Monday, 1 October 2012

Domestic Violence Awareness Month

It's October, and it's both Breast Cancer Awareness Month & Domestic Violence Awareness month, and not to knock Breast Cancer which gets a lot of press (ok granted its a pretty freaking scary ass disease and it's preventable for the most part ) but there is something just as deadly and insidious to women's health and that is  domestic violence.

 I could sit here and throw stats at you all day everyday of the number of women who are abused and violated by the men they choose to be their partners, or the children who are abused by the people who should give the most damn, or let's be real the men who's wives think it's ok to go at them maybe not with fist, but we all know words last longer. It's the reason why twenty years later you still remember the school yard bully not the one who hit you but the one whose words got into your head and to your weakest moments comes out to taunt you.

I'm from a family of four girls and according to the statistics one of us will be raped and abused in our lifetime. That's freaking scary, it's hideous and it's real.  Thank the Goddess, so far this hasn't come true, but for many young women it has.  Our home wasn't perfect, no home ever is, but my parents did their best with the knowledge and the cultural norms, we weren't neglected, or abused physical or emotionally; we always got what we needed and as much of what we wanted as my parents deemed appropriate.  We had a pretty good upbringing; it's pretty scary to me that any of my siblings could potentially be a statistic.  Why am I talking about this you wondering?? Because when I was growing up, I was under the impression that only those from broken homes ended up in abusive relationships.  only weak and stupid women ended up like that, it wasn't something anyone said but it was the attitude my family had that only women who left themselves vulnerable could be abused. My mother taught us to never be that vulnerable  to have our own money, our own resources, to have a way out at all times, and if it got hairy to come home.  So I naively grew up believing that women who were abused, well they put themselves there.

My feelings on this changed gradually as I was exposed to Lifetime movies, and reading books on the subject.  The biggest change came when I talked to a woman I liked who told me her story one day, I'm going to share some of it here with you.  (these are her words not mine, so please don't write anything negative or derogatory thanks ) 
You see let's call her Savannah, was the daughter of a immigrant, and when she was younger her father worked in the fields of Cali's wine country along with her mother and older siblings, as she grew up she watched her mother become the local healer for many of the women who were being abused by their spouses.  Even though her mother wasn't abused, Savannah was around the women who wouldn't leave because their Catholic faith is against divorce and taught them that their vows included the bad times, they would get counselling and in a few months some of the men went right back to doing what they did.  Many of the women (this is during the 1950/60s ) had no where else to go, quite a few of them were illegal or didn't know their status because their spouses kept that information.  So even thought there wasn't any abuse in her own home Savannah absorbed the lesson that a woman deals with in marriage whatever her husband dealt out   Later on when her father got a better job, & the family moved to San Francisco and she began attending school during the late 60s early 70s, she was around for all the bruhahaha that was taking place there, the changes, the demand for more changes; she met a young man among the protesters and began seeing him without her parents knowledge, eventually they were found out adn her parents met him and liked him, they continued to date while they both got into their schools of choice in California and got engaged. They got married in the 70s and she never finished school. He finished and got a job working while she started taking care of their new baby, not long after her husband got promoted and moved to NY, but was then given a better job at another firm in CT so they moved here. The abuse started slowly, just about after their first child was born, with comments about her weight and ehr needing to get back to her pre baby weight.   Little remarks most of us would pass over, but that slowly built into questioning her cleaning methods, the way she took care of their child to event he way she looked when they went to work functions. Nothing escaped his notice and when she tried to get help from his mother, she was told to " just do better dear".  Over the years it escalated, after she had their second child he actually hit her, for the first time because she was too ill to help the children, .  As the years went by and the abuse grew she took to drinking because she had no one to turn to, his father reigned him in a few times and he 'sought help' but always the beatings after would be worse. She was pregnant with twins when she first planned to run to a shelter, and her daughter called her father and told him where she was and asked him to come get her, the scene when he came home was horrific.  When the cops came they told him to 'walk it off' this was during the 80s.  Their twins were born & one was damaged, they believe due to injuries sustained during her pregnancy.  When the twins were a little older again she tried to run, but her oldest, a daddies girl to the bone, kicked up a fuss, and said some hurtful things and she caved in and went back.  She continued to drink to numb the pain, until one day she discovered her husband abusing their daughter and she packed up and ran for the last time.   
Savannah was married for 23 years before she left, her daughter won't tell her the full details fo the abuse or for how long it was going on, but Savannah believes whenever he had beaten her down he would then go to their daughter.  It took her four years to get the money to file for divorce, because hse had a daughter that was ill and couldn't leave the state.  Each time she sought help he would find them and made her life a living hell until she finally got a lawyer who would listen and got her into the shelters where he couldn't find them.  To this day her oldest daughter doesn't talk to her, she believes her father, that her mother was the one who hurt herself because she was a drunk.  Even thought it's been years since her divorce, she told me the other day she still doesn't trust men, if they compliment her it makes her uncomfortable, she makes sure she's never alone with strangers and she still has never been anywhere.  
To me this is a sad and scary story because it could be anyone, she followed the formula, meet a great guy, fall in love, get married, have babies. it should all be puppies and rainbows after that, she never planned for this guy to become a monster.  I did ask her, looking back did she have any clues and she said no they didn't at that time spend enough alone time for there to be clues, after all she was a 'good, sheltered Catholic girl'.  And to her, from what she ahd seen this was 'normal', or apart of everyday life for some of the women that she knew.''

We have come a long way from that, cops won't tell men to walk it off anymore. Yet, it's still just as hard for women to come forward, especially if the man is well known and is hte bread winner, it's even harder with children involved. i believe Savannah is very brave, yes, she's now a recovering alchololic, but 23 years of verbal then physical abuse would give anyone a reason to drink.

I have no advice, I have never been in this situation  so I'm not sure what to say.  I'm a member of society that like teachers are obligated if we suspect abuse to report it.  Especially if their are children involved. Unlike when Savannah's abuse started there are now plenty of places for the abused to go. Many government agencies will give emergency assistance with food stamps, shelter, and cash assistance  if you need it.  it you know someone is being abused don't confront them, give them a shoulder to cry on or a place to stay, because many of those being abused don't see themselves that way. Confronting them will only let them become more defensive, because they are going to see it as an attack on their decisions, their partner was a decision they made, & now your attacking him/her.  Chronicle everything if you can, and just be the best kind of friend you can be, you can't make them leave if they aren't ready to, but at the same time if there are kids involved?? Please don't ignore it, let the adults fend for themselves if they want to stay but save the kids please.

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