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The many faces of abuse

by Cari Aguilar, Student Life editor

   

Last Valentine’s Day an HPU senior, who we will call Malia, to protect her identity, anticipated a romantic evening with her boyfriend at the apartment they shared. Instead, she said, he punched her in the face in a fit of anger that seemed to come out of nowhere. In that moment Malia became one of approximately 900,000 women in the United States who are abused by a husband or a boyfriend every year, according to Bureau of Justice statistics.

Although abusive relationships can take on many forms, some kind of battering is always present. Battering is “ a pattern of behavior used to establish power and control over another person through fear, intimidation, and often the threat or use of violence,” according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence Web site (NCADV).

Although assault, battering, and domestic violence are crimes against both men and women, females were the victims in 72 percent of intimate murders and the victims of about 85 percent of non lethal intimate violence in 1998, the most recent statistics available.

Acts of abuse within a relationship are divided into three categories: physical battering, or physical attacks, and/or aggressive behavior ranging from bruising to murder; sexual abuse, or physical attacks accompanied by sexual violence; and psychological battering, or mental violence including verbal and emotional abuse. In addition, attacks against property and pets are also considered acts of abuse.

Abuse may begin with name-calling, threats, and other displays of violence such as punching a wall. However, it often escalates to pushing, restraining, punching, kicking, biting, slapping, or pinching. Finally, it may become life threatening through the use of weapons, choking, or breaking bones.

Marie Salmon, 29,a Honolulu resident, said that in retrospect the early signs of abuse were present in her marriage, which ended three years ago. Within the first few weeks of living with her new husband in Germany, the psychological battering began. “He was controlling, and made sure that he put me down any time he could,” she said. “It was only verbal and emotional at first, never physical. I told myself it would get better.” Over the next few months, her husband screamed at her in public, erupted in jealous rages, controlled where she went and when she came back, threatened to leave her in remote areas alone, and even locked her in the car.

Salmon withdrew from her friends, family, and coworkers so that she “wouldn’t say or do the wrong thing to start a fight.” She wanted to leave him, but she decided to wait until he would be out of town over the holidays before she packed her things. Despite her plan, the situation escalated long before the holidays rolled around. “He accused me of having an affair with someone at work. Then he grabbed me, shook me, and threw me on the bed,” she recalled. “I got away from him and ran out of the room. He shoved me in the bathtub, and the shower rod and curtain fell down on me. Then he turned on the hot water, but I managed to get out of the tub,” said Salmon. “Then he swung at me, but he only grazed the side of my head. I was lucky to walk away just with bruises on my arm.”

Salmon and Malia’s cases are not unique. In fact, statistics show that nearly one-third of American women report being abused by a husband or a boyfriend at some point in their lives. This abuse is happening to young women everywhere and crossing all racial, economic, and educational lines.

From 1993-99, women ages 16 to 24 were the most vulnerable to nonfatal violence within intimate relationships with 19.6 victimizations per 1000 women, according to Bureau of Justice statistics.

Betty Keen-Smith, a former HPU student and producer of the television program “There’s No Excuse For Abuse” and the video “Women Against Violence” said that often the hardest part is for people to recognize that they are in an abusive situation.

Sometimes an abusive relationship may have several characteristics, sometimes only a few patterns may apply. “Victims must realize that the abuser’s behavior will not stop,” said Keen-Smith. By remaining in abusive situations, victims risk personal injury and long-term psychological effects, such as low self-esteem and depression.

Malia thought that the worst was over when she finally found the courage to leave the relationship and moved out. Instead she dealt with bouts of depression, court appearances, restraining orders against her boyfriend, and financial strain. At times, she was forced to live out of her car or stay in safe houses to avoid her ex-boyfriend, who stalked her for several months after their break-up.

“I was constantly running from him, while I tried to juggle my classes and appear fun and extroverted to the rest of the world,” said Malia. “He stripped me of my friends and family. Going to HPU was my chance for freedom, and to regain my independence.” Now, Malia is dealing with her emotional trauma through regular sessions with a therapist. “The sad thing is that women in this situation who don’t see a therapist will choose the wrong guy again and again,” she said.

For Salmon, the psychological effects of abuse remain. “I was only with him for nine months of my life, and I am so emotionally scarred from the experience,” she said. Today she is happily remarried, but struggles with maintaining a healthy relationship with her husband, and with herself. “Just by talking about this stuff brings it all back to the surface, like it is still happening to me,” said Salmon. “It’s easy to say that it won’t happen again because hindsight is 20/20, but I know what it is like to be in that situation. It isn’t so easy to give up on the relationship. Unless you can offer someone a way out of the abuse, advice is meaningless.”

Despite all the information available, many women choose to stay in abusive relationships, partly because many women do not want to admit what is happening to them. They make excuses for their partner’s behavior or label the abuse as “marital conflict.”

“If you know someone who is in this situation, try to be a friend to her, and don’t judge her. It’s easy for people to say ‘she should just leave the guy’ or ‘she must be stupid to stay with him,’” said Malia. “It just isn’t that easy.”

According to HCADV, when the abuse begins, the victims feel ashamed, embarrassed, and isolated, and they cite the following reasons for not leaving immediately:

- Friends and family may not support her in doing so.

- There is a mix of good times, love, and hope along with manipulation, fear, and intimidation.

- Financial dependence on her spouse.

- Fear of increased violence or death.

When a victim decides to get away from her abuser, she must first develop a plan to safely leave the relationship. “If you live with the person, gather all your important documents and keep them near an exit,” said Keen-Smith. “Prepare a suitcase with clothes and some money. Leave it with a friend.” If the abuse is physically threatening, call 911. “For domestic violence calls, police are required to make an arrest,” she said. Restraining orders are recommended to help prevent the abuser from contacting the victim.

After the victim leaves the relationship, NDVH list the following safety precautions:

- Ask neighbors or co-workers to call the police if the abuser is seen.

- Vary the route to work or school.

- Change passwords on bank and e-mail accounts.

- Keep the restraining order on hand at all times, as well as a journal with records of harassing e-mails or voice mails, violations of orders and actual attempts at contact.

- Change the lock on the door; add window locks and sensor lighting to the home. If you are in an abusive relationship, there is help available.

If you do not feel comfortable talking to a friend, family member, an HPU counselor, or the HPU Chaplain—whose telephone number is 544-9394, call the NDVH at 1-800-799-SAFE. In Hawai‘i, the Domestic Violence Clearinghouse and legal Hotline, staffed by attorneys and advocates who can help victims conduct safety planning, provide legal information and conduct crisis counseling. They can be reached at 531-3771. Or, to find a program offering shelter and support, call Hawai‘i’s state branch of the NCADV at 832-9316.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) Web Site offered the following checklist to help men and women determine if they are in an abusive relationship.

 

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