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OUR BODIES, OURSELVES READING ROOM
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN

Domestic Violence/Battering

Battering, often referred to as domestic violence, is one of the most common and least reported crimes in the world. Battering happens to women of every age, race, class, and nationality. It is done by the men we marry or date who beat us; by our sons and nephews who bully us and slap us around; and by male relatives who verbally harass and degrade us.

Battering takes many forms and includes a range of threatening and harmful behavior. It may take the form of verbal and emotional abuse, with the direct or implied threat of violence. Battering may include control of finances and one's physical freedom. It includes the destruction of objects and harm to pets. Battering may involve severe and frequent beatings or may happen occasionally. It may include slapping, punching, choking, kicking, or hitting with objects. Stalking can be a part of battering, especially if the woman has left the relationship. Battering may escalate to sexual assault and can ultimately end in murder. Battering can happen in new relationships at the dating stage and may continue into our elder years. As time passes, battering tends to increase in frequency and severity.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introduction

Toward an Understanding of Male Violence Against Women

Race, Class, and Violence Against Women

Blaming the Victim

Sexual Harassment

Domestic Violence

Sexual Assault

Incest and Sexual Abuse of Children

The Sex Industry

Defending Ourselves Against Violence

Ending Violence Against Women

Notes

Resources

I have had glasses thrown at me. I have been kicked in the abdomen, kicked off the bed, and hit while lying on the floor—while I was pregnant. I have been whipped, kicked and thrown, picked up and thrown down again.

I have been slapped for saying something about politics, having a different view about religion, for swearing, for crying, for wanting to have intercourse.

I have been threatened when I wouldn't do something I was told to do.

I have been threatened when he's had a bad day—when he's had a good day.

Bringing an end to domestic violence is especially difficult because the men who batter us are also the men with whom we have been close or intimate, perhaps the fathers of our children. We may still be bound by strong feelings of love and loyalty. We may remain at home not only because the men physically stop us from leaving but also because we hope that the violent behavior will change.

Before I left I used to say, "Yeah, he punched and kicked me, but I'd said something to make him mad." Or "He only hits me when I argue." Now I see that everyone has a right to get angry - it's natural—but he had no right to express his anger so violently, to hurt me.

An all-too-common question asked about women who are battered is "Why do they stay?" This question itself takes the focus off of the real question, which is "Why does he beat her?" Battered women do not remain in the relationship because we enjoy the battering. We may feel trapped and unable to leave. Battering often escalates at the point of separation, and we may actually feel safer staying. If we have children, we may feel that we won't be able to support ourselves and our children if we leave. People whom we turn to for support--clergy, police, friends, family--may be uninformed about battering and may not take the situation seriously. We may know about the existence of shelters for battered women but may feel that moving to a shelter in a new neighborhood or city will cause too much upheaval for us or for our children (who may have to change schools while we take shelter). We may be afraid to leave if we believe our immigration status is dependent on the "good will" of the batterer. If we have been living with abuse for a long time we may be so worn down emotionally that we simply can't imagine a way out.

I went early in our marriage to a clergyman, who after a few visits told me that my husband meant no real harm, he was just confused and felt insecure. Things continued. I turned this time to a doctor. I was given little pills to relax me and told to take things easier. I was "just too nervous." I turned to a friend, and when her husband found out, he accused me of either making things up or exaggerating the situation. She was told to stay away from me.

Many battered women have had similar experiences of being challenged, patronized, or told that our problems are insignificant. In the face of such inexcusable treatment we must remember that NO WOMAN DESERVES TO BE BEATEN OR VERBALLY ABUSED. EVERY WOMAN DESERVES TO HAVE HER STORY TAKEN SERIOUSLY.

The Impact of Domestic Violence on Children

Children who do not see their mothers abused but who hear her screams and crying, the abuser's threats, sounds of the impact of fists hitting flesh, glass breaking, wood splintering, or cursing and degrading language do witness the abuse.12

The effects of growing up in the midst of domestic violence can be devastating for children. Children of battered women are very likely to be battered themselves. They live in constant fear and are often torn physically and emotionally between their adult caretakers: they may develop severe physical and emotional responses to the violence, including symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Children of domestic violence learn that violence is an appropriate way to resolve conflicts, and they are likely to live out their childhood experiences of violence in their adult relationships and in their relationships with their own children.13

My very upper-middle-class, WASP father hit my mother drunkenly on an occasional Saturday night. Sunday morning she would explain away her bruises. I lived my whole childhood under this shadow--the possibility of violence, the sounds in the night, and the toll it took on me that she put up with it.

Many battered adult women heard verbal abuse or witnessed battering beginning in their early childhood. Some were physically or sexually abused by the same person who battered their mothers. Under these circumstances, it is easy to understand how we might come to believe the degrading and harmful messages we have received about ourselves. It is easy to understand how we might find ourselves in relationships with men who abuse us verbally and physically.

Most men began to learn violence at an early age. Many men who batter grew up witnessing their fathers abusing their mothers; they may well have been physically or sexually abused as children. They often came of age in families where male dominance was never questioned and where physical punishment "in the name of love" was accepted. When our families teach us to accept male dominance and violence as a way to relate to one another, this message is difficult to defy.

Efforts are beginning in many communities to break the intergenerational cycle of violence that exists in so many families. Often, these begin with community-based programs designed to intervene on behalf of children whose mothers are being beaten. Innovative programs that teach nonviolence and conflict resolution skills to preschoolers are being developed and duplicated in child care centers in diverse communities. Workshops on teen dating violence are being offered to middle- and high-school-age children. All of these efforts aim to teach girls and young women that we have a right to be free from violence and the fear of violence and to teach boys and young men a different way to relate to girls and women and to the world.

Elder Abuse: Battering of Older Women

Just as young children are especially vulnerable to violence from within our families, so too are older women at particular risk of being exploited and battered. In recent years, awareness has grown of the special problems facing older battered women, and this has resulted in special laws protecting elders from abuse in all fifty states.

Women who are battered in old age face many of the same problems as younger adult women struggling with abuse. In addition, we may be physically frail and dependent on the batterer for daily care. The nearest shelter for battered women may not be set up to accommodate our physical abilities.* We may well be fearful that if we seek help to end the abuse we will find ourselves forced into a nursing home. If the batterer is a spouse with whom we have lived for many years, it may be especially difficult to contemplate separation or ending the relationship. If the batterer is our adult child, calling for help from a social service agency or the police may simply be unimaginable.

Battered women's activists are becoming increasingly concerned about our ability to respond to older battered women. In addition to the challenge of making sure that our shelter services are physically accessible, there are conflicting mandates for those who serve older battered women. Most elder abuse laws are similar to child abuse laws in that they require service providers to report instances of abuse to public health authorities or social service agencies. This approach to domestic violence against older women may conflict with the deep commitment of the battered women's movement to empowering victims of violence and protecting their right to privacy and confidentiality. Just as the battered women's movement has, from its earliest days, turned to battered women themselves in learning how to respond to domestic violence, so will activists and elder service providers want to listen to older battered women in working out how to meet the challenge of ending violence against elders.

What You Can Do If You Are Being Battered

If you are in a violent relationship right now, there are things you can do that may help you to be safer, to assure the safety of your children, and to work toward ending the relationship if that is what you want to do. There are no right answers for every battered woman. The woman who is being battered knows best whether her actions may work to de-escalate the violence or incite further violence. Overall, your safety can increase the more you become aware, inform others, find support, and implement a safety plan.

During an attack, here are some things you can do to take care of yourself:

  • Stay as calm as you possibly can.

  • Try to shield yourself, especially your head and stomach.

  • If you are able, and if it won't put you at greater risk, call 911 and get emergency assistance.

  • Do the best you can to end the attack with the least amount of injury.

Safety Planning

Even if you are still in the situation and see no immediate way out, there are things you can do to plan for your safety:

  • Become familiar with your state's laws and legal policies pertaining to domestic violence.

  • Find out about restraining orders: how to get them and where to get an advocate if needed.

  • Build a support network. Get connected with your local battered women's service, join a support group, and develop your network of friends.

  • Learn and watch for warning signs of your partner's abusive behavior/attitude.

  • Teach your children how to call for emergency assistance.

  • Think through a safety plan and write it down. Let others know your plans when appropriate.

  • If your abuser is drinking or drugging and you can get to Al-Anon meetings (see chapter 3, Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Mood-Altering Drugs), you may find support and strength to make a change.

Making a safety plan while you are still struggling with a violent partner can help in two ways: First, it can give you a sense of hope in what so often feels like a hopeless situation. Second, it can actually bring you a bit closer to leaving a dangerous situation. There are battered women's service organizations in many communities. Most of these organizations help battered women develop safety plans. Safety plans include steps you can take to increase your own safety and the safety of your children.

There are alternatives to staying in a battering situation. More and more women are leaving men who batter, and they are finding help in making a new life despite economic hardships. Women everywhere have been organizing to help battered women leave abusive situations, to provide shelter and a more responsive legal system. Women have found the courage to tell their stories publicly. WE ARE NOT HELPLESS AND WE ARE NOT ALONE.

Legal Considerations

Men who batter can be prosecuted for crimes such as assault and battery. In addition, special laws protect battered women in all 50 states. These civil abuse prevention laws are very similar from one state to another. They give battered women the ability to go to a local court to obtain immediate protective orders against the batterer. Protective orders, often called restraining orders, can have several parts: They can order the batterer to stay away from us and our children; they can give us legal custody of the children; they can have a provision under which the batterer is ordered to pay support for us and our children. In addition to abuse prevention orders, more and more states are enacting anti-stalking laws. Recognizing that we are often at greater risk right after we leave the batterer, these laws impose criminal sanctions against a batterer who continues to harass us even after we have left.*

As a woman struggling to bring an end to battering, you are the only one who can decide whether or not to use your state's abuse prevention law. Some men are intimidated enough by the legal system to be stopped by a court order. If this is so, obtaining a court order may actually bring you a measure of safety. In some men, the tendency toward violence is so deep that no court order will stop them. In these instances, going to court may actually make you and your children less safe. Working on a safety plan with a counselor at your area battered women's program will help you make this difficult decision.

Whatever you do, it is important to remember that you are the best judge of your own needs.

 

SAFETY PLANNING

Increasing Safety While in the Relationship

  • Carry important phone numbers for yourself and your children (police, hospital, friends, battered women's program) and a cellular phone or beeper if you can afford one.

  • Find someone to tell about the abuse and develop a signal for distress. Ask neighbors to call the police if they hear noise of a violent episode.

  • Think of four places where you can go if you leave in a hurry.

  • Get specific items ready to take if you leave.

  • Keep change for phone calls, open your own bank account, rehearse an escape route.

  • Periodically review your safety plan and update it.

What to Take with You If You Decide to Leave

Money, checkbook, bank cards, credit cards; identification, driver's license, and car registration; birth certificates, Social Security cards, welfare identification; passport, immigration card, work permit; divorce or other court papers; school and medical records; house deed, mortgage; insurance papers and policies; medications and refill instructions; change of clothes.

Increasing Safety After You Leave

  • If you have joint bank accounts, withdraw some money or transfer to a private account.

  • Use different routes as you go home, to work, or to your daily tasks.

  • Tell the people who care for your children who has permission to pick them up, and warn them if you think the batterer may attempt to kidnap them.

  • At work, tell someone about the abuse and have that person screen your calls. If possible, show other people his picture and instruct them to call the police if he arrives at work.

  • Avoid the stores, services, and banks that you know your batterer frequents.

  • If it is right for you, get a protective or restraining order. Know what it orders and what would happen if he violates it. Keep it with you at all times.

 

Copyright 1984, 1992, 1998 by the Boston Women's Health Book Collective. All rights reserved. Published by Touchstone, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc.

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