With so much awareness around Domestic Violence (DV) since the infamous Ray Rice elevator tape was released, we have been bombarded with anti-violence messages. From “SportsCenter” anchors denouncing violence against women, Roger Goodell enacting tougher NFL sanctions and Domestic Violence statistics flashing across our TV and mobile device screens countless times a day. Now, while the Domestic Violence Counselor and Activist in me LOVES the fact that this epidemic is getting the attention it deserves, I recognize that we are only hearing part of the message. Yes, we know it’s wrong to come to violent terms in any relationship. We get it. But we are missing a big part of the conversation, the bruises you don’t see.
When most people hear DV, they automatically think of a man hitting a woman, the “wife beater”, or vice versa. Domestic Violence is the use of physical aggression or violence to gain control over another person. This is the same when we talk about sexual violence as well. Now, while this is partly true, you’d be surprised to learn that the most common form of DV is rarely physical. Yes, that’s right, domestic violence does not have to include physical violence. DV or Domestic Abuse by definition (to those in the field) is a system of tools used to gain power and control over another person whom you are in a romantic or familial relationship with. This can be a boyfriend, husband, heck it could be a child and parent. I’m going to write from the mindset of a romantic relationship, but don’t forget that these same tools can be used against anyone. The key parts are POWER and CONTROL, nothing to do with an act of violence. You could have a friend in an abusive relationship, and she may never show one mark.
Rather than bore you with even more statistics on the prevalence, number of deaths, laws… (You’ll get enough of that this month)… I want to expand the conversation and give you some insight that I have learned during my years as a counselor. Using the words of the abusers, as reported by the abused, we’ll explore the other tools in an abuser’s toolbox, other than their hands.
- “ You ain’t nothing without me girl”
- “ No man gonna want you after I’m done with you”
- “ I made you who you are”
- “You’ll never survive without me”
- “You ugly bitch, lucky I even looked at you!”
- “If I can’t have you, no one will!”
- “ I’d die before I see another nigga with you.”
- “I’ll kill you/myself if you leave me.”
- “That order of protection ain’t nothing but a piece of paper!”
Each one designed to break down your self-esteem, your confidence, and your sense of self worth. Each one instilling fear in your heart, that they might hurt you, hurt the kids, maybe even themselves and it would all be your fault. Depression, lack of motivation and the idea that you can’t do better keeping you trapped. Verbal and Psychological abuse are the hammers and mallets to break down it’s victim often leaving them vulnerable, scared and often times stuck.
“ I wasn’t allowed to talk to my friends anymore, I could only call my family once a week, and we didn’t leave the house”. Isolation from one’s support systems by breaking down friendship networks is another powerful tool. Like a pair of wire strippers, the abuser takes off the protective coating to get down to your core. “ I don’t want you hanging out with Nina anymore.” With no friends to encourage you, or family to seek wisdom from or haven with, it makes it easier for the abusive other the crush your… and keep it in pieces. “ I thought he just wanted me all to himself, I thought it was romantic” said one woman. When you feel like there is no one else to turn to for help, in your mind, there’s no where to go…
“ I can’t leave, he pays the rent, my car, insurance, the food, the light, gas, electric and I haven’t worked in years, because he wanted me to stay home with the kids. Where am I gonna live if leave? How am I gonna pay for a car, daycare so I can look for a job?” Having financial power and control is often a tool that’s used and not even realized how much you depend on until it all stops. It’s the heavy duty extension cord that connects you to the power source far away. Pull out the cord, out goes the lights. People who finds themselves completely dependent on their partner financially often finds it harder to leave because they don’t have the means to get back to the power source, money. And with an already shaken sense of self, thanks to frayed wiring, and exposed core, your left with little confidence that if you were to leave, that you’d make it out there on your own.
“He has the keys to my car, passport, social security card and all my ID’s.” Physical control of property is another unseen tool to establish power and control. It’s the hiding away of YOUR toolbox; the things you need to do what you do. Whether leaving you stranded, physically unable to leave, or hiding or destroying your important documents, even if you wanted to get out, you couldn’t.
“Divorce is against our religion, so you can never get rid of me. ” This had to be one of the worst things I’ve heard throughout my years as a counselor. Using ones devotion to their religion as a means to keep the person right where they want them. In some very orthodox communities, divorce is considered blasphemous and is not an option. Some would rather endure life on earth in hell, to experience an eternity of peace. Pardon the pun, but it’s the nails on your cross to bear.
“ I made plans to move in with my sister in Texas and he showed up at the bus stop and took me home. He was reading all of my emails and found out about our plan, even found the confirmation email of the bus ticket she sent”. Monitoring online activities, email accounts and even your comings and goings with literal home security equipment is another tool employed by abusive parties to keep their partner in check. “ I tried to sneak out when he was at work and he called me asking where I was going. He was monitoring the security cameras on his phone!” Let’s just call this tool, ADT: Abuser’s Detaining Technology.
With all these tools at an abusive persons disposal to keep their partners in line, violence can be considered the duct tape of the toolbox. If these controlling methods fail, violence is often used to reinforce and secure the job of all of the above. Unfortunately, the scars left by verbal and psychological abuse don’t heal as quickly as a black eye. The feeling of helplessness can’t be covered by make up, and being stuck somewhere you can’t see yourself leaving, are the bruises to your soul that you don’t see.