Most people have seen stories on abused women on television or in movies and it is through those views most of us get our opinion of abuse and the women who live with it. There is this unanswered question amongst women who have never suffered at the hand of a man "Why don't they just get out?". Amazingly, a lot of women do get out of these relationships.
I was abused in my first marriage and within three years of that first incident, I was out and on my own, raising my son alone. But I've had friends ask me why it took three years to get out and it is the answer to that question that perhaps helps people better understand why so many women remain in these relationships for long periods of time.
I clearly remember the first time my ex-husband hit me. I had caught him with another woman and confronted him in a public place. I returned to our apartment with him hot on my trail and as soon as he entered, he backhanded me across the room and started a tirade about my embarrassing him in front of his friends. My response to all this was to laugh. Now, don't get me wrong. The laughing didn't last long, but it was my initial response. Why? Because I thought it was ridiculous that this man would raise his hand to me for any reason, least of all because he had been caught cheating on me. Come on, let's face it ladies! Is that not the silliest thing you've ever heard? But that is so totally the type of incident that will set off an abusive husband or boyfriend. Getting caught doing or saying something they shouldn't be doing or saying. It makes them look bad in a world where they are desperately trying to look like they fit in, where they are trying to be accepted by their peers who most likely are not beating on their wives.
The other thing I remember about the first incident is that it was a unique experience for me because I had never been hit by any man in my entire life. My mother smacked me in the face once when I was about 7 years old, but other than that I had never had a spanking or been hit by anyone, including my five brothers. I had absolutely no idea how to react to this behavior. So, when he left the apartment only to return with a huge apology that seemed sincere, I didn't have the experience to do anything but forgive him, because let's face it, I had married the guy because I thought I loved him. What I didn't know at the time was the man I fell in love with didn't really exist. He was just a role that my ex played when he was wooing a new woman.
It would be months before he hit me the second time and then I was pregnant with our son. I knew after that incident the marriage was over. I don't care how angry you get. No one in their right mind hits a pregnant woman! It was just a matter of time now. I had to bring this child into the world, get a job that could support the two of us and move into my own apartment. Before all those things happened, there would be two more incidents. When the last incident occurred, I knew I was still 9 months - a year away from hoarding the money I needed to get away, so in order to save myself, I quietly explained to him that if he ever hit me again I would kill him in his sleep. He apparently believed me because it was 10 months before I moved out and in that time, he never hit me again.
I'll admit my ex attempted to keep me under his control by forbidding me to work outside the home, which would have made it impossible for me to get the money I needed to get out. But I played to his selfishness (most abusive men are selfish beyond belief) so he would want more money coming into the household and the only way to get that was for me to go to work. My ex didn't ask me what I was making, so I took a portion of my pay check and held it back each payday, but I had a friend whose husband wanted to control her check. I walked her through how to lie to him about the cost of the child care so she could save up the difference. There are many ways to hoard money once you're working, no matter how much control they think they have. My personal favorite is companies who are associated with credit unions and will automatically withhold a portion of your check and put it into a savings account for you. Most men just want you to hand over the check. They never think to look at the pay stub.
Be aware, when all this was happening to me, there was no place for abused women to go for protection. In many cases, even the police would just take a report and tell the husband to cut it out. It was almost acceptable for men to keep their women in line by hitting them once in awhile. But for me, this was not the life I had signed up for and I had no intention of living under the roof with a man who would even think hitting me was ok. I had to wonder how he would discipline our son when he was old enough to need his father's influence.
But being in that lower income group, I had to plan my escape. That's where these rescue homes do such a great service for women today. If I had somewhere to go that would give me time to get a job and save up enough money to get an apartment, I would most certainly have been gone after the first incident. The reality is that many women know how to get out of abusive relationships and do. Those of us who have survived need to be spending more of our time helping those who think they are trapped get out from under what ever control these men have over them. In this day and age, there is no reason for women to remain in an abusive relationship. There is too much information out there telling them that these men don't love them and too many of us to explain to them what they perceive as love is a dependence, usually for financial reasons, but sometimes an inate fear of being alone.
I rarely write an extensive piece that does not deal with domestic violence somewhere within it's pages. I can't get the message across enough and if I have to remind women for the rest of my life that they deserve a better life than being stuck with a man who can't keep his hands to himself because someone hurt his feelings, then I'll take that on as my role in life. I'd take each and every one of them into my own home if I could, but I'm happy knowing there are plenty of group homes out there that can provide them what they need to escape. So I hope every one who reads this today will make one of their goals for 2010 to watch out for these women and provide them what you can to help. FInd out where and who runs the local womens' shelters so you are ready to provide them the information they need to get into their safe haven. It will be the best gift you give all year.