How can you defend yourself against domestic violence?
April 24, 2000 (Portland, Ore.) -- Carey Draeger was 19 when she met her
future husband. After only two months of dating, the two decided to get
married. Not long after their honeymoon, Draeger was introduced to a side of
her new husband she never saw before. "It started with emotional and verbal
abuse, with him saying things like I was lucky he stayed with me or that nobody
else would want me," she says. Soon, it wasn't unusual for him to be
breaking and throwing things during their arguments.
For two years this behavior continued until their daughter was born, and
then the emotional abuse and fighting intensified. Over the next three years,
the abuse turned physical when Draeger's husband punched her during an
argument. That was the final straw: She convinced her husband to move out and
leave her alone. "I still don't know how I was able to get him to leave
peacefully. I was very lucky."
If only every woman in an abusive relationship were as lucky as
Draeger. Many attempt to ride out these disastrous relationships, enduring
years of abuse. In fact, a 1997 report from the U.S. Department of Justice
found that more than one in three women who sought treatment in the emergency
room were there as a result of injuries caused by domestic violence. All those
dislocated shoulders, bruised jaws, and broken fingers are not the result of a
slippery stairwell or a particularly vigorous roughhousing session with the
And many more women probably suffer in silence. Bruises aren't the only
signs of abuse: The Family Violence Prevention Fund defines domestic abuse as
any pattern of assaultive or coercive behaviors, including physical, sexual,
and psychological attacks as well as economic coercion that adults or
adolescents use against their intimate partners -- male or female. While most
abusers are male, they can also be female. The bottom line is that anyone can
be a victim of domestic violence, regardless of gender.
The report found that a woman is more likely to be injured from a domestic
violence incident than from car accidents, rapes, or muggings combined. A woman
is much more likely to be killed by a current or former romantic partner than
by a stranger.
Mistaken Beliefs Allow It to Continue
Shocking as this report is, shock isn't enough to halt the prevalence of
abuse in America, says Stacey Kabat, executive director and founder of the
advocacy group Peace at Home. "There are still deeply entrenched myths
surrounding domestic violence that allow it to persist. Breaking down these
myths is critical to ending the acceptance of violence in our society."
Particularly destructive are beliefs that abuse is a private family matter or
that the abuser behaves abusively because he (or she) loses control, or that
the victim provokes the violence. "Violence is not about a loss of
control," says Kabat. "Instead, it's about power and control."
People do not abuse in a fit of rage -- they know very well what they are
doing, she says. And to say that someone provoked any sort of abuse is to lay
blame on the victim, which only serves to increase a sense of isolation and
Linda Marshall, PhD, director of the program in social work at Texas Women's
University in Houston, agrees that debunking these beliefs is critical, but
does think we're making progress. "At least now these myths aren't
automatically accepted as truth like they were 20 or even 10 years ago,"
she said. "Now we question them, we discuss them as a society. That's
progress. But we need to do more."