Wednesday, March 07, 2007

International Women's Day

When I lived in England I worked closely with a community based organization and Women's Aid Federation. I supervised four women's refuges, in addition to other projects in the community. While I enjoyed my years working with community groups, the refuges held a special place for me. Not because they were pleasant places, but they showed me a lot about the human race and how people treat other people, especially women. I have seen things that I want to forget but can't. I have heard stories that come from the deepest darkest parts of human life that people don't want to believe still exist. I have experienced threats with cars, dogs and guns for supporting the women who sought shelter and have had to have police escorts at time to ensure my own safety.

Battered women come from all walks of life and their abusers do as well. I came across police officers, judges, lawyers, professors - educated people who all felt their means of control was through violence either physical or mental. I also saw horrific abuse and bodily harm come at the hands of labourers and white collar workers. Whoever applies the abuse and at whatever level it is equally devastating to those who undergo it.

The most common question is why do women stay with men who abuse them? The answer is that they are scared not to. Its been shown that when the abuser feels most threatened he is most dangerous so when a woman leaves or tries to, she is at highest risk of injury. Also, the mental control that the abuser has is high and depletes the woman's confidence level, so she believes that he loves her or believes that she is not capable of existing in the world without him. It is a form of brain washing, just as cults are.

Victims are isolated from friends and family and become increasingly withdrawn and depressed due to isolation and the levels of control over them, even if they don't realize what is happening to them at the time. Women often go back to the abuser a number of times before the violence escalates enough to snap them out of the fog and make them realize that the situation is not acceptable and that they're run out of excuses for the abuser's behaviour. 'I got in the way.' I made him mad.' 'It was my fault for not having supper ready.' The rationalizing that women make when they are NOT responsible is sad in many ways, but predictable too.

Women rarely press charges against their abusers even if the violence ends up with medical intervention. That goes back to the knowledge that often the violence would become even worse if they did press charges and it would 'anger' the abuser more. It would be one more thing to 'blame' the woman for. And beneath it all, the woman believes, even if she knows better, when the abuser says he's sorry and that he loves her more than anything in the world and it will never happen again. Believe me, it will happen again. And it will be much worse.

What I did discover is that the abusers are, in fact, cowards. They are insecure and unable to control their own thoughts or lives so they resort to lashing out at others around them and manipulating them to make themselves feel powerful. That does not justify what they do or why do it, but simply that they do. And there is no specific pattern to predict who will be abusive.

Police can't act unless charges are laid and are sometimes slow to react to domestic violence especially if they return a number of times to the same scene without charges being laid.

When the woman does leave, there are safe houses, shelters and refuges where she can be secure and get immediate help from qualified staff to get on with her life. A restraining order, created to keep the abuser away from his victim, is not worth the paper it is written on. They are not enforceable unless the abuser breaks the terms of the order which rather defeats the whole purpose of the exercise! The majority of women who have been killed by their abusers had taken out restraining orders.

Women who have undergone abuse often suffer from PTSD - post traumatic stress disorder and may need longterm counseling to deal with it.

What I have learned most of all is this:

The abuser will shower the victim with words and acts of love in an effort to control her.
The abuser will be genuinely sorry and vow that he will never hurt her again. But he will. He may even kill her.
The abuser is a control freak with major anger management issues that need counseling treatment.
The abuser is responsible for his actions of physical or mental abuse, NOT the victim.

The victim needs to realize that the 'love' is not genuine - it is the abuser's control mechanism. No one who loved another would physically hurt them or abuse them.
The victim should have a safety plan in place to escape if necessary.
The victim should be careful about not letting the abuser know she has contacted any organizations or sought help. It could aggravate the situation.
The victim must stop being a victim and regain her self respect.
The victim should seek counseling

International Women's Day is celebrated on 8 March, International Women's Day (IWD) is the global day connecting all women around the world and inspiring them to achieve their full potential. Make everyday International Women's Day. Do your bit to ensure that the future for girls is bright, equal, safe and rewarding.


Amuse said...

I appreciate your post. My husband is a therapist (Mohawk tradition) and the pattern of the victim is the strongest of all: the jailor, the victim, the savior being three sides of the same coin. In my opinion, it is fundamental that we teach and remind eachother always what love really is. As you say, you can never batter someone at a moment when you feel love in your heart. Unfortunately, people have deep wounds that are triggered in the unconcious mind, stemming from early childhood abuse, which cause them to react in a totally irrational way - in the Native tradition we speak of the person being literally "out of their body", though this does not in any way take away their responsibility for their behavior. If we could learn to be responsible for our own healing, we could then learn to be able to intervene in a truly constructive way to help others in their healing (i.e. no more rigid and largely useless police intervention, allowing for repeated crimes). It is, in my opinion, a matter of responsibility of everyone involved to be willing to heal. By healing ourselves we open the door for others' healing - we cannot control their choices. And I believe it would help if we relearned how to live as a community where gossip was transformed into concerned discussion followed by sincere action.

(Thank you also for your tip regarding adding photos to my blog.)

Jeanette said...

I couldn't agree with your words more Community intervention and the ability to heal yourself is a much stronger force than any police involvement, which we know, doesn't work, and usually inflames the situation.

Katherine said...

Well said Jeanette! [lots of clappies]

I should think this would make a very good article for publication - it's both articulate and heart-felt - the most persuasive combination.

I gave myself a bit of a telling off last night for only realising that it was International Women's Day just as I was going to bed! ;)

Jeanette said...

Thank you Katherine. I don't known if it will see the light of day under any other guise but here, however it is a subject that I feel passionately about.