I was going to wait to write this blog until Your Sexy Librarian was out of its infancy, but I keep having real-life conversations about this hush-hush topic. I can no longer keep quiet about this highly important yet infrequently discussed topic that should command the attention of every adult in this country. We, as American adults, can help end domestic violence.
This is the point where the majority of people usually tune me out, often in a fashion similar to a small child covering his eyes and saying, “If I cannot see you, you cannot see me.” Please keep reading to better understand domestic violence, which is more than just violence, and to know there are domestic violence victims who are happy, healed and fully functioning in our society today.
Picture yourself in a bathroom that is five feet wide and only as long as the bathtub. On the wall opposite the flimsy, fiberboard door is a small window, one foot wide and 10 inches tall. The flimsy door leads into a poorly lit, narrow hallway just big enough for one medium-sized adult. How do you feel?
Now picture a person twice your size on the other side of the closed, flimsy door. This person is so angry that saliva and spittle flies from his mouth as he screams and yells at you, “You are fucking worthless! You are so fucking worthless, you bitch! FUCKING WORTHLESS!” Now, how do you feel?
Picture yourself trapped in that little bathroom with limited options. Neither your shoulders nor your butt will fit out that tiny window, so that is not a viable option. On the other side of the door is a hulk, just waiting for you like a predator awaits weakened prey. The only way out is through that flimsy door.
You will feel his hands around your throat, strangling you, as you are pinned to the wall by your own neck while your feet barely touch the floor. He will continue to scream you are worthless. After he is done watching you struggle to breathe, he will wait for you to grow so tired you cannot fight sleep any longer. That is when he will sexually assault you in a humiliating and painful manner.
You will endure being choked repeatedly. You will endure the molestation, the sexual assaults, and the rapes. You will endure whatever he does to you because he has promised you will not live to see your mother, your brother, your child, and/or your best friend if you fight back. He has stolen all your money, hid your car keys, damaged your phone, sold your computer, and, now, is quietly killing you at your very core. You no longer know what makes you happy. You are depressed and anxious and wish you could die in your sleep or in a car crash on your way to work the next day.
How do you feel now?
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes and an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner every year. This data, respectfully from 2000 and 2003, is rather old, but are the most current statistics I could find from a trusted, national source. A jaw dropping statistic from NCADV is sexual assault or forced sex occurs in 40-45% of domestic violence relationships.
Children who grow up witnessing domestic violence have lasting emotional and mental issues stemming from their experiences with abuse. The NCADV reports boys who grow up witnessing domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners. The NCADV further reports that 30% to 60% of abusers also abuse children in the same household. I find these statistics sobering and sad.
Domestic violence has many components. At its core is power and control. Aggressors easily use emotional abuse to simply wear their victims. Examples of emotional abuse include put-downs, making the victim feel bad about himself or herself, name-calling, making the victim think he or she is crazy, humiliating the victim, making the victim feel guilty, and playing mind games.
Intimidation, which includes making the victim feel afraid through looks and actions, destroying the victim’s property, smashing things, abusing pets, and displaying weapons, further erodes the victim’s confidence and helps solidify the aggressor’s control over the victim.
A perpetrator of domestic violence will often use coercion and threats. Examples of this include making a victim do illegal things, making the victim drop any legal charges against the aggressor, and making and/or carrying out threats of violence toward the victim.
Economic abuse includes taking the victim’s money and preventing the victim from getting and/or keeping a job. The aggressor may show up at the victim’s workplace and become such a nuisance the victim is fired from his or her job. This can lead to the victim’s economic dependency of the aggressor, which further solidifies the aggressor’s power and control.
The aggressor may threaten to take children away from the victim, which makes those children pawns in a dangerous game. The aggressor may be physically, emotionally, and sexually abusing the victim’s children as well. If the victim reports this abuse toward his or her children to the authorities, the victim runs the risk of having the children permanently removed from the home.
Aggressors use isolation as well as denial and blame. Aggressors will control what the victim does, who the victim sees and talks to, what media the victim has access to, where the victim can go, and what the victim is involved with outside of his or her home. Many times, aggressors will use jealousy to justify their violent, abusive, and/or demeaning actions and may make light of the abuse, may deny the abuse ever happened, and may blame the victim for the abuse.
All of these elements of domestic violence combine to allow an aggressor to have ultimate control and power over the victim. I know this first-hand because I experienced domestic violence as an adult.
Victims of domestic violence are often seen as broken or damaged by society. I am not broken. I am not damaged. I still have those rare moments, such as when someone tickles me with zeal and I wind up in the floor, that I have to breathe deep, center my thoughts, and tell myself, “I am safe. I am fine.” Through the gift of time, those rare moments have become even less frequent.
After I first left my aggressor, I moved in with family because I was not emotionally stable enough to live by myself successfully nor did I have economic stability that would allow me to live on my own. At first, I slept curled up in the smallest ball on one side of the guest bed. I had night terrors that would leave me screaming like I was physically on fire. It was painful for my family to witness, but my mother would wake me, hold me and tell me, “You are safe.” She was my quiet champion through one of most difficult times in my life.
I faithfully spent a year and a half in intense therapy with a counselor specializing in domestic violence. Without my therapist, I would not have come to terms with what I went through at the hands of someone who professed to love me with all his heart. The progress of my therapy was easily visible to the people around me. I was sleeping more stretched out, eventually migrating from one corner of the bed to the middle of it. I was losing the excess weight I gained during my time of abuse when I let myself go. I was laughing and smiling more and more each day. My counselor helped me establish my five non-negotiables for potential dates that I put in place to ensure I would not repeat the pattern of domestic violence by getting involved with someone like my aggressor.
If a potential date did not meet at least three of the five non-negotiables, I would not accept a date with that person. I would not become involved in a relationship with anyone having less than four of the five non-negotiables. Dating was very difficult as a result of my self-imposed rules, but I have managed to maintain my personal goal of not being in an abusive relationship again.
After my therapy concluded, I relocated as far from my aggressor as I could get, moving to an area where I knew no one. Since moving, I have essentially rebuilt my life from the ground up. I found an amazing job in the healthcare industry that has allowed me to better my financial position and to live in a relatively safe part of town. I have established a great network of friends and business associates, have built a healthy, balanced relationship with an amazing person who fits the five non-negotiables with ease, and have discovered my inner voice to want to write about and talk about sexual health, sexual issues, and taboo topics.
The last time my aggressor tried to harm me, a change occurred in me. I wanted to live with every single fiber of my being. I did not want to keep facing that bathroom window, feeling trapped, for one more nanosecond. I call myself a survivor because, in that tiny moment, I made the decision to live and to be happy with my new life. Yes, a stain on my brain and in my soul that will always be ther because humans cannot just shut off bad memories like we can a faucet. I have learned how to live with the bad memories though and to communicate with my friends, my family, and my partner so they know when those bad memories re-surface. They remind me, usually without saying a single word, that my experiences helped make me the strong, confident woman that I am today.
I am a survivor.