An associate of mine whom I’ll call Tee had been in an abusive relationship for a few years. It’s easy to tell someone to leave in that situation. That’s what I always want to do. But for many, leaving isn’t a cake walk. Leaving certainly was not easy for Tee. There wasn’t anything I could do, other than be nurturing and offer community resources to help domestic violence victims.
Tee had been dating Dee for a while, and almost from the beginning, it was violent. They were always fighting. Their fights could start over virtually anything, big or small. One day when both of them ended up hospitalized following one of their fights, Tee had had enough, fed up enough to leave. “Awesome news.” I told him that aloud. I was glad to hear he left. Good for Tee. That’s one of those things that can only change if the people in the middle of it take steps to change it. People on the outside can’t do anything beyond being an empathic, active listener. I gave Tee some positive reinforcement, for I know how difficult it must have been to walk away.
But now, fast forward about six months and Tee said to me, “I don’t know how people can be single. I need to have someone to hold me at night. I’m going back to Dee.” I didn’t know what to say to that. Before I could say anything at all, he began telling me that Dee wasn’t all bad, talking about all of Dee’s good traits. That’s one thing I know about abusers: they do have many good traits. They’re not – in my opinion – good enough to overshadow their abuse. That conversation confirmed for me that my ability to help was non-existent.
I did some research. It’s been many years since I worked with abuse victims. I’m thankful my grad school allows alumni to access its research library repository, a perquisite that has benefitted me many times. The results of my research were astonishing but not surprising or shocking. It supports something I have believed for years, that people can become addicted to one another just like people get addicted to drugs or alcohol. Intimate partner violence is a serious problem worldwide, and it can plague someone irrespective of race, gender, age, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Such violence has been responsible for many problems in the lives of abuse victims, including depression and suicidal tendencies; additionally, these victims are at a higher risk of physical sicknesses; chronic pain disorders; sleep disorders; anxiety; post-traumatic stress disorders; alcoholism and alcohol abuse; drug abuse and addiction; and long-term self-esteem problems.1 Many who are victimized who successfully leave these troubled relationships have tried to leave several times, many of them after leaving repeatedly and returning before finally getting the courage and support to leave for good. Many of them who do not leave often end up the victim of a homicide at the hands of their abuser or they commit suicide; some abusers threaten to hurt their victims as a means of control, but a good many abusers follow through on their threat to hurt or kill them.2
As hard as it is for some people to move forward, conversing about the ones who find the right connections to leave could be the motivation current victims may need. In my head, I think about creating a huge network to help domestic victims, something I call a DV Under Ground Railroad. In my mind’s eye, it would be a non-profit that helps these individuals leave their homes and situations, typically without taking any of their belongings and often at a moment’s notice. This would be a huge, nationwide network that helps victims relocate, find a new job and new housing, and assists them with filing protective order requests with the courts. But until then, the National Domestic Violence Hotline has been a savior for many who face violence and abuse. If you know of someone, do the research and share it with them – or encourage them to research it themselves from a safe computer; however, it’s not uncommon for many abusers to use keylogger software, a type of spyware to monitor the online activities of their victims.3 They may even use parental controls over a spouse or mate, tools meant to monitor children’s activities. This enables abusers to launch additional ways to dominate victims. So, if you really want to help, it is best for you to do the research and share the information with him or her.
- Edwards, K., Palmer, K., Lindemann, K., & Gidycz, C. (2018). Is the End Really the End? Prevalence and Correlates of College Women’s Intentions to Return to an Abusive Relationship. Violence Against Women, 24(2), 207–222. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077801216686220
- Clay, Rebecca (2014). Suicide and intimate partner violence. American Psychological Association, 45(10), Page 30. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/11/suicide-violence
- Kam, Katherine (2020). The New Domestic Violence: Technology Abuse, WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/news/20201130/the-new-domestic-violence-technolog-abuse