizations, such as ALIVE Inc. (Alternatives to Living In Violent Environments). So I moved in with my parents, and felt comfortable with the fact that we had some distance between us. After a year-long battle over debt, our divorce was finalized and I was able to get back to a normal life. Unfortunately, this is not the reality for many victims of domestic violence. Too often, it ends in the death of an innocent person trying to break free from their abuser.

The CDC’s Division of Violence Prevention states that Intimate Partner Violence is a serious, preventable public health problem that affects millions of Americans and results in serious consequences for victims, families, and communities.

  • In an average minute, about 24 people are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner.
  • In 2010, 241 males and 1095 females were murdered by an intimate partner.
  • In one year, more than 12 million women and men reported being a victim of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner.
  • In their lifetime, 1 in 4 women (24.3%) and 1 in 7 men (13.8%) report experiencing severe physical violence (e.g., hit with a fist or something hard, beaten, slammed against something) by an intimate partner.

At first I was surprised to find that the Center for Disease Control would have a division dedicated to violence prevention. But as I began to think about all of the issues caused by abuse, it made perfect sense. Not only is domestic violence to blame for thousands of deaths and millions of injuries each year, it is also a main factor for mental health issues. Domestic violence leads to millions of people being diagnosed each year with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, and other mental illnesses. Help spread awareness, support your local safe houses, and let’s find a cure to end domestic violence.

~Christa G.

Too Many Chances

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I want to make something abundantly clear. If you are being abused, and your abuser is not taking responsibility for his/her actions, you need to leave that relationship as soon as possible. There is nothing you can say or do that will make your abuser change. And they will say or do anything to keep you because, chances are, you have stayed longer than you should and they have invested too much time and energy on you to lose you. They may promise to go to counseling with you. They may promise to do better and treat you right. They may promise to never cheat on you again. They may allow you more temporary freedom, to buy what you want or do what you want. This is called the “Honeymoon” phase. And it always precedes the “Tension” phase, which always precedes the “Violence” phase, which is always followed by the “Honeymoon” phase. This pattern is textbook stuff. It’s not a case by case basis. Every abusive relationship has these three cycling stages.

Your abuser treats you that way because they do not relate to you as a human being. You are an object or representation of an idea. Have you ever wondered how someone who loves you could treat you so horribly? It’s because they can only see how your existence benefits them. Never the other way around. Everything they do or say, is in regards to manipulating you as an object for their own purpose. This sounds harsh, but these are lifesaving revelations. I don’t think I would have ever left my abusive ex had I not read this while doing my own research.

If you don’t want to burn bridges just yet, I suggest at least separating for awhile. But do not spend all of your time with him and do not live with him. This is vital to you breaking free of his control. Allow yourself to form other bonds and friendships again. Allow some time to pamper yourself and not to worry about how everything you do will affect him. Reflect on your life with him and determine for yourself if the relationship is good for you. Go to counseling. You may find that you won’t want to go back to him and there is nothing wrong with that. Even if he does manage to change himself and become a better man, you are not obligated to go back to him. Abuse is extremely traumatizing. Never let anyone pressure you to stay in an abusive relationship. Do not let your church, your family, or your community shame you into staying “to work it out” or “ to be a good, dutiful wife.” It’s your body, your mind, your freedom that we are talking about here.

If there’s anything I want our readers to glean from this post, it’s that there can be misinformed people who may mean well in your life. These people may know a little bit about abuse themselves, they may have their own testimonies or claim to have known someone in a similar situation. They may give you advice that they think is fair. They may even tell you God will fix it, or he’s just going through a “phase.” And that’s fine, but God can fix your abuser’s behavioral problems without you having to suffer through any more abuse. And if he’s going through a “phase,” he can go through it without you. Because the longer you stay, the more he knows it’s okay to repeat the cycle of abuse again and again and again.

 

~Lindsey V.

Speechless

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Not all abusive relationships are with intimate partners. Some happen between co-workers, friends, or siblings. And then there are the ones between parent and child. When we think about child abuse, we often think about the children that are beat, locked in closets, and starved. Verbal abuse is the most prevalent type of abuse, and it takes place without being recognized. Tonight we share one such story with you from the perspective of a teenager, who for safety purposes, wishes to remain anonymous. The first key to overcoming manipulation and verbal abuse is to recognize that it’s taking place. Here is a piece of her journey. . .

 

One blow after another shot straight into my chest and mind. I will admit, I wasn’t prepared at all. The words I had gathered up to say had all been blown to smithereens, leaving me hopeless, confused, and lost. I had been preparing the things to tell him the entire ride here, staring out the car window at the trees that blurred by. However, now my brain’s gears had stopped grinding, and I was left speechless. His refusal to let me speak my mind was like a rope keeping my thoughts and opinions at bay. My father always had to have things his way, and he had such a manipulative way of talking it was hard not to give in to his will. The conversations I had with him were like the most intense battle I had ever seen, and I lost every time. I don’t know if it was because of fear, if my game plans weren’t good enough, or if I just didn’t have the will to speak louder than before.

I guess I need to start from the beginning. My parents divorced when I was twelve, and I wasn’t that surprised or hurt by it. They had been arguing all my life, and I never saw my father much, because he was always away, either at work or in his room. Life hustled on like always, and I just went with it, going wherever the winds of fate blew me. However, I didn’t really agree with how my father decided to live his life. He had been smoking since he was in the army, which was when he was around eighteen or nineteen. I had tried to get him to quit for so long, and those turned into miniscule arguments on their own. The point was, when I tried to tell him my opinions, he always shrugged it off with a look on his face that said, “I’m always right, and nothing you say will contradict that.” I never wanted to feel that ashamed again, I was frightened of that feeling of error. I hated it, the feeling of a scorching face as covered lies were thrown at me. Even though they weren’t the truth, the way he twisted it around made it feel like they were. I wanted to speak back, but I couldn’t make out the words. I was too afraid of that feeling, but little did I know, he was too.

One heated argument has really stood out to me. It happened a few years ago, when I had just turned thirteen. I was in my father’s apartment. It was an extremely small basement apartment, with only two rooms and one bathroom. It had a tiny kitchen, which did not have an oven, and the microwave gave off a wretched smell when we used it. I was sitting on the ragged green couch in our living room when I got a text from my mother. I didn’t know that this small text would be the cause of my horrible embarrassment later on. The text read, “How are you guys doing? What are you up to?”

I answered truthfully, “We’re not really doing anything, Dad’s in his room asleep.”

She answered me back, “Okay, well, text me if you need anything.”

Little did I know, my mom was going to get on to my father about how he was asleep, when he should be spending what little time he had with us. I was on my phone for a little bit longer when my father stormed into the living room. He looked tired, but extremely frustrated and upset.

“Jenny! Why did I just get a text from your mother telling me I should be a better father?” He bellowed.

“I-I just told her that you were asleep . . .” I stammered. His glare was putting me in the position of a mouse trapped by a cat.

“You don’t need to tell her anything!”

I opened my mouth to say something, but he kept talking.

“This isn’t her house! She isn’t here anymore! You don’t have to tell her every little thing we do!”

“I’m really sorry, I didn’t think she would get that mad . . .” I apologized. He didn’t pay my apology any attention, and just kept ranting.

He shouted more and more, for what seemed like hours. I wasn’t really listening through half of it. Instead, I was hugging my pillow, trying to hide my tears. I tried blocking him out, pleading in my mind for him to just stop already. I understood, I was sorry, and I wanted it to end so I could go back to doing whatever I was doing before I got that stupid text! I tuned in a little bit to what he was saying now.

“I might just have you leave your phone at your mother’s house so you can’t contact her at all!” My father was threatening.

I felt outraged. That wasn’t fair at all! My cheeks felt like they were burning, but I couldn’t think of a word to say that he wouldn’t contradict. I racked my mind for any kind of phrase or sentence that might hit home to him. What if I told him it was unfair? No, he’d probably just say that telling Mom everything we’re doing is unfair. Thoughts of things to tell him raced through my mind, only to be shot down by my other ones. The result ended with me not saying anything. I just sat there, vulnerable, like a sitting duck. Speechless.

Eventually, his rant died down, and it was quiet. It was a horrible, awkward silence. I had so much to say, but I hid it, and he had run out of things to say. We kind of sat in that silence for a little while, until he just walked away. Leaving me alone to my thoughts.

Time passed and I was still on the couch, my face a little pink from the crying. My dad walked in, and tried to apologize. I forgave him, of course, because he’s my dad, and I love him. I know he loves me too, he just, has his days. I don’t think he’ll ever really understand my feelings, because I don’t think I’ll ever have the guts to tell him. I know, deep down, that I’m going to have to tell him eventually. However, I don’t think that time is now. I have told myself over and over, I’m just waiting for the right moment

Well, I think that moment might be soon, really soon, but I might need a little more time to think about what I’m going to say.