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The Tentacle


September 9, 2004

Insidious, Yet Overlooked, Plague

Bethany Stevenson

Many people talk of social ills that plague our society: violence in media, drug abuse, alcoholism, pornography. But these "ills" are laying a sturdy foundation for a greater disease known as family violence.

All too often the latter is glazed over and not given as much prevalence for media time. However, one in four women have reported being physically assaulted and/or raped by a current or former spouse, a live-in partner or a date at some time in their lifetime.

Why is there a lack of media coverage? It just is not "big" enough news. It has been happening for hundreds of years, and, unfortunately, the trend does not show an ebb. It also is a crime that people would rather not talk about.

Those who are involved in domestic violence, whether the abuser or the victim, try to keep it a secret. "What if the neighbors found out?" This is a mentality that only perpetuates the cycle of violence and the degradation of the victim.

Ninety-two percent of domestic violence victims are women. So, many critics want to place the blame on her by saying, "Why doesn't she just leave?"

Unfortunately, there are many - and varied - factors as to why she does not leave. For instance, she may have high ideals that marriage is for better or for worse, and that divorce is never the answer; or she believes that he will change; or she is threatened into staying for fear of her own or her children's well-being.

But, despite the reason she stays, the question should not be focused on the victim, but towards the abuser, who is not only committing a crime against civil laws, but also taking away her freedoms as a human being.

There is never a justification for domestic abuse. It is just wrong. Some try to blame a bad childhood for the abuser's actions, or say that an action by the victim initiated the abuse. But there is nothing to justify abusing one with whom you have a loving relationship.

No one can escape having disagreements or tensions between spouse or family members. But domestic violence is not even remotely related to disagreements. It is patterns of violent behavior that are used against a partner or child to establish power and control.

Having been a victim of domestic violence during my first marriage, I can testify that many times the abusive signs appear long before marriage. Some men coerce women into sexual relationships before the woman feels ready, or is even taken advantage of while she is under the influence of alcohol. Afterward she is told that she initiated the intimacy.

Other men have fits of jealousy, excessive possessiveness or manipulate emotions to fit their needs. Later, after the long-term relationship has been established, the "real abuser" exposes himself with psychological, physical, financial and sexual abuse.

Because there is so much silence surrounding this issue, even best friends of the victims may not realize violence and abuse is occurring. Even as I was going to a counselor during the time period of my abuse, I felt the need to hide it because I felt the abuse was all my fault (obviously some "good" manipulation by the abuser).

Victims need good friends so that when she is ready to open up and "shatter the silence" she has a trusted source to believe them, bring comfort, and help them find safety if needed. Fortunately for us in the Frederick community, we have a wonderful resource in the Heartly House. Experienced counselors and the security of a private shelter are available to victims of domestic violence.

Breaking the silence on such a taboo subject though is only the beginning to ridding our society of such an evil disease. Continuing to allow violent programming through television and movie venues only encourages the sick mentality that it is okay to be violent or to express anger in such a physical way.

Allowing pornography to be an accepted media only perpetuates the cycle as well. These despicable images and other media encourage men to believe in an image of an "ideal woman" that does not conform to reality or proper societal functioning. When men then are duped into believing their woman should be like the "porn stars," self-esteem in women drops. Not only is the woman ripe for becoming a victim, but when she does not fit the "ideal," combined with the lack of anger management, the abuser has the "perfect crime."

When drugs or alcohol are involved, self-control is lost. Even a man with a moderate temper who controls his violent self normally, will lose his agency to the drugs that are altering his abilities. The normally "in-control" man will succumb to the effect of the drugs and become "out-of-control."

Thus we see that some of the things called evil in an earlier version of our society, like alcohol, pornography, drugs and violence, and which are now permitted and accepted, are actually the things that help perpetuate an even greater evil.

By passing laws that would create a stricter punishment against drug and alcohol abuse, against allowing pornography into our communities, and laws that would restrict violence in the media, we can begin to eliminate sources for feeding the animal of domestic violence.

By reaching out in our community to shatter the silence around domestic violence we can help victims emerge into a bright new world, increase self esteem in women so that they do not become victims, and persecute the transgressors of the law who are still in hiding.

Changing the world begins with changing one person: you. Volunteer to assist the Heartly House, encourage your workplace to implement policies protecting and assisting employee who are victims of abuse, and reach out to those around you to build relationships of love and trust.

Together we can end this evil disease that plagues our society.



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