In the United States, every nine seconds, a woman is victimized by domestic violence; six women a minute, 360 women in an hour and 8,640 women each day. [ Source ]
The Division of Violence Prevention through the CDC didn’t start collecting accurate and reliable incidence and prevalence estimates for intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and stalking victimization until 2010. The results of this report showed that in the United States, an estimated 19.3% of women (or around 23 million women) have been raped during their lifetimes. An estimated 1.7% of men (or almost 2.0 million men) were raped during their lifetimes. Now please, let’s remember, most people never report this type of incident, domestic abuse especially, is a largely invisible crime. An estimated 43.9% of women experienced sexual violence other than rape during their lifetimes. Sadly, more often than not, the victims knew their attacker.
“I let it happen.”
“I knew what was happening was wrong. I knew that it was a brutal violation and a betrayal of trust and love, but I refused to “give up.”
I mean, what if I had said something differently, or handled a situation differently. What if those egg shells I was walking on could have been brushed out of the way some how? What if my lifeboat were bigger or the life preserver had more space or … ? What if I dress different or do something different to calm him down and make him happy? I must not be fulfilling him. I must not be enough.
You get very good at treading water, at covering bruises, at flipping the switch to take yourself away, like an out of body experience. You want to fix it. And you think you can. But you can’t. You can’t. You even begin to resent yourself.
I call it a “neurological civil war” not sure if that phrase has ever been used before, but that’s how it feels. You are psychologically torn between what you know to be true and what you want to believe. Torn between not wanting to give up hope and torn between knowing you may not survive if you don’t give up. And it’s hard. It’s so hard. “Maybe this time will be different. Maybe this time s/he will change.” Right? From the outside it might seem easy and obvious, I know, I’ve been on the outside. I’ve also been on the inside.
You’ll get chocolate covered strawberries, maybe your favorite peppermint mocha latte, you’ll get the apologies and you’ll believe it, because it will feel good. You are injured, you have a pain, and now the “honeymoon phase” as it is termed, is making the injury and pain fade. Right? There’s a reason you are with your partner, there are things you love about this person. You hold onto those things for dear life and you exaggerate them. Otherwise you can’t trust your own instincts, you can’t trust yourself, after all it was you who picked this partner to love. Right?
Why am I bringing all of this up? Well, because it is hurtful to hear people around me, people in the media, saying things like “Well, why is she just talking about it now?” or “She’s being over sensitive or exaggerating, we don’t know what really happened, she could have provoked him” or “Why did she wait so long to say something, she’s just jumping on the band wagon.”
Band wagon? Who wants to jump on a wagon of guilt, shame and humiliation? Certainly not me.
There are going to be small numbers of people who will come out of the wood work, to get on what I call the “trendy train,” so they can take advantage of a situation and try to make something for themselves. But I would very much like to think they are the minority and I feel sad that they are seeking attention in such an awful way. Because the fact of the matter is that domestic violence and intimate partner violence is under reported and when it is reported it is taken with a grain of salt. It’s a “he said, she said” kind of world.
When someone tells you they have been abused, sexually harassed or assaulted, raped… do not doubt them, do not question them. Listen! Listen and then see if they are open to receiving help. They can go to a doctor, to the police, to a therapist, to someone they trust and you can help show them the available resources to deal with what they have endured. You cannot expect them to feel better after they have told you. It doesn’t work that way. Especially, when someone has been repeatedly abused over a span of years, they would LOVE to forget it, to never think about it again, but it’s a living nightmare reel that plays over and over in their head and they can’t wake up from it. Trust me. There are triggers everywhere.
We have multiple senses. Sight. Smell. Taste. Touch. Sound. And when you are violated, assaulted, abused… all five senses are attacked. And all five senses can then be triggered after the fact. Do you listen to hear foot steps? Do you listen to hear changes in tones of voices? Are their certain smells which warn you of impending issues? Loud sounds? Dark places? Do you not like to have your back to doors or windows? Do you not like when someone comes up behind you and puts their hand on your shoulder, even just as a comfort? Does it overwhelm you when someone is too “touchy feely” even if they are mean to show positive affection? Well guess what, these triggers make you feel helpless and powerless all over again?
Over half of the killings of American women are related to intimate partner violence, with the vast majority of the victims dying at the hands of a current or former romantic partner, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There is something called trauma bonding, an excerpt below really resonated with me.
It’s a bit like becoming addicted to a drug. A psychologically abusive relationship is a rollercoaster, with punishment and then intermittent reinforcement of kindness when you “behave.” This means the body is going through its own turmoil, with high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, paired with dopamine when given affection as a reward.
“You have this back and forth, and the body becomes addicted,” Thomas said. “When we’re looking for something that we want, that we once had, which is a connection with somebody, and they are playing cat and mouse where they are pulling it back and forth, then the body really does become dependent on having that approval.”
Listen to me. You didn’t let anything happen. I am so terribly sorry that it did, but you didn’t let it or invite it or deserve it. And you’re not crazy, you’re not overreacting, you’re not being “too emotional” or “too sensitive,” so don’t let anyone have power over how you feel or make you think that your feelings are some how inaccurate, they are not. NO ONE CAN TELL YOU HOW YOU FEEL. And while it is incredibly difficult to share your experience, it’s helpful and it is possible you can help someone else who is a victim, but could be survivor.
Whether it is the President of the United States, a Senator, a news anchor, leading actors in the entertainment field, a football player, someone on a college campus, whether it is your boyfriend, your husband, a member of your extended family… whomever it is who chose to violate you, THEY MADE THAT CHOICE. Not you. And you know what? Those people, they deserve their consequences. As figures of the public, as representatives of their states, if they have abused their authority or stepped over any lines which have made someone feel harassed, they they should definitely have to deal with the repercussions!
And the rest of society! Why do you think the term “rape culture” even exists? “Rape culture is a sociological concept used to describe a setting in which rape is pervasive and normalized due to societal attitudes about gender and sexuality.”
Where is our compassion?
Most men and women never report their abuse because of the shame and guilt they feel. Most of them end up letting a piece of themselves die inside rather than confront the demon which put them in that situation. The fact that a person who was abused even ends up taking photos of the bruises, that in and of itself, could make the victim them feel like a traitor to their partner. It’s a psychological cluster of a mess! Have you ever been held down by your partner and forced to have sex? I think I would rather be hit or screamed at or just about anything. Then to look into the eyes of someone I love and see someone else; a monster. And then learning, actively learning that if I just submitted, well then he would feel better and we’d move on.
Oh Dorothy with her ruby slippers, clicking three times to take her home. Some of us dread going home. Some of us cry on the way to the building that we call a home. So we come up with a million excuses on how we can get out of the house or keep busy elsewhere.
And it’s not just because of bruises or scars or tangled emotions that no one will ever see. It’s fear. It’s never being able to do anything right. It’s isolation, losing your friends, feeling alone. It’s being yelled at all the time, hearing doors slam, or sometimes being completely neglected and ignored because you made the wrong decision about dinner. It’s planning a romantic anniversary dinner and then never getting out of the car even though they drove 20 minutes for the reservation and got all dressed up…because it’s not where they would have gone. They wanted you to think it was going to be fun, they got you all the way there and then they turned around.
It’s doing everything you could do, all the time, and it never being enough. It’s teaching the kids when to stay away, when to be quiet, when to disappear… It’s in knowing that if you are the person who takes the brunt of the abuse then perhaps the kids will be okay, this becomes your warped way of protecting them. It’s about feeling worthless, helpless, hopeless and lost.
Not every case will be the same. No two women, or two men, are the same. No two relationships are the same. But patterns of abuse and violence are similar. Whether it’s physical, psychological, sexual or financial violence, whether it’s someone being manipulative, verbally or emotionally abusive or a whole sort of combination. There are cycles and there are patterns and without people having the courage to stand up to tell their story, not enough research will be done to help these situations. Like addiction and mental illness.
Let us see the symptoms. Let us treat the problem. And let us please, please stop trying to brush them under the rug.
Things never get better when ignored, they only fester.
RESOURCES FOR VICTIMS AND SURVIVORS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline
- National Dating Abuse Helpline