RISING ABOVE ABUSE: Leaving is the hardest part
Abusive relationships not only produce battered bodies, but broken spirits. A batterer, through acts of coercion, physical abuse, exertion of power and control over a partner or child, are trying to break that person’s will.
This leaves the spouse ” male or female, young or old ” with feelings of immense insecurity ” not only physically, but emotionally mentally and spiritually.
“[The abused] already think they can’t do anything right,” says Karen Edwards, executive director of Tahoe Women’s Services. “They hear they’re ugly, stupid, not a good parent ” and they are afraid to leave because they are told they will be killed or hurt, or their children will be taken.”
Often, victims of abuse become depressed and codependent. Some say they love the partners who abuse them; some are battered to the point mentally where they say they can’t decide something simple for themselves, like whether to buy white or wheat bread.
Domestic abuse crosses cultural, class, economic and racial lines. It occurs in heterosexual and homosexual relationships and both men and women can be victims and perpetrators of abuse.
Besides the insults, name-calling, criticism and the threats to hurt other family members or take one’s children away, abusers also lock their victims into the violent relationship through economic abuse.
Edwards says one way abusers prevent a partner from leaving is through control of the finances. An individual who has little money, children to take care of and is already in the vulnerable position of being a victim of abuse, may find it difficult to remove him or herself from the situation.
“Usually, if a victim has children, it is really hard to leave ” fearing the batterer will use the children against you,” Edwards says. “[The abuser will] say things like ‘You’ll never get custody ” you’re not a good mom, you don’t have enough money, you won’t be able to see [the children if you leave], I’ll kill you,’ ” whatever means that will be effective.”
While abusive relationships don’t happen overnight, experts say indicators that the situation is escalating to an unhealthy point usually abound.
Demanding limited contact with friends and family, not allowing one to attend activities, leave the house or having to ask for permission to do so are all red flags that the relationship could lead to a more damaging, abusive level and even more difficult to leave.
“What bugs me the most is the control ” absolute mental, physical control” the abuser has over the victim, says Placer County sheriff’s Sgt. Bill Langton.
When Langton first started his law enforcement career in the 1970s, the issue of domestic violence was seen as a private one. When police arrived at a domestic call, they immediately diffused the situation.
“It wasn’t prosecuted, there weren’t many arrests,” he says. “As the problem became more public, and the public became more aware, the behavior became more unacceptable.”
Langton, a deputy on the North Shore for more than 20 years, has seen laws change throughout the years that have brought domestic violence to the fore, helping victims leave their abusers.
“Law enforcement and the courts have taken a much more aggressive stance on the issue,” he says.
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