“The only people who get upset about you setting boundaries are the ones
who were benefiting from you having none.” ~Unknown
Amanda was 36.
Casey was 25.
Both women died at the hands of their husbands in my no longer small town in the month of May. You can say what you will about what might have led to their shootings, but very simply put, it is domestic violence, and it is one of the reasons women (especially) die each year. If you heard their stories, you might come away asking one question: Why didn’t they leave? Many never leave for a variety of reasons, but every now and then the abused is brave enough to set some boundaries for themselves, and they discover that the one person bothered by their choice is the person who benefitted from their having had no boundaries.
Domestic Violence is a tough topic for people to discuss, and not much easier for me to write about, but it is too important to push to the back burner. In researching the topic, I found several stories that began, On Monday, a husband murdered his wife. There is a good chance someone reading this has been either the victim of domestic violence or the abuser. You see, “On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men,”1 and “1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of [some form of] physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime.”1 That is a pretty sobering thought, and we simply cannot pretend it isn’t happening around us.
When I think about abuse, I figure there are just a few things that really matter:
1) What constitutes abuse?
2) What are signs someone is probably being abused?
3) What can I do to help someone?
4) Why don’t victims get help or leave?
- What is abuse? As a verb, it is “to treat (a person or an animal) with cruelty or violence, especially regularly or repeatedly.” There is physical abuse against elders, against children, against women, and against men. Abuse doesn’t always leave physical scars. Sometimes, there is quiet abuse that happens through words and actions — that is emotional abuse.
- How would I know someone might be abused? We might see bruises (often), and they might be explained away as having run into the door or the person was just clumsy. After a while, unless you see the bruises happen, it’s worth taking notice. Physical abuse is often easier to spot than emotional abuse. Emotionally abusive people (the abusers) tend to be controlling, often isolating their victim from friends and family. If your child is dating someone who is encouraging them to not be with their friends and to mistrust others, pay attention. Emotional abuse is happening to people who are seven, seventeen, and seventy. Abuse knows no age limit. If you notice someone not being able to spend time with friends, watch their primary relationship to see who is calling the shots.
- What can I do to help someone I think is being abused? This is a good place to say to all of us, “Wake up and pay attention!” Abuse doesn’t only happen in really rich homes or really poor homes. Abuse happens in all kinds of homes and relationships. When we are so busy with our own lives that we don’t take time to pay attention and often simply follow our gut, we are part of the problem. Coaches, teachers, other kids, parents, friends — there are many people who might be abusing children (usually psychologically/emotionally). In an adult’s life, there could be a boss, minister, friend, love interest, or even an older child who is the abuser. We want to think the best of everyone, yes, but we need to pay attention to signs and our gut.
- Why don’t victims leave or ask for help? Well, the old proverb Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t explains a lot. For a victim, there is a real fear of the unknown. Feeling isolated and afraid, he or she feels safer handling the abuser than risking bringing in an outside party and potentially new problems. If someone asks too many questions, the abuser could punish the abused later. What seems like common sense to an outsider doesn’t make sense to someone whose self-esteem is suffering, whose fear of being punished is real, and who possibly doesn’t even realize that the rest of us aren’t living with abuse.
You and I have a responsibility if we think a friend is being abused — physically or emotionally.
You and I have a responsibility if we think a child is being abused — physically or emotionally.
You and I have responsibilities.
A friend once shared that someone was reading an article about ‘signs someone has been abused,” and the other person recognized signs in my friend of abuse. She had never shared with anyone and was shocked to have it discovered. What if we each look around us and take a minute to read, to reflect, and then to ask questions when appropriate? We could save a life.
Between 2001 and 2012, the United States lost close to 6,500 troops in battle. During that same time, the United States lost almost 12,000 women to death at the hand of current or ex-lovers. Domestic Violence is no joking matter. Whose life could we save today by simply reaching out? What boundaries do you and I need to set? I don’t really care who that makes uncomfortable if we save a life.