Breaking the painful cycle

Patricia Bailey is the executive director of the Women's Resource Center. (Register-Herald file photo)

The Women’s Resource Center will observe Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October with candlelight vigils around the region, including the 29th Candlelight Vigil in Raleigh County.

WRC Executive Director Patricia Bailey said Monday that the goal of domestic violence service agencies in October is to remember those whose lives have been lost to criminal acts by a domestic partner.

“There’s no excuse for domestic violence,” said Bailey. 

Statistics show that domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women, with a quarter of American women reporting having been a victim of the crime. The crime kills three American women each day.

Bailey, whose nonprofit organization serves as an advocacy and resource center for victims of domestic and sexual violence in southern West Virginia, said that rural areas often present unique barriers for women who are victims of violence inside the home — but she believes that the personal relationships that happen naturally in a small town can be a vital weapon in the fight against domestic violence.

“Each of us is in a position to help in the efforts to eliminate domestic violence,” she said. “Each of us can work toward creating relationships that are based on love, trust and mutual respect.

“With our families, our neighbors, co-workers and friends, we can each use language that promotes peace instead of violence and hope instead of fear.

“Together, we can take a stand against those who perpetrate acts of domestic and sexual violence and hold them accountable for those acts of violence.”

Rural challenges

In West Virginia between October 2017 and September 2018, there were 30 deaths (including children) of state residents that appear to be related to domestic and family violence, according to media reports collected by WRC and other state domestic violence agencies, Bailey said.

In the last decade, there have been 346 deaths in West Virginia that appear to be domestic violence-related, or an average of over 2.5 domestic violence-related deaths per month in the state, she reported. The West Virginia Coalition of Domestic Violence reports that two-thirds of women murdered in the state are murdered by a boyfriend or husband.

National statistics show that reported domestic violence in rural and urban areas is roughly the same (www.nursingcenter.com), but women in rural areas have special barriers that may prevent them from leaving the abuser.

Part of the reason that domestic violence can thrive in rural areas is that people know each other and are more likely to know each other’s business. This means that some family members and neighbors who are victims of crime inside their homes are too embarrassed to seek help from the local police or victims’ services. They fear public opinion directed toward them, as the victim, and toward their children.

They are likely also to fear the abuser — not only because they have already witnessed the violence toward themselves or someone else in the home but because they are afraid that public sympathy will be in favor of the abuser, who may have more money and stronger social connections.

In small towns, abusers are also more likely to have personal connections with law enforcement, statistics show. They are also three times more likely than abusers in urban areas to violate a protective order issued by local law enforcement, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Bailey presented statistics that show 45 percent of male abusers in rural areas own a firearm. (Bailey said one study has shown that abusers are more likely to use a firearm to murder a female partner they have been abusing than all other weapons, combined.) Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy reports that women are five times more likely to be killed if an abuser owns a gun. Everytown Research reports that the United States is the most dangerous high-income country for victims of domestic violence, due to the nexus of firearms and domestic abuse. 

When those factors are added to others found in rural living — limited job opportunities for victims, limited access to transportation, limited access to a health care facility, limited child care options and lack of housing — victims of crime inside a rural home are facing a special set of barriers if they want to leave.

Community accountability

Bailey said that the same small town environment and the close-knit relationships that form in families, churches and clubs could provide one of the strongest weapons for stopping domestic violence, however.

To make that happen, Bailey said, everyone must be educated on domestic violence and willing to hold the abusers — not their victims — accountable for the crime.

“I am always amazed at the focus placed on why a victim stays in an abusive relationship,” said Bailey. “When we ask this question, and we have all been guilty, we are re-victimizing the victim by blaming them somehow for the domestic violence situation they find themselves in.”

She explained that the abuser has likely already convinced the victim that she is responsible for the abuse.

“The abusive individual never takes responsibility for their actions,” she said. “It’s always the victim’s fault.

“The abusive individual justifies their behavior by saying, ‘They made me do it.’

“Eventually, the victim starts believing these untruths, as well.”

She said there are many reasons a victim may not leave a relationship — fear the abuser will kill her or her family if she leaves, fear she will lose custody of a child, a lack of money, lack of housing or child care, no job, because those in her religious community and family urge her to stay, because she has witnessed abuse growing up and finds it normal, or the abuser has convinced her that she is controlling the abuse cycle and that she deserves the abuse.

Bailey said it is important for others in the family, churches, law enforcement, workplace and community to hold the abuser accountable for his behavior. 

“Instead of asking why a victim stays in an abusive relationship, why don’t we ask why the abuser abuses or why the batterer batters?

“We need to stop victim blaming now,” she added. “We can each challenge false assumptions and false information that perpetuate stereotypes about domestic violence.” 

Abusive behaviors

Bailey offered statistics that show domestic violence happens to both women and men, but most abusers are male. Abusers target women for violence far more frequently than they target men. Of all domestic abuse victims, 85 percent are women. Almost a third of American women report being abused by a boyfriend or husband at some point in their lives, and 40 percent of teen girls say they or someone they know personally has been hit by a boyfriend or another significant male figure in her life, according to Bailey.

More than three American women are murdered each day by a boyfriend or husband, said Bailey. An American woman is statistically more likely to be injured by domestic violence than by a car accident, a mugging or a rape, combined. Every nine seconds in the United States, a woman is assaulted or beaten.

Abusers may use several forms of abuse against their victims, said Bailey, including money.

“Partners of an abusive individual usually feel more like a servant than an equal partner,” she said. “The abusive individual makes all the major decisions and handles all the money.

“The victim feels like a child asking for an allowance.”

Abusive partners may try to prevent a partner from working, or they may take all of the money that a partner earns. They often spend the family’s money and make all of the financial decisions without input from their partner.

Abusers also use emotions to control partners. Bailey said emotional abuse includes insults to religion or other deeply held beliefs, insults to race or social class, putting down the partner through public humiliation, shaming or ridiculing them or threatening them.

“Abusive individuals are controllers,” explained Bailey. “They pick your clothes, friends, jobs and tell you how to behave.

“As a victim, you have no privacy or rights.”

She said abusive partners read emails and mail and listen in on phone conversations.

“They don’t recognize you as a partner in the relationship,” she said. “They are always right, and your opinions are devalued.”

Verbal abuse includes putdowns, insults, name-calling, accusing, blaming, humiliating gestures or remarks, screaming and yelling.

More community tips

Sexual violence is a means of controlling and humiliating the victim, too. Bailey said sexual abuse includes rape, criticizing someone sexually, accusing victims of affairs and coercing someone into a sex act they don’t want to do. Some abusers use sex to try to manipulate a partner, by withholding sex and affection as “punishment.”

Bailey said the community can help stop sexual violence by promoting equality in sexual relationships. She said that when parents teach sons to push for sexual activity while at the same time teaching daughters to resist it and holding girls and women accountable for the extent of the sexual involvement, they are promoting a culture of rape.

Bailey said it is up to our local culture to make sure that men do not feel superior, entitled and licensed as sexual predators and that they are not taught to view girls and women as prey or a conquest. 

Physical abuse includes hitting, choking, punching, slapping, shooting, stabbing, beating with objects, throwing things and punching walls, locking someone in or out of the house and hurting family pets.

Bailey said abuse in all forms takes its toll on a victim. It is up to friends, family and church members to notice and to offer support and not judgment for the victim.

“Victims of domestic violence slowly begin to lose their self-confidence,” said Bailey. “If victims are told that they are fat, ugly, stupid, a terrible parent and that they can’t do anything right often enough and on a regular basis, they eventually come to believe that it’s true. 

“If someone with a healthy self-worth starts to act insecure, abuse could be the reason.”

She said services for victims of domestic and sexual violence are available at the Women’s Resource Center 24 hours a day, seven days a week by calling the hotline at 304-255-2559 or toll free at 1-888-825-7836.

More information about services is available online at www.wrcwv.org

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