March 1 – One in Four


by Kali’ P. Rourke

My first personal experience with a victim of domestic abuse and violence was in my early twenties.

I met a stunning woman who worked at my office and we became friends. Betty (not her real name) had long, glossy dark hair, porcelain skin, dark blue eyes and a slender figure. One beautiful spring day I expressed admiration at how lovely she was. She made a strange grimace and said, “I didn’t always look like this.” I chuckled, “What, a little gilding on the lily?” She grew pensive and I suddenly realized this was hard for her. I quickly assured her I didn’t mean to pry. She said, “No, you are a friend,” and she told me her story.

She married a man who was ten years older. Although she had no idea at the time that this was not the usual way to express love, he spent the next five years of their marriage isolating and tearing her down through emotional abuse. By the time they had a child, the abuse had become physical, but she was afraid to leave. He said he would kill her if she ever left, and she believed him.

One night when her son was four, the physical abuse was aimed at him and she finally fought back. She never had before. She said, “It was like it was what he was waiting for.”

He beat her until she was nearly unconscious. Neighbors called and when the police came and saw the pitiful wreck he had left of her on the floor, they arrested her husband and called an ambulance for her. Their son was a few feet away, screaming and crying as he hid behind the couch.

Her husband had fractured her jaw, both orbital sockets, broken several of her ribs, her collarbone, two bones in her arm and had punched her in the mouth, dislodging her upper teeth. Her sight was forever compromised and the months of surgery to restore functionality were eclipsed by the years of surgeries she needed to recover her appearance.
He served three years of a ten-year sentence and then began trying to find her.

She changed her name and occupation, and avoided photography of any kind…just in case.

Betty told me this story, mostly with her head down, as if she was afraid to see some kind of condemnation.

Most don’t understand how fear of the unknown (loss of security, income, even access to a car) is more frightening than abuse. Fear of the known… “He will kill me and my children if I leave,” is even worse. Women who have not experienced violence or abuse often think it is because they are smarter, stronger, more informed and that this shields them. They don’t understand why a woman would stay with her abuser. They also don’t realize that abusive relationship patterns surface as early as high school.

I assure you, it can happen to anyone. It can happen to me, you, your sister. mother, daughter, even your son…anyone.

Kali’ is a philanthropist and member of several Austin, Texas nonprofit boards. She recently joined the Texas Advocacy Project Board of Directors and is involved in providing free legal services to victims of domestic violence, teen dating violence and sexual assault. One in four women in America will experience abuse from an intimate partner in their lifetime.

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4 responses to “March 1 – One in Four

  1. Kali’

    Well said! It is critical that we start to realize that abuse often begins as emotional/verbal. We, as a society, do nothing much about this. It is not until there is a physical mark or broken bone that, maybe, intervention occurs.

    The question is, what do we do? When we witness verbal or emotional abuse, what is the path to follow?

    As for strength or intelligence being an obstacle, well, abuse is begun in a subtle way and couched with either apologies or blame shifting. It is easy to lose your way and then shame and/or fear can keep a victim quiet for a very long time.

    The more light we shine on this, the more help victims and abusers will get.

  2. Thanks, Jude and you are so right.
    The emotional abuse and isolation often begin with high school relationships and just get worse and worse. Sexual abuse can begin in childhood and often becomes an integral part of abusive relationships by the teens and adulthood.
    I think losing the “blame” mentality and our mistaken belief that just because it isn’t part of our personal experience, it could never happen to us is a good beginning. When victims feel that they can speak out, be believed and supported by society, we will see a change.
    TAP has teamed with Safe Place in Austin to bring the Teen Justice Initiative to Austin high schools and the difference it is making is huge. Many teens are simply not aware they are in an abusive relationship until they see an example of what one looks like. The light goes on, and then the help and healing can begin.
    All we can do is keep communicating, educating and providing those resources that help the domestically abused and sexually assaulted to get out of their present situation in a safe and legally permanent way. It’s not easy work, but it is good work.

  3. This is a really powerful blog and one that hits close to home. I agree with everything said here, and especially the comments that we need to shine a light on this issue and recognize that there are many forms of abuse, not just physical. Too many women have been raised to think that we need to be perfect nurturing creatures and if anything goes wrong in a relationship, it’s our fault for not being good enough in some way. I’d love to see a self-esteem workshop be part of every high school curriculum.

  4. Pingback: One in Four « Kali's OQM Musings

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