Unless you have been living under the proverbial rock, the issue of domestic violence has taken center stage in the national news arena. Each day now it seems that a new revelation surfaces accusing another NFL player of committing violence against a member of his family. The term “domestic violence” conjures images like the now infamous Ray Rice elevator video, in which the Baltimore Ravens star punches his then fiancé Janay in the face, rendering her unconscious. Black eyes, swollen lips, bruises and contusions come to mind, but not every day is a hitting day. Life in an abusive household is not just about the hitting, it is about the roar.
I know about that roar, that constant shadow that hangs over breakfast every morning and looms long into the night. This roar is the language spoken by the abuser that reminds the woman every day that she is trapped. The roar becomes the walls of an unseen prison, binding the woman inside the vicious cycle until one day she is finally able to break free. The question of the day is, “why do these women stay?” I honestly cannot say that I know the answer. As an adult woman I have never lived with that roar.
Often the roar of an abuser is the first sign that there is trouble on the horizon. The classic language of abuse serves as red warning flags. This includes some of the following:
- Demeaning you in front of family and friends
- Expressing jealousy over time spent away with friends
- Calling you a bad parent, threats to prevent or take away your children
- Telling you that you never do anything right
- Constant demands for your time, alienating you from family and friends
- Threatening to commit suicide if you leave
- Blaming you for everything that goes wrong and using guilt to make you surrender to his or her will
I did live with it as a child. I remember the roar. It happened in the years after my parents’ divorce. Over the years my mother found herself in relationships in which domestic violence was the norm. The worst one ended with my mother, my siblings, and me fleeing into hiding during the summer before my seventh grade year. One day, after a short disagreement in the car he grabbed my mother by the hair on the back of her head and slammed her face into the steering will of her old Chevy Nova. Over and over he banged her head; for days afterward she sported two black eyes and suffered the effects of a concussion. Despite this and other events, my mother did not leave willingly. My older sister forced her hand when she went to her high school counselor and shared some of what was going on at home. It was only then that my mother decided she had had enough. So, one day while he was at work we stuffed everything we owned into garbage bags and fled.
My first day of junior high school began with me pulling my best outfit out of the Hefty trash bag that held all of my belongings and waiting for my turn for the shower in the old Catholic convent that served as a battered women’s shelter.
Earlier that summer when the school district mailed out a letter informing my mother that they wanted to test me for entrance into a gifted program, her boyfriend “Carl” cornered me in the doorway of my bedroom and threatened me with bodily harm if I did not “pass” the IQ test. He never laid a hand on me, but the fear was as real as if he had. This is part of the pattern; abusers rule the household under imminent threat. At any moment the world can go to hell and a look, a word out of place, anything can trigger the abuse. It is like living life in hostile territory. It is not just the female partner who lives under the tyranny either.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in every four women will be the victim of domestic violence in her lifetime. If you are not familiar with life under the threat of domestic violence, statistics like that can run over your head like water and numb you to the stark reality that 25 percent of American women will be victimized sometime in their lives. If you need to put that in more relevant terms, consider this: Statistically one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Rounded out, that’s something like twelve percent. Breast cancer is an issue that touches the lives of people all around us, and we hear about it. But violence against women by their spouses or significant others? Sometimes it takes a national scandal to bring that to the forefront.
The single silver lining to the tragedies playing out in front of the world at large can be found in the widespread coverage this issue is receiving. Domestic violence is at the forefront of our collective conscience, and in the end that can only help the silent victims.