October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. In an attempt to bring light to survivors’ experiences, I was honored to hear the following firsthand account from Jane,* a survivor. (*Names have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.)
Domestic Violence is defined as “the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another,” according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. This definition is also inclusive of acts such as threats, emotional and psychological abuse.
It is important that as a society, we spend as much time as possible to assist those who have experienced domestic violence. It is one of the few social issues that affects people of all races, classes and backgrounds. It is estimated that domestic violence hotlines receive at least 20,800 calls per day.
Recently, another area of focus is creating programs geared toward decreasing recidivism (repeat offenses) of past DV offenders. While the most effective way for decreasing repeat offenses is unclear, it is these programs have been used to teach offenders nonviolent ways to resolve issues.
One helpful way to try and stop domestic violence before it happens is to be aware of red flags. These flags can be learned through being informed of past survivors’ experiences, like Jane’s below.
Where did you two meet?
Jane: OkCupid [online dating site].
What was he like when you first got together?
He was very nice and seemed really into me. He came on very strong and was very clingy and always wanted to be around me.
Do you feel that he ever showed any signs?
He had a temper that I eventually saw, but it was never directed at me at first. He would also express anger at inanimate objects when he was angry.
When did things change?
It was about the fall of 2015. He was getting angry all the time for no reason. He started throwing objects at me. I knew something was wrong with him and pleaded for him to go to the doctor. Later, probably around November, he was officially diagnosed bipolar. The medication helped a little bit, but he didn’t do anything for his anger problems and more [used] the new condition as an excuse for his bad behavior and abuse.
What was the first questionable act you witnessed?
Throwing a shoe at me for absolutely no reason.
What was the worst thing that you feel happened?
He absolutely wrecked my life. He threatened my life (to strangle me) and physically abused me. I feel like he got away with it. He was charged with assault by contact. He admitted to what he had done but later on got a lawyer and ended up just getting community service and the charge dismissed. He also uproot[ed] my living situation and life. I’m still putting the pieces back together.
How long did all of this aggression go on?
Toward me the last six months of our two-year relationship.
What happened when you informed the authorities?
I didn’t call to the very end, when the abuse was at its worst. The police were called on many occasions. They came out and interviewed both of us separately. He would admit to what he had done but he would say to the police that he didn’t really plan to hurt me and that he was just upset. He was never arrested. They asked if one of us could leave, but I did not have anywhere to go and he claimed that he had nowhere else to go.
What part about that hurt you the most?
I’m still trying to recover from the emotional abuse. But also he betrayed me in every way possible. He lashed out to hurt me for no reason. He told the landlord to kick me out since I wasn’t on the lease. The feeling I got when that happened was complete devastation. I remember thinking that I’m going to be homeless.
What do you want other women to know about relationships?
Do not give financial control to your significant other. What I mean is, do not rely on them for financial support. That can be used to control and isolate you. Always have a job, or a savings account for a rainy day so you can get out if needed. Abuse always starts small. They will apologize, say it was an accident, but it always escalates. So end the relationship before you are in too deep and can’t get out.
Do you have any additional thoughts?
There are many organizations that do domestic violence awareness but do not actually help the victims. All these organizations just seem to give you a list of numbers that do not actually help. I did not receive any financial or housing help from anyone or any organization. The system for support for domestic violence victims is broken in many areas. It can make you want to give up.
If you need help: Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or visit DomesticShelters.org to find a shelter near you.