“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” We’ve heard it, we’ve sung it, for some of us it has become a mantra. But, you know what? It’s not true. Any person who is a survivor of domestic violence (DV) can tell you that. An ASU school paper spreads the word about abuse in the article “Controlling Love”.
I can’t do this article justice without getting into some heavily personal stuff, so I’m just going to pull some quotes that I like. If you have time, I highly recommend reading the article – it’s a good resource for DV victims as well as those who know someone who’s in an abusive relationship.
Kathleen Ferraro, a sociology professor at Northern Arizona University who wrote her dissertation on battered women and the shelter movement, has been working with abused women for decades.
She says that often the warning signs of abusive relationships are there, but that most people in the early stages of a relationship tend to emphasize the positive aspects of their partners, causing them to override the messages that something’s just not right.
“The thing is, people who are physically assaulted readily identify the relationship as abusive,” Ferraro says.
She says emotional abuse can be harder for victims to identify, but just as devastating. Women have been socialized to think that they should be second to a man, and they often view a partner’s controlling behavior as a sign of love.
But it’s not.
Ferraro says that because people place such a high value on intimate relationships in American culture, they try harder to make relationships work. Both men and women are reluctant to identify a negative relationship as unworkable or that an abusive partner can be so manipulating that the victim will begin to think the negative aspects of the relationship are his or her own fault.
Studies show that the process of leaving an abusive partner consists of several steps. The first is when the victim becomes less tolerant of his or her abuser. Becky had reached this point, but she still wasn’t ready to leave.
The next step in the process of recovery often comes when the victim reaches a personal turning point after a confrontation or conversation with an abuser. For Becky, this didn’t come long after the two began speaking again.
Laura Jesmer, a licensed clinical social worker at ASU’s Counseling and Consultation, says that she sees many students with relationship abuse issues, but at the same time, there are many students who could benefit from the center’s service, but don’t go.
After a victim becomes isolated by his or her abuser, having outside support can be key to recovery, but the shame that often surrounds victims of abuse will hinder them from seeking help.
The KRC Research survey showed that 34 percent of the women interviewed said they’d be too embarrassed to tell family or friends about having been abused. Walsh has several suggestions for a person who suspects that someone they know is being abused physically or emotionally by a partner.
Walsh says the first thing a friend needs to do is get educated and know what’s available in case the victim comes to them looking for an out.
Second, Walsh says that pushing the victim to leave by saying, “You have to leave,” or “He’s horrible” will get no results. Instead, those looking to support victims should say, “I’m worried for your safety. I’m here to support you and you don’t deserve this.”
“It takes victims lots and lots of time to come forward, and they need to work it through in their head that there’s no reason to be ashamed,” Walsh says. “Very often, all they hear from their abuser is that they’re crazy. If that’s what he’s been telling you, you might think that you are, and you’re not going to talk to anyone because you’re ‘crazy,’ right?”
Finally, and most importantly, Walsh says it is important to believe a victim’s story. She says it is especially hard for men who have been victims to come forward because there is an added stigma. Men are supposed to be strong, she says, and there is something wrong with a man if he is being abused.