by Karen Rose Originally published in Big Island Weekly April 2013
I loved Johnny Depp. Who didn’t? Abuse takes on many forms and all abusers do not fit the stereotype of disadvantaged, alcoholic losers. Abusers can also be rich, attractive and famous. In case you’ve been on a social media hiatus, you’ve probably seen or read the news of Johnny Deppʻs divorce from Amber Heard.
Heard filed for a restraining order, complete with photographs of her bruised face, and a video of Mr. Depp yelling at her and throwing a wine bottle across the room. These accusations and documentation didn’t stop the public from labeling her a lying, gold-digging bitch. Despite the details, witnesses and photographs, Heard was still accused of making false allegations in order to line her pockets.
This week, it was reported that Heard and Depp settled out of court for 7 million dollars and Heard is to donate the entire settlement from Johnny Depp to two charities that work with abused women and ill children. She will give half to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to prevent violence against women, and half to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.
A woman is beaten every 9 seconds in the United States. Amber Heard is still being scrutinized and called a liar. And we wonder why women wait so long to report abuse?
Voltaire tells us to judge a man by his questions rather than his answers. That’s a profound observation that we can also apply to society as a whole. How we question things as a community, and as a nation, is a reflection of our core values and belief systems. That being said, maybe some of the societal problems that have plagued us for generations have done so because we are asking the wrong questions.
Unfortunately, intimate relationships can also have a dark, ugly side. I’ve spend several years counseling victims of domestic violence and becoming aware of the many misconceptions surrounding this societal epidemic.
The Federal Bureau of Justice statistics report that 90 percent domestic violence emergency room patients are women. In addition, 50% of women who are murdered, are killed by their intimate partners; compared to 5-8% of men. So while I recognize that men are also victims of domestic violence, for the purpose of this article, I will focus on female victims of intimate partner abuse.
One of most common questions I get asked in my line of work is, “Why do women stay in relationships where they are being abused?” Well if we want to tackle the real issue, maybe a better question would be, “Why do some men beat up women?” But since that’s not the question being posed, I’ll do my best to explain the social factors that influence a woman’s decision to remain with a violent partner. However, before I do that, I want to momentarily climb up on my soap box and expound upon a simple analogy.
Let’s do an exercise that I used to conduct with my Sociology class when we covered the topic of domestic violence. Instead of asking why a woman doesn’t “just leave”, I would apply the same question to other forms of violence. For example, I would ask my students, “Why didn’t more plantation slaves run away in the middle of the night while the master was sleeping?” The answers I received were always given with conviction, “Because the slaves knew they would be hunted down, beaten, or killed.” My student’s first reactions were never, “low self-esteem”, “lack of resources”, or “not enough money” – although those variables were still very real. But it would be clearly degrading and insulting to assume those were the main reasons for not escaping slavery.
We can apply this same analogy to kidnap victims, prisoners of war, and other forms of terroristic threatening. The consequences of attempting to escape are real. The terror that women in abusive relationships experience is real. Some victims in violent situations attempt to escape. And while some of them make it, some of them are killed, and others are recaptured and unmercifully terrorized. I’m not exaggerating, and the statistics prove it.
Seventy-five percent of women who are killed as the result of a violent relationship are killed while trying to leave. Violence and the terrorizing threats of violence work. It works to keep victims terrorized and immobilized. It keeps them from running. It keeps them from leaving. It keeps them “in their place”.
All the other reasons we give for why women stay with an abusive partner are just as real, just not as paralyzing. The first part of any unhealthy relationship is similar to a healthy one. The shift may begin gradually and before you know it you’re in an abusive relationship.
How many of us, men and women, have stayed in an unhealthy relationship even when we knew it was detrimental? How difficult was it to finally let it go, and why did it take so long? Low self-esteem? Lack of resources? Wanting your children to have two parents? If this sounds familiar, imagine how much more difficult it would be if you were afraid for your life and that of your kids? To a woman in that situation, it’s literally a life or death decision, and threatening to hurt or kill her children is one of the main factors that keeps her complacent, and the perpetrator knows this.
Are you getting it? Ok, now we can talk.
Let’s start with why we’re not asking the right question. When we ask things like, ‘why doesn’t she just leave’, or ‘how did she get into that situation in the first place’, what we are really saying is, ‘that could never happen to me.’ It feels safer to blame the victim, than to recognize that there are predators and that we too may be vulnerable to victimization. By asking what she could have done differently, we deny the reality that it could happen to us, or our daughters, our sisters, our friends.
By changing the question, and asking why some men choose to abuse women, we give up our false sense of security and have to admit that maybe we don’t have that much control over another person’s actions. The most important thing we can do as a community is to hold batterers accountable, and that begins with asking the right questions.
Domestic abuse is all about power and control, and as the victim attempts to establish independence, the perpetrator becomes even more controlling and more dangerous. Unless we as a society and a community can stop the perpetrator, he will continue to stalk and terrorize her or worse. That’s why she doesn’t just leave. That’s why she shouldn’t just leave, not without a safety plan, and not without the support of her community. Now, back to real question – Why do some men abuse women, and what can we do as a community to end domestic violence?