“You need to come get me. He choked me.” As you hang up the phone, the words trickle down your neck like ice, making their way down your spine and dispersing in shockwaves of numbness throughout your entire body. “He—he threw me down the stairs.” It’s your best friend on the other line, wailing. She just got in a fight with her new boyfriend, but you thought they were ever so much in love. “You need to hurry,” she says. “Please.”
Your mind races as you frantically hurry to your car, your hands shaking and sweating on the steering wheel from your nerves and worries—what’s going on? What’s going to happen? And most importantly—is she okay?
It’s only a few blocks—if she can just hold on for a few short blocks. The clouds loom in the sky, blanketing your car in the darkness of the night as you speed down the deserted streets. The windshield is blurred where the cold air has gathered and frozen, and you wonder if she’s somewhere warm. You can’t believe this is happening. This doesn’t happen to you or anyone you know, especially someone you love; it’s not possible.
You pull up to the street his house is on to find her standing outside with no coat on—freezing, disheveled, devastated…and alone. Pulling over and jumping out of the car, you rush to secure your own coat around her and usher her into the passenger side, holding her limp body more and more with every step. She’s in the car now, safe and sound—at least for a little while. Her mascara runs down her cheeks in tearful clumps, falling onto the freshly indented bruise swelling on her neck.
Suddenly that numbness that you feel is gone. That ice has slowly been replaced with fire seeping through your veins and into your heart. You’re filled with hate. You’re filled with anger. You’re filled with rage. “He did this to you?”
“It’s Tommy,” she says. “He—he just had a little too much to drink tonight. It was really all my fault. I started it.” She tries to find the right combination of words to scramble together while her thoughts scatter wildly in her head. “I shouldn’t have said anything about him drinking too much.”
“So he choked you?”
“I deserved it. I know now not to say anything to make him angry,” she says. “He really does love me.”
“Kait, this is the third time,” you say, the rage inside you now turning to sympathy and resentment towards your friend. “The first time was only the slyest comment, the second turned into a threat, and now this. You know what next time is going to be right? You got lucky tonight, Kait. You might not be so lucky next time.”
“There won’t be a next time.”
“This isn’t the end. It’s going to get worse. He’s going to seriously hurt you, Kait.”
“No he won’t,” she says. “Tommy would never do that.”
Okay, ladies, we know what happens next. You play hero for the night, aiding your friend and fleeing to her rescue. But what happens the next morning when she’s right back where you picked her up from the night before—back there with him? What do you do now? Do you continue to help her, or do you let her figure it out on her own? How many times can you save her? When comes the point where enough is enough? You wonder what it is about him that has your friend tied around his finger, brainwashed and tricked in her thinking and acting, crippled emotionally and physically. You wonder why she can’t see it. She’s in denial. You swear you would never let a man, or anyone, abuse you in that manner. But let me ask you this—or would you?
The truth is, women’s abuse and violence is an active and recurring problem in our society today, and it affects women of all ages, races, cultures, economic classes, and religious groups. It’s a major obstacle, one that is extremely overlooked and repeatedly silenced. But the reality is that a significant number of women experience abuse or violence every day. According to the Coalition Against Rape and Abuse Organization, an estimated 4 million females experience some form of abuse each year. Furthermore, according to At Health, Inc., an abusive act occurs every 15 seconds in the United States. A little problem? I don’t know about you all, but that seems like a pretty significant number to me.
So what exactly is abuse? You all may be wondering what falls into the category of abuse. We all know that obviously the commonly known slapping, punching, sexual innuendos, and more seriously, rapes, are all forms of abuse. But what about the more subtle actions, such as the occasional name-calling, or maybe the faint signs of possessiveness, or what about the snarky jokes he swears are all in good fun? These all qualify as forms of abuse. According to the Women Against Abuse Organization, there are four main types of abuse: physical, psychological, sexual, and economical. The Organization says that physical abuse can result in anything from bruising to murder, while psychological abuse is anything that impacts a woman’s mental health and well-being. Sexual abuse is a form of physical abuse, and economic abuse includes any behavior that maintains power and control over a woman’s finances.
Despite increased awareness in the past recent years, women’s abuse and violence is a danger that has been around forever. As times change, and society shifts in becoming more open and outspoken in expressing its opinions, a new alertness for such abuse has been chiefly established amongst society today. Just recently have women felt safe enough to speak out and address the issue, whether a victim, or mere supporter. But this newfound bravery in the past 20 years does not mean that this problem hasn’t been present throughout history. The reality is that it has—it simply was not addressed.
Let’s look at an example dating back to the 1800’s with Harriet A. Jacobs in her autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. I use Jacobs as an example because not only was she a female back in times where society looked down upon women, treating them as insubordinates to men, but also because Jacobs was also a slave. Talk about helpless! See, Jacobs was a slave for most of her life, undergoing unimaginable hardships and trials in her daily, day-to-day life, let alone dealing with the whole issue of abuse. It wasn’t until her later life that she was able to break away from her master and escape to the north.
But during those times as a slave, Jacobs endured excessive amounts of abuse from her male “master,” especially amounts of sexual abuse. She wrote: “But now I enter my fifteenth year—a sad epoch in the life of a slave girl. My master began to whisper foul words in my ear. Young as I was, I could not remain ignorant of their import.” So what did Jacobs do, you wonder? She continued: “I tried to treat them with indifference or contempt.”
Now I know at this point many of you are probably thinking that simply ignoring the problem isn’t going to make it disappear—and you’re right! This wasn’t a solution for Jacobs, and she knew her master wasn’t going to stop, but he owned her, and she was compelled to live under the same roof with him for many years. She wrote: “He was a crafty man, and resorted to many means to accomplish his purposes. Sometimes he had stormy, terrific ways, that made his victims tremble; sometimes he assumed a gentleness that he thought most surely subdue.”
Although Jacobs never clearly said whether or not her master physically sexually abused her, she did say that his foul remarks did have a certain impact on her. She said, “He tried his utmost to corrupt my pure principles. He peopled my young mind with unclean images, such as only a vile monster could think of. I turned from him with disgust and hatred. I saw a man forty years my senior daily violating the most sacred commandments of nature.”
So did the subtle, faint hints of abuse have an affect on Jacobs? You bet they did. And can they have an affect on you, today? You bet they can. But this was just the beginning for Jacobs, and like in the repeated pattern of abuse and violence, the situation only got worse for her. She wrote: I cannot tell you how much I suffered in the presence of these wrongs, nor how I am still pained by the retrospect. My master met me at every turn, reminding me that I belonged to him. I longed for someone to confide in, but he swore he would kill me if I was not silent as the grave.” First comments, now threats. What’s next?
“I began to fear for my life,” Jacobs wrote.
If you’re still skeptical as to why I’m using Jacobs, a woman who lived hundreds of years ago, as an example, it is because she did the right thing and took the next right step—she got out. Here she was, a slave girl who was held down her whole life, who experienced such abuse, realizing that if she didn’t leave she would die, and who risked her life to do so, finally broke free from her master and his control before it was too late. Now ladies, if she did it, you certainly can!
Well what can you do to get out of an abusive environment? The key to leaving is probably the hardest—you have to choose to leave. Nobody can make that decision but you, and if you aren’t willing to take the risk, it will never work. Sure, you’ll be faced with many obstacles along the way, but in the long run, you’ll be glad you did it. Easier said than done—right? The good news is that you have a lot more resources today, as opposed to Jacobs years and years ago. Help is out there waiting, if you need it. It’s not the same world it was back then—all you need to do is ask!
Ladies, if your friends are in abusive relationships, be there for them. Try to talk to them. Help them find the courage to believe in themselves, and if it gets to be too much for you to handle, it’s time to bring in reinforcements from the outside. Call another friend, a family member, a hotline, an organization. Nobody should be left alone to fight this by herself.
Here are some tips on how to spot signs of abuse or violence off of the Women Against Abuse website:
•Insults in public
Additional resources for help:
•The National Domestic Violence Hotline
•National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
•Women Thrive Worldwide
•Women Against Abuse Organization
215.386.1280 ext. 112