Where It Begins

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Life. It holds so many uncertainties. So many inequalities. So many injustices. As a human race we are a profound, complicated, and diverse people. Some are driven by power and riches. While others are driven by love and the need to help others. What makes us so different? What drives one person to be hateful and yet another to be understanding? There are so many factors that affect our behaviors and frame of mind. The majority of those influences take place during our childhood, when every decision, situation, reward, and consequence molds us into the adults we eventually become. With that being said, will childhood bullies develop into abusive adults? It would seem the most understandable outcome, since bullying is a child’s way of exuding power and control over their peers. So then, are we wrong to assume that a child displaying bullying behavior will only continue to intimidate and abuse others later in life?

Most children who display bully-like behaviors are experiencing abuse themselves . . .


According to a study performed and published to the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, it has been confirmed that bullying as a child can be an early precursor to adult domestic partner violence perpetration, at least in men. The study was done in Boston and focused on men at three different community centers. The study suggests that men who exhibited frequent bullying in school were at a much higher risk for aggressive and abusive behavior toward intimate partners. Of course, this is only one study that took place among a group of men, confined to one area. However, this has been a question for years before any studies were recorded. Another study published in the September 2010 Psychiatric Quarterly states that adults with a history of bullying are 10 times more likely to lie than those with no history. The study also suggests that they have a higher likelihood of stealing and cheating. Concerns are, of course, not limited to men that were bullies. There are plenty of girls known to have bullied their classmates, as well.

So where do we begin?  Is it possible to rectify the behavior of a bully in order to prevent abusive tendencies as an adult? We must first look at the environment of the child in question. Most children who display bully-like behaviors are experiencing abuse themselves, or they are witnessing Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) between their parents. Unfortunately, without just cause or evidence that those children are in danger, they cannot be removed from those situations. It’s up to us to help inform children, at their young and impressionable ages, of what abuse looks like and how it affects others. Parents that have children in school can look into what programs are implemented to prevent bullying. And if you don’t have a child in school, but you want to help raise awareness you can look into programs being used in your local school districts. Are the programs effective? What can the community do to help promote them? What programs are being applied that are also available to parents and community members? How can we better a child’s home environment? These are just a few small steps to get where we need to be. It takes action to get a reaction, and we want that reaction to be a decrease in the amount of bullying taking place among our children. In turn, we will see less IPV in the future.

I recently became aware that my 13-year-old son is dealing with bullies at his school. It is incredibly alarming to know that these boys are subjecting him to belittlement, humiliation, and rejection. The mental deterioration that takes place during abuse can be devastating. I have taken action and scheduled counseling sessions for my son. This allows him the ability to express his feelings to someone in order to gain an understanding that he is not worthless, dumb, or ugly as these kids make him feel. But what of the bullies? They also need guidance. They need an understanding that their behavior is not okay and could possibly lead to harsher behavior as an adult. Domestic violence awareness and our fight to end it starts with our children. It starts in our schools. It starts in our communities. It starts with our future generation. We will never see an end or decrease in abuse until we stop the behavior before it begins.

I urge you to stand up in your community. Make your voice heard. For the sake of our children, put an end to bullying. We need to make a difference, we need to fight to end abuse, and we need to start where it begins.

 

~ Christa Gayle

 

 

Broken Record

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Laughter fills the air, people flood the shopping malls, couples frolic about hand in hand, and Salvation Army bells ring on almost every corner. The holidays bring families together and are the time of year that everyone strives to bring some type of meaning to the end of another year. The main focus of those around us has been to ensure that gifts were bought and wrapped and neatly placed under the tree for our loved ones. Unfortunately, not everyone experiences joy during the Christmas season. Domestic violence does not take a break for the holidays. Sometimes, the strain of the festivities can exacerbate an abusive relationship. There are many factors during this time of year that play a part in pushing abusers to their limits: financial stress, higher alcohol consumption, and tension between families. This is no excuse for their behavior, but rather a catalyst or justification for them to take out their frustrations on those closest to them. Many of us find that we question why the victim stays. Why do they subject themselves to the torture? Why don’t they just leave? We should be asking the question, why does the abuser put them through so much pain?

We are all guilty of questioning the victim’s motives in staying in a toxic relationship. I’m guilty of it, and I was a victim to verbal abuse for 12 years. I was one of the statistics that stayed and gave chance after chance, which left my family wondering why I wouldn’t just leave. Why is it that our society is automatically ready to place the blame on the victim?

“Well, she went back to him again, she should know better. I won’t feel sorry for her the next time he hits her.”

While family members can only handle so much pain, watching their sister/brother/cousin go through an abusive relationship, we also need to remember that abusers have an incredible hold on their victims.

He only viewed me as an object and not a person . . . It was not an easy revelation. It was devastating . . . at the time.

Their techniques of manipulation and control, with empty promises of change, allow them the ability to sink their talons into the victim and pull them back into their clutches, time and time again. When an abuser thinks they are going to lose the victim that they have spent so much time molding into their little puppet, they will bombard them with relentless phone calls and text messages of undying love. It’s up to us to help the victim become aware of what is happening to them, to help open their eyes to the reality of their situation and give them the confidence to cut themselves loose. This isn’t done easily, and they must be approached delicately. The main thing they need from their friends and family is support. Any attempt to heavily persuade or shame them into leaving their abuser will only drive them further away from you.

When looking back at my situation, I recalled a time when my sister brought to my attention the cycle of abuse wheel. When I first looked at it, I saw that I could relate to every single aspect on the wheel, but then something inside me flipped a switch. I had been manipulated for so long that I believed all of the issues in my marriage were my fault. I looked at my sister and said, “Maybe I’m the abuser.” She stopped immediately and didn’t mention any more of it. She simply requested that I do a little research for myself. After I left him, she later confessed to me about how terrifying that moment was for her. At first thinking she was finally opening my eyes to the reality of my situation to  then fearing she may have caused more damage, she was scared to press the matter any further.

We should never underestimate the harm that years of manipulation can cause. I have been tossing the memories back and forth, trying to find some way my family could have approached me early on that I would have been willing to listen openly. I have yet to come up with anything. In the mind of the victim they think they deserve the treatment, manipulated to believe that they are abused because of something they did. They will immediately defend their abuser, or become offended if anyone else points out the abuser’s bad behavior. We have often heard the response, “But you don’t know him like I do.” They will make excuses for the behavior of their abuser, they will believe wholeheartedly that he is going to change this time, that he loves them. After it was brought to my attention that I was in an abusive relationship, it took about a year before I realized nothing was ever going to change unless I made the change myself.

I couldn’t escape the hold my abuser had over me until I realized he never actually loved me. He only viewed me as an object and not as a person: something for him to vent his frustrations on, something to exert control over, something to mold and to shape. When I let myself realize this, I was  no longer persuaded by his empty promises and his declarations of unending love. I saw through the lies and was able to claim my life back. The cycle of abuse wheel planted the seed and I began recognizing the patterns of his behavior. I saw our dynamic as though it were a broken record, the constant repetition of abuse and promises, abuse and promises. It was not an easy revelation. It was devastating . . . at the time. But I am happier and healthier now than I ever was during those twelve years.

Now the holidays are a time for being around those I love and who truly love me.

~Christa G.

Gang for Justice

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While I sit here writing this post, there is a gang of over 30,000 women in Northern India, wearing pink saris, brandishing bamboo sticks (lathis), fighting for women’s rights and justice. They are called the Gulabi Gang and their leader Sampat Pal Devi, is a formidable force. They were born out of one of the poorest rural areas where women are discriminated against on the account of being female and poor. In an area where child-marriages, dowries, and domestic violence rule the social construct, Sampat is tearing down these harmful traditions by means of persuasion, education, and sometimes force. If a man beats his wife and Sampat hears about it, she and her gang of woman warriors will travel to that man’s house with their bamboo sticks at the ready.

The treatment of women before the start of Sampat’s Gulabi Gang was appalling, with accounts of girls being burned, beaten, or sold as children wives. Sampat is now a feared leader, her reputation and her strong debating skills swaying those who oppose her to the side of reason. The birth of this gang began rather unexpectedly. Sampat witnessed a man beating his wife, she pleaded with him to stop but he beat her, as well. The next day, she returned with five other women and beat the man with bamboo sticks. This story spread. Women began coming to her, asking for her help. Soon she had a following of thousands. They proudly march through their villages in pink saris, fighting corruption and abuse. They consider themselves a ‘gang for justice.’

It just took one woman to stand up and declare that she had enough! So what will it take before we also stand up and declare that we have had enough? When will we wield our own proverbial lathis and become a ‘gang for justice’? I’m not suggesting we literally beat our abusers into submission. Although, to be honest, I have fantasized about that on occasion. But I am suggesting we take on a more aggressive approach. We must systematically work on eradicating violence and emotional abuse.

We march through the city in our ‘pink saris’ with our ‘lathis’ and we let the world know that this is no longer okay.

Our children are being indoctrinated with the toxins of manipulation and violence, stemming from a lack of education. We grow up in abusive environments, thinking it is normal. We repeat that behavior in front of our children, then they repeat that behavior to their children, and so the cycle continues, until it is part of our genetic makeup. I know this sounds radical, but bear with me. According to Safe Horizon, “more than 3 million children witness domestic violence in their homes every year” and “without help, boys who witness domestic violence are far more likely to become abusers of their partners and/or children as adults, thus continuing the cycle of violence in the next generation. Without help, girls who witness domestic violence are more vulnerable to abuse as teens and adults.”

How do we combat this sensitive and highly erosive problem? We speak out against it. We march through the city in our ‘pink saris’ with our ‘lathis’ and we let the world know that this is no longer okay, this is no longer normal. We let others know that there is help out there, warriors of our own that run safe houses for victims and programs that help build economic independence. We make sure our children know what a healthy relationship is. We make sure our children can witness a healthy marriage or union. Domestic violence should no longer be a hushed topic that is tucked away or snuffed out. All of its dirty little secrets should be brought to light, so the ugly truth is there for all to see.

It only takes one person to start a movement. Will you be the next Sampat Pal Devi? Will you speak out against abuse? Help us and our communities by refusing to give in to the oppression of abuse and the toll it takes on all of us. This is not an isolated issue. Abuse affects us all. It affects our schools, our children, our community, our work, and our future as a society. It is time we took a stand. Help us fight for justice!

How can you help? Share your own stories with friends and family, you never know who needs to hear. Share our blog to help spread the word. Leave a comment if you have your own experience or story to tell, you may help at least one person realize they are not alone.

*image pulled from Plaid Zebra

~Lindsey V.

House Ablaze

This week’s post comes to you with much heartache. I cried while writing it. I cried while reading it to my husband. My sister cried when proofing it. But it is not just my story to tell. And it is not my place to make it public. I am sometimes too candid, too open. It was an experience that I find still deeply troubles me. When you have a loved one caught in an abusive relationship, that loved one is not the only victim. That loved one’s abuser has affected your life too. For years I watched my sister give in to the oppression of her abuser. The emptiness in her eyes, the ghost of a weary warrior, haunted me. I wanted her back. I wanted her happy again so we could all be happy again.

You have to resist the instinct to “rescue” your friend from her situation. In order for her to gain freedom, she must have the freedom to choose to leave.

. . . she is trapped and she is burning, but she stays because it is her home and she cannot leave.

You may want to shake her and scream at her, “Why do you stay?! He is awful to you! How can you not see?!” You may want to simply order her to do as you say, “I don’t care what you say, you’re coming with me, I’m getting you out of here.” All of these actions will only drive her further away from you and she will not feel comfortable coming to you for help in the future. The best help you can give is to offer your support. Let her know that you are there when she needs you and that you will never judge her. Offer her specific help, like money or transportation or a place to stay. Offer her anything that will enable her to leave and do not demand anything in exchange. For further help on this matter, read this article and know that there is hope for your friend.

Helping a loved one in an abusive relationship is one of the hardest and most heartbreaking things you could ever do. Imagine a friend or family member caught in a burning house. The entire structure is crumbling around her, everything is engulfed in flames. You cry out to her, pointing out a clear path, beckoning her to a spot of safety. But she remains, claiming the house is fine. She can put out the fire. She has it under control. But you see the flames begin to lick her legs, she is trapped and she is burning, but she stays because it is her home and she cannot leave.

Do not give up hope. Be there for her. Be always ready to help her once she escapes the blaze.

We have received numerous comments from our readers in the blogosphere and our readers on Facebook, commending us for our courage and our bravery in sharing our personal experiences in an effort to raise awareness. And I don’t think I fully understood that compliment until now. With every past experience that we write, we are reliving that moment of our history. And sometimes we worry about being too offensive. Part of me feels like we are still cowering under the control of our past abusers. Part of me wishes all of our readers were strangers, then what would it matter? But the truth is . . . some parts of our past need to remain private for just a little longer. Perhaps one day we will share my first draft of this post. I don’t know.

~Lindsey V.