I am grateful to see that in the wake of the NFL player, Ray Rice’s abuse of his wife Janay Palmer, domestic violence is being discussed openly and heatedly. On Twitter, women have begun a movement to share their stories on all social media fronts called “#whyistayed” and reportedly, the calls to domestic violence hotlines have doubled and in some areas even tripled. I won’t begin to touch the implications of steroids, sports, NFL politics (really ALL major league sports) and why this incident was not handled properly from the beginning. That has been done very well already. At best, this incident will incite real change and all sports will take this example and handle it before they are made an example of.
What I want to discuss, because I haven’t seen it done much, is the cycle of abuse. Because it is a cycle 100% of the time. From the outside, it’s really tough to understand why a woman stays in an abusive relationship. But the truth is, the physical abuse is the tip of the iceberg and only one part of what’s really happening.
I learned about the battering cycle many years ago and I still feel that this diagram by Lenore Walker is an excellent starting point.
The diagram outlines 4 phases. First, there is tension. Regular life stuff usually. Then, the incident. Often unprovoked, an inappropriate reaction to something mundane. This can be verbal abuse or physical abuse. And then what happens? You want to really know why she stays? Because after things go badly, it’s usually great again. This is called “Reconciliation” and in other literature it is coined “The Honeymoon Phase”. This is the good stuff and we remember why we love him. And we want to hold on to that part. We want to stay here. We want to believe that people change, that he didn’t mean it. That it won’t happen again. We are optimistic. In the calm phase after the Honeymoon Phase we might forget all about it. And deep down, we are ashamed. Because then it happens again.
Sometimes we stop telling everyone in our lives about the bad stuff. We don’t want to hear what they have to say . We don’t want to hear from our close friends and family that this isn’t the first time. We don’t want to remember that. We focus on the good and the kids and moving forward. We are strong.
Just yesterday, a friend called me in distress. She and her guy had had another fight. She was in the incident phase. Her situation isn’t physical, it’s verbal. They argue and he says mean and hateful things to her. Then they make up. Then it’s fine for awhile. Then it happens again. Her self-esteem is low. Maybe it was before this relationship, I don’t know. I do know that it takes a hell of a lot of strength to break out of this cycle. How do you find that strength when you have been broken?
Some women say that it’s almost easier when there is physical violence against them because everyone can say that’s wrong. We can all agree, it isn’t OK for a man to hit a woman. You would think that was a no-brainer but check this out:
“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “More than one-third of women in the United States (35.6 percent, or approximately 42.4 million) have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime,” and nearly one in three women have experienced physical violence by an intimate partner. To put some of this in percentage terms, 30.3 percent of women in the United States have been “slapped, pushed, or shoved by an intimate partner” in their lifetime.”
Now, let’s bring it to a global level. ” As the United Nations makes clear, “Violence against women is a universal phenomenon.”According to the U.N., “Up to seven in 10 women around the world experience physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime,” and “603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not yet considered a crime.”
Did you get that? It’s not even considered a crime world wide to abuse a woman. My blog “On Beyonce’s Feminism” began to address this issue of the necessity of ongoing dialogue on the status of women worldwide. There are economic and religious reasons why women stay (and that seems to be more what people are focused on) but I still believe that it boils down to the same deeper psychological phenomenon and breaking that, truly, is the starting point.
For many years, my Mom was the Director for La Casa De Las Madres which is an agency in San Francisco for domestic violence. They house and help women trying to get away in an anonymous place, a safe house. They take in the women and their children and they help them start a new life. They give food, clothing, shelter, career coaching. It’s an incredible agency and she still works there in a different capacity now. Looking back, I remember how hard that work was for her. How heartbreaking the stories were but especially heartbreaking was every time a woman went back.
How do help each other? How do we build self-esteem? How do we assure our Sisters, our Mothers, our Daughters and our friends that they deserve better? How can we help them when they don’t believe it?
Thank you for your thoughtful writing of the week on this difficult topic, Maya.
When I began working with survivors of domestic violence I naively thought that success for our clients and residents was to leave the relationship, to begin a different life.
I learned to listen, to really hear what the women wanted. To stop measuring success through my old lens and to begin to understand
that my relationship with each client needed to be based on honesty, respect, awareness. That listening (without agenda) is love. Many survivors not only contend with domestic violence but also poverty, lack of resources, isolation, language barriers. The statistics are staggering, the problem significant. The work is
inspiring, resilience of the survivors is stunning.