This morning, I took my cat, Kier, to the veterinarian’s for a routine checkup. The vet and his technician stood in the small room across from me, with Kier on the examination table between us. The vet-tech held Kier’s body so that she wouldn’t squirm while the vet opened her mouth and shone a small flashlight over her teeth. He paused and cocked his head, holding the flashlight in place, then gently prodded Kier’s mouth open wider to get a better look.
“Your cat has a chipped canine,” he told me.
“Yes,” I said, nodding. “My ex-boyfriend threw her against a wall about a year ago. But I’m not with him anymore.”
“You know,” he said, with a compassionate look in his eyes, “That’s the second time this week that someone’s told me such a thing.”
There was a brief moment of silence, and he continued with his examination. He said the tooth would be fine; no pulp had been exposed.
He finished his examination and sent Kier and I home with a clean bill of health, but his words stuck with me: “It’s the second time this week.”
So, I thought, I’m not the only one.
Far from it, in fact: statistics show that every year, some four million American women experience domestic violence (DV) at the hands of their husbands or lovers.
Why do they put up with it? some may ask.
The answer is complicated. Our society is quick to label battered women as “weak” or “mentally ill.” And — in a few cases — there is truth to these labels. In the vast majority of cases, however, this stigmatization is nothing more than a symptom of the sexism that still pervades our society. In many cases of DV, there is nothing inherently wrong with the woman, other than that her self-esteem has been eroded to such a point that she is convinced she will not be able to make it on her own.
DV consists of more than just a physical component; it always begins with verbal abuse. The abuser craves power over his partner, and will often use manipulation and humiliation in order to feel powerful, long before he ever resorts to physical violence. This is not to diminish the physical component of DV in any way but rather, to alert the reader to the simple fact that, when it comes to DV, there is much more than meets the eye.
An abuser may be charming, attentive, and loving in the early stages of a relationship. During this “honeymoon” period, his partner may find herself hooked, and thus, blinded to the red flags cropping up all around her (as surely they will).
In my own situation, my ex’s having admitted to me that he had thrown my cat up against a wall should have been the first warning sign to “LEAVE NOW.” However, we were already living together at the time, and I was very much in love. I wanted so badly to make it work, that I was more than eager to believe him when he told me how terrible he felt, and when he subsequently promised that such a thing would never happen again. It wasn’t until approximately 9 months later, when I was the one being thrown up against a wall, that I realized this time, there would be no turning back.
All my canine teeth remain fully intact, but any last shred of faith I had in my ex and his empty promises of “never again” were damaged beyond repair. I got away, and for that, I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones.
I wish that, earlier today, I could have told the vet: “My ex threw Kier up against a wall and that’s why I left him.” But that would not be the truth. I have apologized to my little feline companion (yes, I do talk to her from time to time), and I like to think that she still trusts me, as her caretaker, to keep her safe from harm — whether that harm be in the form of a mangy alley cat or an abusive boyfriend. Most of all, I would like to be able to trust myself not to fall prey to that sort of situation again.
Looking back, I am puzzled as to why I stayed for so long (13 months, to be exact). I have tried to wrap my mind around the hows and the whys of my situation, yet so many questions remain unanswered.
In an act of self-empowerment (since knowledge is power, after all) I intend to spend the coming winter researching the topic of DV in order to learn about its history, prevalence, and policy implications. If, from my experience, I can help but one woman leave a bad situation, then my work shall not be in vain.
[Image at the top left is a painting by René Magritte.]
—The cycle of domestic violence is beautifully illustrated at
—An enlightening timeline of the battered women’s movement can be found at www.icadvinc.org/domestic-violence-information/history-of-battered-womens-movement.
—A brief discussion of the difference between men’s and women’s use of violence in intimate relationships can be found at
—Youarenotcrazy.com powerfully explores the phenomenon of domestic abuse. The site exists to “empower, support and educate men and women involved in abusive relationships” (quoted text taken from actual site).
—Finally, here is a link to Cornerstone, an organization dedicated to Twin Citians (like myself) who have witnessed domestic violence firsthand. I am deeply grateful for the support they’ve provided and continue to provide: www.cornerstonemn.org.
I would highly recommend the Domestic Violence Survival Guide, written by retired NYPD patrol officer Cliff Mariani (1996, Looseleaf Law Publications, Inc.). It’s easy to read, with helpful information to guide battered women, step-by-step, through the messy process of leaving an abusive relationship.
Lundy Bancroft’sWhy Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men (2002, G.P. Putnam) takes an honest look at some of the thought processes driving abusers and why it’s so hard for them to change. An important tool for helping the abuse survivor to recognize that the abuse is most assuredly not her fault.
In The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize It and How to Respond (1992, Bob Adams, Inc.), author Patricia Evans describes how physical abuse is always preceded by verbal abuse. For this reason, the book is an invaluable resource in the field of domestic violence literature. As the title would suggest, Evans delineates categories of verbal abuse and dynamics of the verbally abusive relationship, and then goes on to outline possible ways to respond. She makes it very clear that sometimes the best response is, quite simply, to leave.
It’s My Life Now: Starting Over After an Abusive Relationship or Domestic Violence, by Meg Kennedy Dugan and Roger R. Hock (2000, Routledge), is the ideal literary companion for the woman who has taken the most difficult step and finally left her abuser. The book offers women help and hope for repairing damaged self-esteem in the aftermath of domestic violence.
INFO BY PHONE
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE
In closing, I’d like to share a passage from feminist psychologist Lenore Walker’s 1989 book Terrifying Love: Why Battered Women Kill and How Society Responds. On p. 46, Walker writes:
“After years of research and practicing psychotherapy, both with battered women and with batterers . . . it is my professional opinion that battering relationships rarely change for the better. Even with the desire of both partners, the inequality inherent in the relationship, the brutalizing division of power, is resistant to change. The violence in such relationships seems almost ingrained, although it may sometimes abate in frequency and severity. Physical abuse may stop for a time, but almost invariably the psychological abuse increases, and eventually the physical abuse will begin again. The best hope for the battered woman to stop the violence is to end the relationship altogether” [emphasis mine].