She’s lying on the floor, broken. Her left wrist is fractured in three places and a bead of blood is beginning to trickle down from one nostril to her upper lip. She swears she’ll never take him back; she swears it’s the last time. Two weeks later, he’s back in her life.
This is one story of an abusive relationship that I know of personally, and I’m sure that there are many more of them out there. Most of the time we look the other way. It’s the hand-shaped bruise on her shoulder or the vicious comment she made to her boyfriend. We know it’s there, but very few bother to do anything about it, let alone acknowledge it. Often times, our understanding of abuse is extremely limited.
One of the most common misconceptions about abusive relationships is that they only occur between men and women. When you hear the term “abusive,” you think of a country-fried bumpkin with a mean streak and preference to open his cans of Bud Lite with his two front teeth. Actually, women, men, heterosexuals, gays and lesbians are all subject to abuse. In fact, the rate of abuse in the gay and lesbian population is nearly equal to that among heterosexuals. Few people recognize that this force ignores all boundaries.
The abuse itself isn’t limited to physical violence either; a great deal of it is emotional and psychological. It takes the form of a malicious or degrading comment, a hostile joke or sarcastic remark devoid of any good nature. A lot of it is about control. Through manipulation and other mind games, abusers are able to keep their partners firmly in their grasp. Sometimes it’s keeping them from seeing their friends, other times it crosses over into rape – where the abuser coerces his or her partner into having sex. The tricks and tactics are endless, and they all do damage that can be far worse than a slap or a punch.
Many wonder why people stay in these relationships. Often they ask, “Why don’t they leave?” Some assume that the abuse must not be that bad if the abused continue to stay in the relationship. This is dangerous logic. The abused are stuck in a place and they perceive no way out, so they stay. They feel that the shame, guilt and fear facing them after they leave will be worse than the relationship itself. Others feel they have to stay because of children, economic dependence or even a genuine love for their abusive partner.
It’s important for the rest of us to take notice when we think something is wrong. I talked with Carol Mosely at the Women’s Resource Center about warning signs. She told me that one thing to look for is an attempt by the partner to isolate the abused – keeping them from seeing their friends is one indicator. Another sign is extreme possessiveness and jealousy. Those inside the relationship may see this as genuine concern and love, but the abuser’s true nature should be clearer to those who are on the outside looking in.
If little red flags start flying up in your brain, then it’s time to do two things. First, go to one of the many resources: The Rape Prevention Education Program (RPEP) peers, the Women’s Center or the folks at Take Back the Night. They should be able to give you more information and guidance on how to handle your problems. They’re the ones who helped me find information, and I found them all extremely helpful. Everything you tell them is confidential and anonymous, so there is no excuse not to go.
Once you’ve talked to them, try confronting your friend. This goes for both friends of the abused and the abuser. Let them know you care for them, while at the same time letting them know something is wrong; tell them what’s going on isn’t right and it’s time to get help. As Carol told me, it’s not a private issue between the abuser and the abused – it affects everyone. The most important thing is to speak up; tell somebody.
Silence is a stone in your mouth.
It’s sad that this stuff exists, but we can snuff it out if we all take a little more time to pay attention and stand up for ourselves and each other. Ignoring abuse doesn’t help anyone, and who’s to say when a nasty remark will turn into a slap, then a punch, then something far worse? Over the next few days, take advantage of all the workshops and events going on for Sexual Violence Awareness Week. For more information, any of the above organizations can be reached through the Women’s Center by calling 893-3778.
Steven Ruszczycky is a Daily Nexus columnist and a sophomore English and biopsychology major.