I was 16 years old. He was 17, going on 18. We were standing in an alley near the high school we both attended when an argument took a turn for the worse. We had experienced many arguments before but this time was different. As he stormed away, I chased after him, hoping for the opportunity to voice my thoughts and be heard. As I reached for him, he turned towards me with a look of pure disgust and rage and spat directly in my face.
I was stunned. For a moment, he appeared to be filled with remorse and utter confusion at what he had just done but it soon faded, replaced by a steely resolve. I burst into tears and wiped at my face, humiliated and outraged. I asked why, mumbling in protest against his actions. I moved closer. Incensed, he took a few steps back and turned away, but then faced me and asked, “Why are you still here after what just happened?” “What is WRONG with you?”
What is wrong with me…?
That event has haunted me for many years since. I wondered why I stayed with him 5 years after that, why I suffered physical and verbal abuse at his hands, over and over and over again. To me he was my everything and with little resistance, I allowed the violence to continue and escalate until the brink of no return. I thought I was the blame for his behavior. What was wrong with me, indeed.
As a former victim of domestic violence, I still suffer from persistent emotional trauma. I cringe when viewing films depicting acts of violence against other human beings. I distance myself from loved ones that are in current abusive relationships, ones they seem incapable of freeing themselves from. Some nights my ex-boyfriend and attacker visits my dreams with eyes and fists of uncontrollable rage. Loud noises easily startle me. I recoil from physical contact– touching makes me feel uncomfortable and upset. I am insecure and suffer from anxiety. I have unwittingly sabotaged healthy relationships due to low expectations.
Every day is a learning experience, a healing day. Each day is another day that separates me from my past. I have dated a few men since, two that were quite serious, and have avoided the type of man who would mistake my face for a punching bag, my spirit for a foot stool. In spite of my fears, my choices have been wiser and while I am a long way to producing and maintaining a strong and lasting relationship, I will never tolerate violence. Violence is never okay. Never.
Studies have shown that women and children who experience abuse often find themselves repeating those same mistakes, emerging from one bad relationship to advance into another similar situation. When it’s all you know, being the product of a broken home and witness to abusive relationships all around, it’s what tends to be the most familiar and even comfortable scenario, the only way to exist. We rationalize in peculiar fashion that the abuser’s wrath is merely a testament of his love– would he react so, if he did not care? We are moved by his anger, which may be falsely perceived as a form of strength, of manliness and could be enticed by it, all the way up until the exchange or reception of physical blows. These destructive relationships can continue on for years in this way as the victim feels helpless to her acceptance of such a grim reality.
But many women have broken the cycle of abuse. Women do learn from past decisions and make better ones. I did. It is sexist to assume that women cannot move away from or even forgive her attacker(s). It is also folly to chastise or cast blame toward repeat-victims of physical and sexual abuse.
See pundit Dana Perino on her Fox News show stating that women should make better decisions if they wish to avoid becoming victims:
We read about domestic violence cases and the names of celebrities Chris Brown, Mel Gibson or more recently Jovan Belcher are thrown about without regard for all parties involved. In the age of the social media blitz, we gain access to sordid details of the private lives of many women who are abused by the men they love. As spectators, we gleefully lob insults towards these types of men, but it is most important that we listen, learn and assist. Millions of women around the world experience the most atrocious kinds of treatment and are invisible. We need to save our women. Violence against women is a human rights issue.
Here’s a quick look at some stats:
- Every 9 seconds in the US a woman is assaulted or beaten.
- Around the world, at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime. Most often, the abuser is a member of her own family.
- Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women—more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.
- Studies suggest that up to 10 million children witness some form of domestic violence annually.
My family and friends did not know about the sexual and physical abuse I underwent. Most of them remain unaware to this day. I used foundation to cover the bruises. I made up tons of excuses for missed appointments or outings. My studies took a brutal hit. I became pregnant at a very young age. I had nowhere to turn and never reported my abuser to authorities. While I continue to struggle with my past, I know that real love doesn’t hurt. I know that there is no shame in asking for help and that the fault always lie with the attacker. My experiences gave me a voice in this war against women and I stand strong as an advocate of women’s health and safety.
To report abuse or donate to the cause, go here.