Still blaming the victims
And then there is the victim, who blames herself. “Linda,” a Chattanooga nurse, says she endured her husband’s verbal and physical attacks for years, trying to “fix” the problems causing his behavior—until she realized she wasn’t the reason he hit her.
Their marriage fit the pattern. Linda’s father, himself raised in a violent home, beat Linda’s mother, who in turn abused Linda and her sisters—all of whom would grow up to marry an abusive man.
“When I first went out with my husband, he had a lot of good qualities,” Linda explains, “but he also had an anger problem. I just thought that was how men are. I didn’t have a dad to show me what was normal. I didn’t have a home to show me what was normal.”
Like her mother before her, Linda was a party to verbal pugilism that eventually became physical. Outmatched by 100 pounds, she ended up on the worse end; when she pushed her husband, she says, he knocked her down and punched her in the face. And when she went to her family for help, they drew on what they knew, advising her to stay. “What could my dad say?” she asks. “He did the same thing to my mother.”
Determined to mend her threadbare marriage, Linda sought spiritual guidance from her pastor and from Christian literature. The message she got, she says, was “Do the right thing, and he will follow.” So she learned to avoid confrontations and convinced her husband to join her for counseling. “But he never realized he had a problem,” she says. “Even when he beat me and gave me a black eye, he said, ‘You made me do this.’”
Finally Linda found a book explaining the patterns and psychology behind domestic violence, and she had an epiphany: “My God, it’s not me. It’s him.”
After 16 years of marriage, Linda filed for divorce. The couple is now legally separated.
The courage to leave
At least two significant differences meant Linda’s story ended very differently than Shae Wiser’s. First, Linda’s husband left willingly and, at least for now, he’s kept his distance. Second, Linda and her husband did not have children.
Children in the home greatly complicate the problem of domestic violence. Financially and logistically, it’s harder for women with dependent children to escape a dangerous relationship.
Many mothers remain in a violent situation for fear of losing their children if they leave, notes the Partnership’s Regina McDevitt. “That’s a big motivator to stay,” she says, “because sometimes their parenting skills are not that great, or they have mental health issues, and their abuser will say, ‘You know what? You’re crazy. I’ll call (Child Protective Services), and they’ll take those kids away.’” Having been told for years that she is crazy, worthless or stupid, the victim is particularly vulnerable to such backwards logic, McDevitt says.
Compounding the victim’s sense of powerlessness is the systemic isolation that’s part of the abuse pattern, Carpenter adds. “This person will come in and really sweep you off your feet, and then you’ll start to see the slow manipulations of your time, your friendships, your relationships…and then it gravitates into the more extreme forms of control: the physical, emotional, psychological and sexual,” he says. Often, by the time the victim recognizes that she needs to leave, she has no support system, and the logistics of leaving—with children in tow—can be daunting.
The Partnership helps victims navigate that process, McDevitt says. “The key to leaving safely is to have a solid safety plan that you’re able to work without the knowledge of that abuser,” she says. That goes far beyond finding emergency transportation and shelter. It also means filing for an Order of Protection, notifying children’s schools (or getting special dispensation to transfer schools), closing bank accounts, and securing original documents like birth certificates and Social Security cards.