We need to stop blaming the wrong people.
"The question you're asking me is what's wrong with the courts," said Sheriff Bob Grudeck from Berryville Arkansas. "I'm asking you, what's wrong with the women?"
Grudeck posed this question in a recent Huffington Post article, "This Is How A Domestic Violence Victim Falls Through The Cracks." He was referring to women who suffer domestic abuse and yet continue to return to their abusers, such as the twenty-one year old Berryville woman who was murdered by her nineteen-year-old ex-boyfriend.
His comments reveal an unfortunate truth about domestic violence in this country; despite significant legal wins for domestic abuse victims, the predominant thinking is still that the victim is the one to blame. Over the years, my clients who are abused have been told statements like:
- "The Bible says you husband is superior to you and can do what he wants."
- "You must have done something wrong or he wouldn't have hit you."
- "You made your bed, now you got to deal with it."
- "He's only jealous because he loves you so much."
- "You were looking for trouble and now you've got it."
- "Sometimes a man has to push a woman around to make her behave."
- "You are lucky to have him no one else would want you."
- "At least the kids have their father."
- "He's a good provider, you just have to try harder to be a better wife."
These statements come from women of all socio-economic and ethnic groups. In fact, you could even say that domestic violence is a kind of equalizer. All of my clients experienced deep shame about the abuse and a sense that they were the ones to blame for it.
So, to return to Grudeck's question, what is wrong with these women?
In my view, nothing; they bought into cultural beliefs that if there is a problem with violence in their relationships, then it is because they did something that they need to fix. Thus, they keep them trying to fix something that they didn't break.
For many of them, the problem starts in childhood — specifically, with their fathers. They often have fathers who weren't around, were brutal to their mothers or were sexually abusive. Girls learn from their father what behavior they should accept from a man, and so those who do not have a healthy relationship with their fathers are often desperate for love from a man.
Women like that are vulnerable to the first man who shows an interest in them and says all the things that they have always been longing to hear. When these men turn out to be abusive, the women are shocked because they thought they had escaped this treatment. Family members and friends often respond to the abuse with statements like those listed above and advise the women to just give it some time to get better.
These women now doubt themselves and wonder what they are doing wrong to constantly attract this kind of behavior from men. They vow to do better. But no matter what they do, the men continue their verbal, emotional, physical and sexual violence. The power and control wheel goes round and round. Some women are able to stop it and get out; most are not.
In fact, one in four women will experience domestic abuse in her lifetime. For me the writing is on the wall; the problem is not with the women, it's with the belief that women are the ones to blame. Beliefs can't be legislated out of people and protective orders will not stop bullets. No one in this vulnerable place would be able to stand this type of violence and manipulation without the help and compassion of others.
So what can we do as a society to change these beliefs?
- Be more conscious about the depiction of women in advertising, the media, movies, music and video games. Do they show that it is okay to treat women with disdain and violence? If so, make a statement against them.
- To men, I say you need to be more proactive in defending women against derogatory jokes or comments. These jokes are degrading women who were at one time someone's little girl. Is this what you want for your daughter?
- Parents and schools need to be more proactive in teaching boys and girls about self-respect and respecting others.
- Women need to reach out to those in their communities that are having a difficult time. We need to empower each other to make a shift in our value of ourselves, have more compassion for each other and change.
- Laws need to be made to empower law enforcement officers to intervene in situations like in Arkansas.
If you are experiencing or have experienced domestic abuse, you are not alone. Heed the warning signs — if he has ever hit you, for instance — and get help for yourself. You can't depend on him to change even if he says he will. Words can be hollow, but actions speak for themselves.
Even if your children have been witnesses to the abuse they will also bear witness to you leaving the situation, getting help and creating a new life. Children learn what they see more than what they hear adults say. Be the model for your children and teach them that it is not okay to hurt the one you love.
To that end, The National Domestic Abuse Hotline provides resources on their website and a toll free hotline number 1-800-799-7223. Each state also has these Crisis Numbers available.
No woman should die because she loved a man; take action, get help and don't be a victim.