Tag Archives: shame

Awareness Games: Breast Cancer and Domestic Violence

Every October, when Domestic Violence Month rolls around, before it even begins I get very, very tired. That’s because every October, gaining awareness for domestic violence seems to be an uphill battle against the pink army that is the other October cause, Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

That sounds really bitter, right? Like I hate people who support breast cancer or something? Wrong. Breast cancer is obviously a worthy cause that deserves attention. But does it have to steal all of the attention?

It is frustrating for those of us trying to gain support for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, trying to get our purple ribbons seen when we’re staring at an ocean of pink. An enormous part of the problem is stigma. A few decades ago, breast cancer was very stigmatized. Awareness campaigns brought out the subject and made it okay for people to talk about. Everyone understands now. Cancer is a disease; it’s not a person’s fault. The women who have it and are fighting it and living with it are considered brave, strong, even heroic. It’s a cause everyone can get behind without question; what kind of jerk doesn’t support cancer? People feel good about themselves when they buy a product that has a pink ribbon on it; it’s armchair philanthropy.

Listen, I’m not saying these things are bad. It’s amazing that the stigma on breast cancer has lifted, because millions of lives have been saved. It’s simply that, in comparison, domestic and sexual violence are still largely crimes that live in the dark. There’s a stigma attached to them that’s so severe, that one third of victims of domestic violence and two-thirds of sexual assault victims are not reporting to law enforcement. Of those victims, 41% of male and 34% of female stated victimization being a private/personal matter as reason for not reporting, 15% of women feared reprisal, 12% of all victims wished to protect the offender, and 6% of all victims believed police would do nothing.

Unfortunately, they are right about that.

Nationally, in the last 10 years the number of arrests for domestic violence have dropped from over 120,000 per year to around 85,000 per year. If a person in that one-third that comes forward to report a rape actually endures the re-traumatizing and invasive post-rape medical exam and is interviewed by police, it is highly unlikely that his or her efforts will result in justice, seeing as the conviction rate for sexual assault is only 3%— meaning  97% of rapists walk free.

How in the hell is that possible? It’s called rape culture. It’s just like how it used to be for breast cancer: unmentionable in public, the person who had it was marked somehow and there were sympathies to her face and gossip behind her back. In our culture, when a person is raped— especially a woman— she is the one with the burden of proof. She is considered a slut until proven virginal. We spend so much time focusing on what she was wearing, where she was walking, what she was drinking, and if she said no that we forget who the criminal actually is. It’s the same way with domestic violence. It is complicated and messy. There’s often substance abuse involved and children who are witnesses and fights that could go both ways. Emotional and verbal abuse are hard to pin down, though I assure you, it happens all the time. But come on: there is absolutely no fucking excuse for ignoring physical violence. And yet people do, constantly. No one wants to talk about domestic and sexual violence the way they are willing to openly discuss breast cancer. Why? Because it’s ugly; it’s painful; it’s shameful. People are afraid of it. And for reasons beyond my comprehension, people really love to blame the victims. While cancer patients are considered brave, victims of domestic and sexual violence are called stupid, lazy, slutty, and deserving of their abuse.

Every October, I feel burned out by the 2nd. I stare at the ocean of pink and wonder how in the world I’m going to gain attention for a cause that no one wants to speak or hear about. A cause that makes people uncomfortable, that triggers a flicker of shock across their faces as soon as the word “violence” comes out of my mouth. The only ones who are not shocked are the ones who have a personal connection to domestic violence. That’s when I hear the stories: “My sister had a boyfriend who hit her.” “I was married to a guy like that.” “My dad abused me as a kid.”

When I hear those stories, I have a bit of hope; these are people who will help spread the word. Perhaps they will understand, perhaps I can explain to them and make them realize how much we need to educate the public about domestic and sexual violence. I’m doing everything within my power. But when I look at all the major corporations and foundations that are sponsoring breast cancer, I think, I want those same resources for this. How do I make them realize that domestic and sexual violence are at an all-time high? 1 in 3 women worldwide will experience violence in her lifetime. How do I get them to hear that and maybe give their support towards another cause this October?

The thing is, breast cancer is no longer a crisis the way it was a decade ago. Female breast cancer incidence rates began decreasing in 2000, then dropping by about 7% from 2002 to 2003.  Death rates from breast cancer have been declining since about 1990, with larger decreases in women younger than 50. These decreases are believed to be the result of earlier detection through screening and increased awareness, as well as improved treatment. Think about it; that pink ribbon has become synonymous with breast cancer, and you can find it on every product imaginable. The Susan G. Komen Foundation in particular has done an incredible job with this. Another big part of the decrease is due to the fact that pharmaceutical companies and companies that sell medical and surgical equipment will invest in awareness campaigns, the pink ribbon branding, and fund-raising for research, which brings in millions of dollars every year for the cause. Domestic violence does not have this resource because so far, there’s no surgery that can prevent a man from beating his wife, and chemotherapy can’t cure incest. Those companies have no interest in sponsoring a cause that will give them nothing back. With breast cancer, there are patients that use their products so they recoup that money. Until we figure out what part of the brain makes a person violent toward their loved ones, or find a medicine that can erase the effects of sexual trauma, those companies have no incentive to spread purple ribbons the way they do pink, or try to raise funds for victims’ services. Meanwhile, the statistics show a 42-percent increase in reported domestic violence and a 25-percent increase in the reported incidence of rape and sexual assault. Does this mean that I think we should ignore breast cancer? That breast cancer is no longer a problem and we should focus solely on domestic violence? Of course not. Breast cancer is still a killer, the second deadliest cancer after lung cancer, and obviously, we need to keep seeking a cure. But do I think it’s currently at the crisis level that domestic violence is?

No.

Saying that is going to upset people, possibly offend people, particularly those who have loves ones affected by breast cancer. I understand your feeling that way. But when you take a look at these numbers, you might begin to understand where I’m coming from when I say that.

–       About 1 in 8 U.S. women (just under 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.

–       Twice as many, 1 in 4 U.S. women (25%) has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime.

–       In 2011, an estimated 230,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer were expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with 57,650 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer (288,130 cases total).

–       Twenty times as many, an estimated 6 million women are victims of domestic violence each year

–       On average, more than three women and one man are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day. Intimate partner homicides accounted for 30% of the murders of women and 5% percent of the murders of men. Homicide is the number 1 cause of death in pregnant women. Most intimate partner homicides occur between spouses, though boyfriends/girlfriends have committed about the same number of homicides in recent years.

–       One in five (21%) women in the U.S. reports she has been raped or physically or sexually assaulted in her lifetime. Three in four women (76%) who reported they had been raped and/or physically assaulted since age 18 said that an intimate partner (current or former husband, cohabiting partner, or date) committed the assault.

–       Nearly three out of four (74%) of Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence. 30% of Americans say they know a woman who has been physically abused by her husband or boyfriend in the past year.

–       There are only 1,500 shelters for battered women in the United States; there are 5,000 animal shelters.

This is beyond unacceptable. When we have more resources for stray animals than

abuse victims, something is seriously fucked up.

This whole thing may sound like I’m trying to make the month of October some giant competition between breast cancer and domestic violence, like I think one cause is better than the other. That’s not the case. What I really want is just some more air time, a little more space, and more financial resources to do as wonderful a job of eradicating the stigma around domestic and sexual violence as the breast cancer camp has done. Seriously, we need some of the breast cancer publicists over in the domestic violence camp! Those people get shit done.

Another suggestion that has been made is to move Domestic Violence Awareness Month to May, so it won’t be drowned out. That could work. As long as there is some time dedicated to fighting for this cause. As many of you know— if you’ve read any other part of WfR— I’ve got my own (long and intense) history with both domestic and sexual violence. Whenever someone takes up a cause, it’s not a coincidence; they do it because it affects them somehow. That’s why this is such an emotional topic, and why, when I bring it up, people who are affected by breast cancer tend to get pissed off at me. That’s okay. As long as it’s being discussed, as long as it’s out in the open, perhaps things will begin to change.

© Sarah Ann Henderson 2012

P.S.— In the interest of fairness I feel I must add that there are two other October causes that get even less attention that either breast cancer or domestic violence: Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month and National Bullying Prevention Month. Both of these are really important and deserve attention too, please take a look at their websites for more information!

National Bullying Prevention Center

Remembering Our Babies

FirstCandle.org

Statistical Resources Included:

Bureau of Justice Statistics

Domestic Violence Resource Center

BreastCancer.org

Susan G. Komen Foundation

Human Rights Watch

ASPCA

Clark County Prosecutor, Domestic Violence Office

Centers for Disease Control

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Representative Akin, Every Rape is Legitimate: An Open Letter

Hello Recovery Writers,

Rarely am I so angry about an issue that I feel I need to take it on in this manner, but when I read about this…well, you know how I am. This is not one I was just going to let go. I tried to stay dignified in my response, and I’m sending this letter onto his office. I encourage you all to write your own congressmen, as well as Rep. Akin himself if you feel as strongly about this as I do. I’ll include his contact information at the end of this article. As always, thanks for reading.

Update: In my zeal to get this letter written and out there, I originally called Todd Akin a senator; this is incorrect. He is a state representative who is running for senator in Missouri. My apologies for any confusion.

Also: There are now several petitions going around demanding sanctions for Rep. Akin. Here is a link to one of them if you’d like to sign (I already have, of course!):

CREDO Action: Tell Rep. Todd Akin: Stop lying about rape

Missouri Republican claims ‘legitimate rape’ rarely results in pregnancy 

Dear Representative Akin,

This is an open letter addressing your unbelievably idiotic and insensitive statements in the article above. How dare you attempt to qualify whether or not rape is “legitimate”. Until you have personally experienced rape, personally experienced unfathomable shock and trauma and shattering of your life and bodily integrity, you don’t get to say word one about the legitimacy of rape. And as far as the rate of pregnancy goes, if you’re going to have the nerve to try and use that as a factor to illegitimize rape, then at least have the decency to have actual science on your side. Despite what some pro-life witch doctor with a medical degree from Sally Struthers may have told you, pregnancy can actually happen without a woman’s consent. It happened to a friend of mine. For the majority of the time I was being repeatedly raped, I was “lucky” enough to have been a child, incapable of conceiving. The last time I was raped, I was severely anorexic and not menstruating, also making it highly unlikely. I didn’t get pregnant from any of the times I was raped, but I think about it sometimes: what would I have done if I had? I honestly don’t know. Back then, the morning after pill wasn’t available. Now, I would certainly do that first. And, by the way, the morning-after pill IS NOT a form of abortion! It PREVENTS pregnancy from ever happening, actually making abortions less likely to occur. If you’re really all about protecting life, supporting birth control is really the way to go. Keeping those pregnancies from occurring in the first place will stop abortions from happening. And if your interest is truly in stopping abortions- as opposed to simply controlling women’s lives and bodies- then really, you might want to jump aboard. Men like you who think that they have any right to legislate the choices available to women who have been raped truly terrify me. Like I said, you have not experienced this. You can’t IMAGINE what it is to be raped, much less to experience a pregnancy from rape. How dare you try to limit a woman’s options in that situation. As if it isn’t hard enough. The rapist should be punished. But the victim shouldn’t be. And that is exactly what you’re doing when you limit her ability to make decisions about what’s right for her body and her life.

Sincerely,
Sarah Henderson

Contact Representative Todd Akin

 


We Should Have Heard You: Ashley Billasano’s Final Words Uncut

Ashley Billasano was a girl just like me. So much like me, that this story has affected me in a deeper way than perhaps it would have otherwise. Ashley and I both grew up in the Austin area. We both were sexually abused by our fathers, raped other times, and used eating disorders and self-harm to cope with this. Both of us were failed by Travis County Child Protective Services, who neither served nor protected us. We both attempted suicide more than once. 

The difference is, I survived.

Eventually, someone heard me. Eventually, I received the help I so desperately needed. Tragically, no one heard Ashley or was able to help her before she succeeded in taking her own life. I can’t explain why I was spared and Ashley wasn’t. I can’t explain why someone intervened on my behalf and no one got to her in time. And I can’t imagine how Ashley’s friends and family are feeling right now.

But I can imagine what Ashley was feeling. I remember vividly what it felt like to think that no one believed me and no one was going to help me and I was all alone with my hellish pain. Ashley left us with a record of her pain, a record of her experiences and reasons for taking her life. She made it public for a reason. And when I heard that Twitter took those messages down I was angry, because she wasn’t heard when she was alive. She deserves to be heard now. So I am publishing her tweets just as she wrote them, unedited and uncut. Ashley wanted the world to know what she went through and she wrote it rather eloquently. Perhaps her writing will encourage other survivors to come forward with their own stories. There have been far too many deaths due to silence. Let us remember Ashley Billasano and how the system did not work for her. Let us do better the next time a victim has the courage to report. Please, let us  do better. 

A website and foundation have been set up in Ashley’s honor, their mission to help victims of abuse deal with the effects and prevent more tragic suicides. www.ashleymariejustbreathe.com

 

10:50PM Nov 6th: “I fuckked up my own suicide” yeah tell me about it…

6:44AM Nov 7th: Staying home today. Can I reach 1000 tweets??? I’m thinking yes!

9:45AM Nov 7th: just woke up

9:45AM Nov 7th: Don’t feel too well

9:45AM Nov 7th: There is somebody in my dreams

9:46AM Nov 7th: I want them gone

9:46AM Nov 7th: How can we control our dreams?

9:46AM Nov 7th: Hummm wish somebody would text me

9:47AM Nov 7th: Kinda lonely right now

9:47AM Nov 7th: There was so much more I wanted to do

9:48AM Nov 7th: Ahhh well time to move on

9:48AM Nov 7th: My thought process is too crazy

9:48AM Nov 7th: I totally think I’m bipolar

9:49AM Nov 7th: Or just crazy

9:49AM Nov 7th: Idk.

9:49AM Nov 7th: Humm I remember why we broke up

9:50AM Nov 7th: I shall do it again

9:50AM Nov 7th: Because this time I don’t have a bf

9:50AM Nov 7th: And I really don’t care anymore

9:51AM Nov 7th: I should get ready then

9:51AM Nov 7th: Should have gotten everything last night

9:52AM Nov 7th: Still just trying to raise my numbers

9:52AM Nov 7th: So I met this boy

9:52AM Nov 7th: He was very cute you see

9:52AM Nov 7th: Quite popular too

9:53AM Nov 7th: Me and this boy started talking

9:53AM Nov 7th: Then we talked a lil more

9:53AM Nov 7th: Then he let me in his front door

9:54AM Nov 7th: We walked up the stairs where everything was quite

9:54AM Nov 7th: And he whispered ‘you look beautiful’ into my ear

9:55AM Nov 7th: Shivers moved down my spine

9:55AM Nov 7th: And then he began to kiss my neck

9:56AM Nov 7th: I know you’re thinking ‘why did she go’

9:57AM Nov 7th: And all I can say is my father told me so

9:57AM Nov 7th: So he kissed me sweet and laid me down on his bed

9:58AM Nov 7th: I started to shake he said ‘give me head’

9:58AM Nov 7th: I laughed at him and said ‘I’m a vegetarian’

9:59AM Nov 7th: Then I wondered why I had really come to him.

9:59AM Nov 7th: See I’ve been in this situation before

10:00AM Nov 7th: When a boy I loved said he would leave if I didn’t give it up

10:00AM Nov 7th: And I told my friends I had done it even though it wasn’t true

10:01AM Nov 7th: Because he was telling everybody the same things too

10:01AM Nov 7th: But here is the honest truth

10:01AM Nov 7th: I never did it till I was sixteen

10:02AM Nov 7th: I did not know the boy

10:02AM Nov 7th: And I never got to know him

10:02AM Nov 7th: He was older stronger and high at the time

10:03AM Nov 7th: He probably will never admit I was a crime

10:03AM Nov 7th: His breath smelt sour like smoke and his kisses became rough

10:04AM Nov 7th: Then I tried to sit up and say ‘I’ve had enough’

10:04AM Nov 7th: My attempt of getting free were feeble

10:05AM Nov 7th: I decided to scream ‘please stop’

10:05AM Nov 7th: but he just took a pillow to my face and put me in the dark

10:06AM Nov 7th: First to go were my shoes. I feel my feet go cold

10:06AM Nov 7th: Next my pants, he was so bold.

10:07AM Nov 7th: It hurt so much as he entered me

10:07AM Nov 7th: Guys I’m telling you my first time was taken from me

10:08AM Nov 7th: He noticed and said ‘are you a virgin?’

10:08AM Nov 7th: I nodded through tears as he kept barging in

10:09AM Nov 7th: He finished and was done with me

10:09AM Nov 7th: I lay on his bed lifeless

10:10AM Nov 7th: He let me stay there and sleep

10:10AM Nov 7th: Then he offered me some weed

10:10AM Nov 7th: I said ‘no thank you I don’t do that either’

10:11AM Nov 7th: He said ‘girl you’re no fun. See you later’

10:12AM Nov 7th: I started to get dressed and he came back in

10:12AM Nov 7th: He came close; i tried to get away from him

10:12AM Nov 7th: He told me ‘dont be scared’

10:13AM Nov 7th: and like an idiot I believed him

10:13AM Nov 7th: He asked if I liked it

10:14AM Nov 7th: I shrugged my shoulders

10:14AM Nov 7th: He leaned in for a kiss, and I let him

10:15AM Nov 7th: He laid me down and rubbed my back

10:15AM Nov 7th: I cried in his pillow. He cried back

10:15AM Nov 7th: He said he was sorry

10:16AM Nov 7th: I said ‘it’s okay’

10:16AM Nov 7th: we laid there together just bathing in our fears

10:17AM Nov 7th: I don’t know why. But I saw the human in him.

10:17AM Nov 7th: He was probably just as broken as me

10:18AM Nov 7th: He drove me to my park

10:18AM Nov 7th: I got on the swirly slide. I just laid there and cried

10:19AM Nov 7th: I finally walked home

10:19AM Nov 7th: My father opened the door

10:19AM Nov 7th: Asked me ‘how was it’

10:20AM Nov 7th: I said ‘i’ll never forget it…’

10:20AM Nov 7th: as he pressed for questions. I grew impatient

10:20AM Nov 7th: Said ‘dad in so tired can I just go to bed’

10:21AM Nov 7th: he dismissed me and I trudged up the stairs.

10:21AM Nov 7th: My legs hurt. And my heart was filled with despair

10:21AM Nov 7th: I went to the bathroom and locked the door

10:22AM Nov 7th: I took apart a razor I had just gotten from the store

10:22AM Nov 7th: I did what I had to do to forget.

10:23AM Nov 7th: It seems it’s been my only way since sixth grade

10:24AM Nov 7th: When the kids called me fat even though I was a double zero

10:24AM Nov 7th: And I began to watch my weight like it was a MTV show.

10:25AM Nov 7th: I cried as I remembered how I’d starve for days

10:25AM Nov 7th: And my parents never noticed

10:26AM Nov 7th: So I laid there and watched the blood gather on the floor

10:26AM Nov 7th: Then my weak hands reached for the door

10:27AM Nov 7th: I ran into my little sister she saw and shook her head.

10:27AM Nov 7th: Then she looked at me and said. ‘Just don’t let them see sissy.’

10:27AM Nov 7th: she kissed my head and walked away

10:28AM Nov 7th: I swear after that night I was never the same

10:28AM Nov 7th: My dad became to want ‘favors’ from me too

10:29AM Nov 7th: He would use it to bribe me if I wanted to hang out after school

10:30AM Nov 7th: I didn’t know that I should have told somebody what he was doing to me

10:30AM Nov 7th: Sex just became second nature to me

10:31AM Nov 7th: My father let me as long as he got details sometimes I’d even have to let him see

10:32AM Nov 7th: I was just a young girl. Who quickly became afraid of men.

10:32AM Nov 7th: Then years past and it never stopped.

10:32AM Nov 7th: Finally on day I began to pop

10:33AM Nov 7th: I sent a boy away

10:33AM Nov 7th: And told my father enough was enough

10:33AM Nov 7th: He cried and said ‘I’m just so weak’

10:34AM Nov 7th: I looked at him and saw the brokenness too

10:34AM Nov 7th: I took pity on him and became the fool

10:35AM Nov 7th: Things never changed they just got worse

10:35AM Nov 7th: Till one day I met a boy who in the end hurt my heart worst

10:36AM Nov 7th: We met in my typical situation

10:36AM Nov 7th: We were both undressed within a matter of seconds.

10:37AM Nov 7th: But I could tell he was different.

10:37AM Nov 7th: I pledged myself by not hooking up with complete strangers.

10:38AM Nov 7th: But for him I was eager

10:38AM Nov 7th: But there was something different about this guy

10:39AM Nov 7th: He returned the favor and actually said goodbye

10:40AM Nov 7th: On the bus ride home we sat next to each other. Talked for hours on end

10:40PM Nov 7th: We held each other’s hands and told each other our favorite bands

10:41PM Nov 7th: He looked me dead in the eyes and asked if I would please consider seeing him again

10:42PM Nov 7th: I went home filled with smiles and cheer

1:01PM Nov 7th: Annyways. The guy eventually asked me to be his girl

1:02PM Nov 7th: And things were great for a while

1:04PM Nov 7th: But my dad got in the way. And ruined everything. One day I just couldn’t do it. So I told my boyfriend my secret

1:06PM Nov 7th: What happened next was a blur. I told him not to tell. We tried to act normal. We had been dating for over a month when I took his virginity

1:07PM Nov 7th: I fell in love for the first time. But my secret was too much for him. He needed time to think. I thought I was going to lose him.

1:09PM Nov 7th: A lot happened. But all that matters is that my secret was about to become puplic. Him & my friends made me tell

1:10PM Nov 7th: All my efforts to keep a normal life were crumbling right before my eyes.

1:11PM Nov 7th: I remember telling my closest teacher and CPS and the police and dectectives. I remember having to tell them everything about my dad

1:35PM Nov 7th: It was my boyfriend who told my mom. And she came to get me.

1:37PM Nov 7th: Weeks passed then I got the call. They said. ‘Sorry but there isn’t enough evidence’ I hung up.

1:38PM Nov 7th: That’s when I changed. I didn’t care anymore. And the people I was meeting gave me no reason to.

1:39PM Nov 7th: The guys I’ve been with, ha none of them care. They just look at me like I’m just some other hoe.

1:40PM Nov 7th: To that I say. I guess I am. I don’t know how else to be. It’s not my fault. Somebody else chose that for me.

1:47PM Nov 7th: Well that’s. The story of how I came to be who I am. Well the condensed version. I’d love to hear what you have to say. But I won’t be around

2:08PM Nov 7th: Take two. Hope I get this right

 


Declaration of Independence from Stigma

I have something important to share with you all. Earlier a friend of mine gave a very brave statement when she said: “I have PTSD!! I’m not ashamed to talk about it!” Taking her example, I want to say this:

I have bipolar. I had eating disorders and PTSD, I cut myself and attempted suicide. I was a victim of childhood physical and sexual abuse. I grew up in domestic violence. I was raped.

And I am not ashamed.

I have done nothing wrong. I am not to blame for the abuse I suffered or the psychiatric disorders I am diagnosed with. I got therapy and take medication and that does not mean I’m crazy. I will not be silenced or shamed by stigma or societal pressure to keep these things hidden. They are part of my story, and I know they are part of your stories too. Join me in declaring that you will not be silenced by stigma!!! ♥


Domestic Violence Story Project: My Story- Sarah

Hi everyone, thanks for joining me once again for the final story in this series. Everyone who has contributed to this project has done a wonderful job and I am grateful to all of you, but each story has been from the perspective of a survivor in a violent relationship. I really wanted to include at least one story from the perspective of a child who had grown up in an environment of domestic violence, but unfortunately I didn’t receive any stories like that, so because I believe it is such an important perspective to include, I thought I would volunteer my own.  I will caution you, this story may be triggering and is not easy to read. But I decided not to pull any punches, and to really lay out the truth about what went on in my home growing up. Even people who know me may be surprised at the extent of the violence; I just want to be clear that I am not ashamed of anything that happened. I did nothing wrong. My mother and sister did nothing wrong. We were the victims, we are the survivors. And I am ready for the world to hear our story. 

Thank you to everyone who has written, commented, and read these stories. Just by witnessing these words, you are making a difference. 

Growing up in a violent household isn’t easy to explain. It isn’t all like what you see in Lifetime movies; it isn’t all as obvious as black eyes and screaming fights. Sometimes- many times- violence is much quieter than that, much more insidious. It was that way in my house

I think the number one word that comes to mind when describing my childhood home is this: confusing. Damn, was it confusing.  It’s not just that it was chaotic, though it certainly was. It’s that no one had a clearly defined role in the family. Mother, daughter, wife, big sister, little sister, friend, adult, child, lover, whore, caretaker, confessor, victim, savior, and others were all interchangeable roles for the three females in the family; that is my mom, my older sister, and me. We shifted personalities at the whim of my father, who also had his own little cast of characters that he played: father, husband, surgeon, family man, abuser, pedophile, rapist, philanderer, and general, all-around sociopath. We spent our days and especially our nights in a mixture of terror and exhaustion, wondering who was going to be what next.

As a child, I got extremely mixed messages from both parents, but especially my mom. On the one hand, she was very careful to make sure that she raised me to be a feminist, equal to a boy in all the opportunities I was given and the things she said to me. She gave me trucks along with my Barbies, made sure I admired Cinderella and Sally Ride, and said I was so smart I could be anything I wanted to when I grew up- no one could stop me.

Except while she was telling me all of this, I was watching her wither away in an abusive marriage. My father stopped her from seeing friends and her family, from taking a job outside the house or even working from home, from using any of the degrees she had earned. My mother is a brilliant, talented, educated woman, and he convinced her that she was worthless and stupid and couldn’t even do housework correctly. I watched him treat her like less than shit you wipe off your shoe my entire life. He slowly took away every little bit of control and happiness and sanity from her. I watched him screw other women behind her back. I dealt with him abusing my sister and me behind her back, which he knew was the worst way possible to hurt her.

When you grow up with a tyrant who rules your home like this, things are never safe. You don’t even know what that word means. Stable and secure are pretty meaningless too. Because one night your father might come home, get pissed off, and threaten to kill your cats. Or, just because he thinks it’s funny, he’ll hold an empty handgun to your six-year-old head and pretend to fire. Or while you’re doing your homework he’ll walk into your room completely naked and act like it’s no big deal. He’ll make dinner for himself and forget to feed you and your sister. He’ll pinch your ass. Pull your hair. Shove you into a wall. Molest you. Rape you.

And that’s just the stuff he did to me. He pretty much did the same to my sister. I don’t even know everything that he did to my mom, and I don’t want to. I know he abused her verbally, emotionally, physically, sexually, financially, and even reproductively, by forcing her to have her tubes tied which ended up in a hysterectomy after a post-op infection. It was horrifying.

It’s hard to really make someone understand what it is to live under the constant threat of violence unless they literally have. It’s terrifying, but it is also exhausting; physically, emotionally, and spiritually draining. Because you’re not only having to live with it, you have to keep it secret. You’re all living in this silent warzone, this strange compromise gets struck where you can be fucked up inside the house, but once outside it’s all pretend. It’s like a bomb in a Tiffany box; it may look pretty on the outside, but when you open it up, the contents will still kill you.

For those of you who have children who have lived in violent homes and are concerned about how they will be affected, I can tell you one thing: they are aware of so much more than you think. You think you are hiding the stress and trauma from them but you are not. They understand what’s happening and they want to help. They want to protect their parents and themselves and make it all ok. They think it is their fault that things are falling apart. They think this so they can have some control over a situation in which they have no control. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT try to “stay together for the kids’ sake.” The kids do not want two miserable parents together. They would so much rather have two separate, functional, happy parents, BELIEVE ME. They would rather have a struggling single mom in a safe home than a rich, extravagant home that is filled with chaos and violence. Do whatever you have to do, but make your kids feel safe. That’s all they really want.

As far as how I was affected by growing up like this, it’s hard to tell. I ended up with severe anorexia and bulimia, a dissociative disorder, self-harm issues (mostly cutting), a prescription pill habit, and horrifying posttraumatic stress disorder. But how much of that was due to witnessing domestic violence, and how much of that was being a direct victim of sexual violence myself? There’s really no way to know.  Both affected me in deep and profound ways, ways that I still deal with to this day.

So how, you’re probably wondering, did my family’s violent situation end? Well, it sort of ended because of me. I finally went off the deep end at 15. I couldn’t take it anymore and I tried to commit suicide, which landed me in a psych ward, which began the process of family therapy with the therapist who recommended my parents get divorced, which finally began when I was 17 and ended when I was 19. It took many, many years of therapy for all of us and a lot of moving around and of course, cutting my father out of our lives completely to be where we are today, my mother my sister, and me. And where we are is a pretty good place: moving forward, looking to the future, hopeful, peaceful, and free.

Finally, gratefully, free.

© Sarah Ann Henderson 2011


Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Abusive Behaviors

There are all different types of abusive behaviors: physical, verbal, emotional, sexual, financial, using children, and more. It can still be abuse if you are not being hit. You can still be raped, even if you are married. Being forced to have an abortion or carry a child you don’t want is abusive. Being isolated and having no control over the family finances, given an allowance like a child is abusive. Being told you are worthless is abusive. Women can be abusers. Knowledge is power; the more we know about domestic violence the more powerful we are to prevent and treat it. 

The following list is taken from the “Abusive Behavior Checklist” created by Central DuPage Hospital

Emotional Abuse 

  • Frequently blames or criticizes you
  • Calls you names
  • Ridicules your beliefs, religion, race class or sexual preference
  • Blames you for “causing” the abuse
  • Ridicules/makes bad remarks about your gender
  • Criticizes or threatens to hurt your family or friends
  • Isolates you from your family and friends
  • Abuses animals
  • Tries to keep you from doing something you wanted to do
  • Is angry if you pay too much attention to someone or something else (children, friends, school, etc.)
  • Withholds approval, appreciation or affection
  • Humiliates you
  • Becomes angry if meals or housework are not done to his/her liking
  • Makes contradictory demands
  • Does not include you in important decisions
  • Does not allow you to sleep
  • Repeatedly harasses you about things you did in the past
  • Takes away car keys, money or credit cards
  • Threatens to leave or told you to leave.
  • Checks up on you (listens to your phone calls, looks at phone bills, checks the mileage on the car, etc.)
  • Tells people you suffer from a mental illness
  • Threatens to commit suicide
  • Interferes with your work or school (provokes a fight in the morning, calls to harass you at work, etc.)
  • Minimizes or denies being abusive
  • Abuses your children
  • Breaks dates and cancels plans without reason
  • Uses drugs or alcohol to excuse their behavior
  • Uses phrases like “I’ll show you who is boss,” or “I’ll put you in line”
  • Uses loud or intimidating tone of voice
  • Comes home at late hours refusing an explanation

Financial Abuse

  • Makes all the decisions about money
  • Takes care of all financial matters without your input
  • Criticizes the way or amounts of money you spend
  • Places you on a budget that is unrealistic
  • Prohibits your access to bank accounts and credit cards
  • Refuses to put your name on joint assets
  • Controls your paycheck
  • Refuses you access to money
  • Refuses to let you work
  • Refuses to get a job
  • Refuses to pay bills
  • Causes you to lose your job

Sexual Abuse

  • Pressures you to have sex
  • Pressures you to perform sexual acts that make you uncomfortable or hurt you
  • Directs physical injury toward sexual areas of your body
  • Puts you at risk for unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases
  • Withholds sex or affection
  • Calls you sexual names (“whore”, “bitch”, etc.)
  • Tells anti-woman jokes or demeans women verbally/attacks your femininity or masculinity
  • Accuses you of having or wanting sex with others
  • Forces you to have sex with others
  • Threatens to disclose your relationship when you did not want it known
  • Forces you to view pornography
  • Pressures you to dress in a certain way
  • Disregards your sexual needs and feelings about sex
  • Accuses you of being gay if you refused sex (for heterosexual relationships)
  • Spreads rumors about your sexual behaviors
  • Forces you or refuses to let you use birth control
  • Makes unwanted public sexual advances
  • Makes remarks about your sexual abilities in private or in front of others
  • Rapes and sexually assaults you

Using Children

  • Makes you feel guilty about your children
  • Uses children to relay negative messages
  • Uses children to report on your activities
  • Uses visitation to harass you
  • Threatens to take custody of your children
  • Threatens to kidnap your children

Physical Abuse

  • Pushes, grabs or shoves you
  • Slaps you
  • Punches you
  • Kicks you
  • Chokes you
  • Pinches you
  • Pulls your hair
  • Burns you
  • Bites you
  • Ties you up
  • Forces you to share needles with others
  • Threatens you with a knife, gun or other weapon
  • Uses a knife, gun or other weapon
  • Prevents you from leaving an area/physically restrains you
  • Throws objects
  • Destroys property or your possessions
  • Drives recklessly to frighten you
  • Disregards your needs when you are ill, injured or pregnant
  • Abuses you while you are pregnant
  • Forces you to abort or carry a pregnancy

Issues for Immigrants

  • Lies about your immigration status
  • Tells you that they have the ability to have your immigration status changed
  • Threatens to withdraw/not file the petition to legalize your immigration status
  • Tells you that the U.S. will award the children to them
  • Tells you that you have abandoned your culture and become “white” or “American”
  • Stops subscriptions or destroys newspapers and magazines in your language
  • Tells you that U.S. law allows abuse as long as it is in private
  • Threatens to report you to INS if you work without a permit
  • Takes money you send to your family
  • Forces you to sign papers written in a language you do not understand
  • Forbids you to learn English or communicate in your native language
  • Harasses you at the only job you can work at legally in the U.S. so that you will be forced to work illegally
  • Calls you a “mail order bride”
  • Alleges you had a history of prostitution on legal papers
  • Tells you that U.S. law requires you to have sex whenever he/she wants it

Domestic Violence Story Project: R.

Hello everyone, thank you for joining me for Writing for Recovery’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month Story Project. Throughout the month of October I’ll be posting stories that I’ve received from women who have been in violent relationships, and a couple from those who have lost loved ones to violence. As many of you know, this is a subject that is a close to my heart, as I grew up in a violent and chaotic home and have felt and watched the damage it can do. However, I have also been witness to the enormous strength of those who survive these situations…and unfortunately, too many people do not. I have been privileged to hear and receive your stories and I thank everyone who has taken part in this Project. Your voices matter, they need to be heard, and it’s possible they could save a life.

The first story I’d like to bring to you was actually taken (with permission) from an e-mail I received. This lady describes the pain and fear of living inside a violent relationship in such an emotionally raw way because she is actually in one right now.  I wanted to post this first so that it’s possible to get perhaps a little bit of a glimpse inside what it might be like to live this way. To answer that tired and uninformed question, “Why doesn’t she just leave?”

 This is why. 

 

I am not sure how to begin this….( I am just telling this so that I CAN FEEL A LOT BETTER….. )

I considered myself a fighter and a survivor in my own way. It’s not easy and yet I still bear a scar and wound that can never heal.

In the Asian context, domestic violence is considered a taboo subject , it will be such a shame to let what happened in your marriage out in the open. Especially when you are being abused by your husband. Being emotionally, physically and verbally abused……it really tears MY life apart. I don’t really recognize my own self. Being called hurtful names or spiteful remarks, being kicked and punched like a ball ….. the list goes on and on…….

Imagine being spat on??…..spat on in front of the kids??…. I felt so dirty, so disgusted and so humiliated. I felt so insulted …… I hate myself…..and I hate HIM even more….

Someone told me….try to forget the hatred so at least I don’t hurt myself inside….But can you blame me for feeling like this ??????…..

I get out of the marriage after I got a knock on my senses suddenly. But that kind of braveness never came knocking on me again…it just totally left me helpless and hanging like a thread. As time goes by…..I began to feel that I am at the bottom of a pit….so low till I find it difficult to bring myself up and out….

I am scared of him…..scared of even his shadow….his voice ….. what makes matters worse, we are still living under the same roof , although we are undergoing a divorce process which I think took such a slow process….

Whenever there is a need to talk to him, the talk became an argument and it escalates into abuses….I shivered and shake whenever I try to talk to him…..

The FEAR never leaves me totally…..it will still be living in my soul as long as it takes….

I am trying my best to overcome all this in a slow and painful way……

I am tired……very tired emotionally and physically….

 

R.

Asia