I am not one of the 25 percent of women who have personally experienced domestic violence, but I watched a close friend go through it.
Despite being a free spirit my friend seemed to attract controlling men, and her partner was certainly that. A tall, strongly built man, he would physically intimidate her, putting his face close to hers when he yelled. Their relationship was always turbulent, and having children made it worse. One day in the midst of an argument he shoved her across the room and she was hurt when she hit a chest freezer. After that first incident I sat with her and was stunned to hear her self doubt and the excuses she made for him. Maybe she had caused it, maybe nobody else would want her, maybe if she was more supportive and stopped expecting him to do some of the housework…… The slow drip of his criticisms was working.
Their relationship continued for years, as did the arguments and intermittent violence. Shortly before a family birthday party he head butted her while she was holding their infant son and broke her nose. She got medical treatment then held the party as planned. Members of her family and I attended, torn between not wanting to be near him but wanting to support her. Domestic violence affects so many people.
They broke up periodically but always got back together again. During one time when they were living apart she asked me to type up a legal document which detailed their relationship history. I had always thought she stayed with him because of the children but this document revealed the violence had started before she first conceived. I found it very hard to deal with – how could she put so little value on herself, to stay with a man who treated her like that? It was doubly hard to understand because she was still my strong, independent friend in every area of life except this. When I spoke to her all she said was “I believed him when he said he was sorry and that he’d change”.
Their relationship eventually ended when he moved interstate. Sadly, her poor choices in men continued. A subsequent partner introduced her to drugs and she is now serving a six year sentence for drug trafficking, which I’ve blogged about previously. She sees a link between the domestic violence and her current situation: she was attracted to the money to be made in drugs in part because of the financial stress her ex created by doing everything he could to minimise the money he provided for their three children. I’m not sure I accept that connection, but I can see its impact on her two sons, both of whom have anger management issues and who will resort to violence under pressure.
Domestic violence is never acceptable. If you are in this situation, seek help from family or friends, or call some of the numbers on the ReachOut website (Australia). The site also includes lots of useful information on domestic violence. If you are in the United States, the website of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence has advice and suggestions, as does Women’s Aid in the UK. If you live somewhere else, Google domestic violence. (Thanks to Wanderlust for many of these numbers.)