But for one out of every four women in this country, home is anything but safe. When she closes her door – reluctantly -- to the protection of the outside world, it triggers fear and a growing dread. She’s alone with the enemy -- her loved one, the one who is supposed to love her. But instead of kisses and hugs she gets fists and bruises. She cries and withdraws, he cools down and later is remorseful. They reconcile, there’s a honeymoon period and he promises never to hit her again. Then one day, out of nowhere, the vicious cycle of abuse starts all over again in her black-and-blue world: He didn’t like her dinner, or how long she was out shopping or the tone in her voice.
It’s a life lived on eggshells, a house of cards that could come crashing down at any moment.
Ashamed to face the truth, she becomes a great pretender in a doomed drama. And nobody, but the traumatized children, knows about it.
“It’s very difficult to reach out to victims because the core nature of domestic violence is isolation. Women are locked in by fear, shame, guilt and the traumatic bond between husband and wife,” says Vivian Clecak, founder of Human Options, a multi-service agency in Orange County, California, dedicated to the prevention of domestic violence, and the treatment and intervention for victims (humanoptions.org).
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, though it’s a cause that deserves our attention year-round. Violence against women and children in their own homes happens all the time. Every nine seconds a woman is battered in this country. And in at least 30% of the cases, children are assaulted, too. What’s more, domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women ages 15 to 44 -- more than rapes, muggings and car accidents combined.
True, every couple fights. But domestic violence is darker and cuts much deeper. It’s a pattern of physical, sexual and psychological attacks fueled by the abuser’s pathological need to control. “The cycle of abuse often starts verbally. Calling her stupid, treating her with disrespect, demeaning her,” Clecak explains. “It’s a slow, subtle wearing down of her personhood.
It’s not just a “trailer park” crime, either, as many would believe. Domestic violence is an equal opportunity destroyer, invading every ethnic, religious and economic strata of society. Yet, so much of it is hidden. Couldn’t possibly happen in your nice neighborhood? “The more affluent you are, the more hidden it is,” says Clecak: “A wealthy woman has more shame because she has a social position and children who also have a social identity.”
Sadly, it’s our young ones who really suffer. “We know that children are traumatized by the violence even if they’re never hit,” says Clecak. An astounding 33% of calls to Human Options’ hotline come from children. Too often, domestic violence is a searing torch passed to the next generation.
The good news is, education and outreach are working. “The most interesting thing about domestic violence in the last 20 years is the number of abusers murdered by their victims is way down,” claims Clecak. Homicides against victims is on the decline, too. Women are getting out of abusive relationships sooner. They now have places to turn for emergency shelter and transitional housing.
Changing the tide of domestic violence is a long, hard journey because it’s deeply rooted in society. “It comes from a long tradition of patriarchy that women are property.” In many cultures, it’s OK to beat your wife. But make no mistake . . . it’s a crime in this country.
The first step is always the hardest. If you’re in an abusive relationship, call a local shelter. “The most important thing a woman needs is to know she’s not alone, she’s not to blame.” Clecak makes a final plea.
It’s not going to get any better. You know that. So get help now while you and your children can still get out.