Una por una estoy borrando las huellas que has dejado sobre mi cuerpo
Estoy reconociendo mi fuerza
Y si por un dia se te ocurre volver a mi vida,
Mi cuerpo pueda correr cuando mi alma ya no puede
I think it’s time I write this post. I’ve seen too much violence directed towards women and it’s time to lay down some truth. If you have ever been affected by an abusive relationship whether it was witnessing or being in one, this post is for you.
It’s hard for me to talk about domestic violence for two reasons. The obvious one is because it feels so close to personal experiences. The other is because before I knew much about domestic violence I was one of those people that would be upset at women who didn’t leave. Seeing it first hand, and having the knowledge I now have I understand why she doesn’t leave after the first time, or even the second or even the third. Hopefully she has a support system who doesn’t abandon her so that when she is ready to leave after the umpteenth time there is a place for her to go. On average it takes a victim 7 times to leave an abuser. Personally it took me 4 attempts to finally break the cycle.
The truth is no one walks into a relationship thinking they are going to be abused. Perpetrators are skilled at covering up their behavior. They idolize you, they seem like the perfect partner, they are ready to jump into a relationship with you and get married and have children together. You think maybe I’ve finally found my person. Then the isolation starts. He doesn’t like your friends, he doesn’t like your family, so you hang around them less. He doesn’t want to go out and prefers to stay in more. He controls all the finances and you earn less, so soon it’s like you only have him. Then the disrespect starts. You burnt dinner so you’re a “stupid” woman, he sees you talking to a male coworker and you’re a “slut”. You dated someone before he doesn’t like and now you’re “disgusting”. You start to get the feeling that no one else would want you and you’re lucky he does. Usually the threats start sometime soon after. It might be threats to harm your family, harm the children or harm you. Threats leads to actual violence. Sometimes it’s battery, sometimes it’s sexual violence. Sometimes it’s both but he always apologizes, promises that it won’t happen again. And then the cycle repeats itself until it leads to stalking, denial of financial resources, or even murder. The woman can leave during any point of the cycle, but when she does leave her life is at greatest danger. The retaliation from leaving if she is caught is one of the reasons women don’t leave.
There are other reasons too, like being economically dependent on the perpetrator, fear of physical danger to yourself or the children in the home, perpetrators sometimes threaten to steal the children so the women can’t see them. She may fear going through the court system knowing that the outcome is not always great for a victim of domestic violence. Sometimes she doesn’t leave because she knows it is going to mean a lot of huge life changes and she has no idea where to start rebuilding, or because she has ties to the community, or he keeps promising he’s going to change and in her heart she believes him, or because her family and her religion encourage her not to leave.
I keep talking about this like it’s only a women’s issue, but men are affected to. It’s estimated that annually 835,000 men are physically assaulted by their partner. Although it’s hard to know exactly because less than 25% of violence is ever reported to the police. It is an issue however, that disproportionately affects women. Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women, more than car accidents, muggings and rape combined. 94% of victims of murder suicides are female. And it can happen to anyone of any racial background, any economic background, any sexual orientation, and any religious background. Abusers do not discriminate.
I’m telling you this so that you don’t judge a woman who hasn’t left. Know that there might be legitimate reasons she stays that are incomprehensible to you. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t need you. That doesn’t mean she can do this on her own. Because when she finally leaves she needs a safe place.
Years ago I was in a relationship that I didn’t know was abusive. I didn’t recognize I was isolated, I didn’t recognize that the demeaning way he was speaking to me was to assert power, I didn’t think the threats held any real weight. One night sticks out in my memory far above the others. We had gotten into an argument because I was trying to get him to stay out of a fight. I wanted to go home. I was so angry that he would fight someone for just walking into the same establishment he was standing in. I stormed out and he chased after me. I needed to get to my car but we had come in his car. I got in, still upset. He started driving. I asked he take me to my car, to leave me alone. We were both yelling. He was angry I dared tell him what he shouldn’t do. I was angry that he wasn’t thinking through the consequences. He turned in the opposite direction of where my car was parked. I was calculating how bad it would be if I rolled out of a moving car. I decided to wait until he stopped. He took me to his place. I tried getting out of the car but he locked the door. I manually unlocked the door and started running down the sidewalk to get as far away as I could. But before I got anywhere he was in front of me. He pinned my arms so tight I couldn’t move. I tried using my heels to hit him so he would get off me. He loosened his grip and I sprinted. I was sprinting in 5 inch heels. At some point I fell over and stopped to take them off and I hadn’t noticed he had gotten in his car and went after me. I began running in panic. But he was taller than me and much stronger and much quicker. And his car was blocking my path. I crumbled to a sobbing mess on the floor and he picked me up and put me in his car. I stayed quiet, I sobbed quietly. I didn’t say anything else. He took me to my car and I went home. I did break up with him after that. But he came back saying he wouldn’t act like that again. And I believed him. Two days later we showed up at an event, pretending everything was great between us.
I didn’t tell anyone about what happened until months later, after we had been broken up for a few months. The friend I told was shocked. It was through her that I was able to understand that the nature of our relationship was abusive. I was lucky, I didn’t have bruises, or scratches or experienced much in physical abuse. But my abuse was under the surface. Even though I left him I still believed no one else would ever be interested in me. I was skeptical of anyone that did seem interested because my alarm bells were ringing. I was always hyper alert feeling I was being watched. Turned out I was. He threatened my family, he threatened me if he ever saw me dating someone else. It’s taken a long time and a lot of self care to un-do the damage. You couldn’t see the abuse but it was very much real.
But I left, not after the first time, not after the 2nd time, not even after the third. 4 times to finally leave.
Now when I look at the patterns I shiver. What would have happened if it took me 5 times? All the behaviors were there. Would it have turned physically abusive? He owned a gun. Would he ever feel like using it on me? Now when I look back and remember how I felt I understand why I didn’t leave. Now I understand why other women don’t leave.
I got out of that because some words of love got me to see that relationship for what it was. Some very strong people never left my side. Some amazing people didn’t see me as less of a person for what had happened.
I’m telling you so that you do not turn your back on the woman who doesn’t leave. I’m telling you so that you understand it can happen to anyone. And I’m telling you because she is going to need you when she does leave, and if you’re not there, she’s at risk of going back.