October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. My long experience in higher education tells me that the symptoms of domestic violence are not limited to the home or to relationships in or out of the house with persons who are supposedly a part of the victim’s family.
Since I have been the chief executive officer of four colleges, I can speak of a board member who displayed all those symptoms of an abuser when I was the CEO of the college where he served. I’m not certain if “served” is the appropriate word, because he used his position for a variety of advantages to himself, and being a board member worked well for him.
So how did he abuse me? It was psychological; it was damaging to me personally and not because I did not understand what he was doing but because of his position. I was not able to “out” him without suffering serious negative consequences to my career. He would privately and/or publicly humiliate me and work against the college’s best interest to curry favor, primarily with the corporate world. This was followed by an apology to me. Later he would tell me that I deserved it. Then the tension would begin building again until his next outburst.
This is an example of the abuser’s need for power and control and follows the typical pattern: an incident occurs in which the abuser feels he has lost power/control; the abuser acts out; then there is the making-up phase followed by a period of calm until the cycle repeats itself.
At Domesticviolence.org is a list of some very specific behaviors of abusers:
* Pushing, hitting, slapping, choking, kicking, biting;
* Threatening you, your children, other family members, pets;
* Threatening suicide to get you to do something;
* Using or threatening to use a weapon against you;
* Keeping or taking your paycheck;
* Putting you down or making you feel bad;
* Forcing you to have sex or to do sexual acts you do not want or like;
* Keeping you from seeing your friends, family or from going to work.
As the violence escalates, there is often no making-up or calm phase.
There is no easy solution for victims of domestic violence. A girl or woman needs the help of professionals to remove herself from the situation (I acknowledge that at times the abuser is a female, but the vast majority of cases — usually about 95 percent — are male on female). Assistance is necessary in areas such as counseling, health care, food, housing (emergency, transitional, and permanent), and job services. Family members and friends can be supportive but have neither the necessary expertise nor the access to comprehensive resources.
Law enforcement can be helpful, and President Obama signed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act on March 7, but these aids alone, although important, do not solve the problem.
On the front end, when girls begin to date, they need to be on the lookout for controlling behaviors in males and immediately get out of the relationship before children and marriage are involved. To wait for a male to reform through counseling or until American men get involved in designing programs to stop their abusive behavior is unwise.
I’ll use as an example a former student of mine who had a sister in an abusive relationship. After one of the incidents, the sister ran to a friend’s house for help. The husband followed. The abused woman locked herself in her friend’s bathroom, and the husband threatened to kill her friend and her friend’s children if she did not come out. She came out; he killed her and then killed himself. My friend now tells her sister’s story at shelters for abused women and in high school classrooms.
Dozens of women in Harlan and Bell counties are in abusive situations. Abuse is no respecter of education or class or age. To tell some of their stories here, even without identifying their names, would likely increase their chances of additional violence, so I have chosen not to use specific local examples.
Only those who are being abused can take action as they are reminded in newsprint and on television in the upcoming weeks that October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. To avoid action is to risk the possibility of serious physical damage, irrevocable emotional damage, or even death.
In conclusion, I will repeat: Getting out of abusive relationships is not simple and a plan must be formulated with professional assistance in carrying out that plan.
A local place to get the comprehensive help is the following:
Cumberland Valley Area Development District: Family Life Abuse Center: Crisis line (800) 755-5348. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is (800) 799-7233.
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