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Today's word on journalism

Monday, January 29, 2007

Words as weapons:

"When he had a pen in his hand it was like giving a kid a machine gun."

--Peter Hall, theater director, on "Angry Young Man" playwright John Osborne (1929-1994)

Domestic violence plays with victims' minds, making it tough to break the cycle

By Megan Sonderegger

December 11, 2006 | "He hit me, I can't believe he hit me," is all Karen Leishman could say, her fingers trailing absentmindedly over her cheek, the cheek which had been brutally beaten only a year before. The memory of abuse haunted her face and she spoke sadly, reopening the stitches of her emotional wound.

"It had only happened once, and it wasn't going to happen again."

At least that is what Leishman told herself after her former boyfriend battered her face, causing her to fall onto the hard linoleum floor of her kitchen, and then proceeded to hover over her, repeatedly calling her a bitch.

"You'd think you'd be mad that somebody hit you. People always think why doesn't that stupid girl just get out, but it's not like that. They play with your mind."

Many women experience the emotional and physical effects of life in constant abusive fear. According to Family Violence Prevention, 3 million women are physically abused by their boyfriend or spouse, a statistic that does not include emotional abuse, and one in every three women has been abused at some point in her life. In Utah alone, studies have shown one in every 10 women has experienced physical or emotional abuse from an intimate partner, and 40 percent of women have reported to be abused at some point in their life. These extreme percentages show a rising average of abuse in relationships, particularily against women.

"I would daresay the statistics are even higher, but many people won't accept reality and they don't envision their relationships as being abusive, so they aren't willing to step forward," said Keeley Mendenhall, support group facilitator for Community Abuse Prevention Services Agency (CAPSA).

Mendenhall says there is a distinct cycle of abuse, and most women can look for warning signs to prevent abuse from occuring through continued relationships. She said the cycle begins with a charming stage in which the abuser "wins over" his partner. After doing so, the abuser slowly begins to isolate his partner from her friends and her family members, tension rises and the woman feels like "she is walking on eggshells to please her abuser." And then there is an explosion, where the abuse actually takes place. Mendenhall said women should watch for clear signs during the first phases to prevent the explosion stage from occuring.

According to domestic violence warning signs, some of these signs include personality changes, isolation from work and social duties, self blame, fear of conflict and low self esteem.

Annette Gittins, mobile crisis team coordinator for CAPSA, agrees these warning signs can allow prevention, and she feels the biggest warning sign in abuse is isolation. She said an abuser will cause a woman to be isolated from society in order to have complete control over her. She said this isolation causes a woman to rely on the abuser completely and base her emotions and feelings on what he says or does.

"You become so worried about what your abuser thinks that you're reality becomes skewed," Gittins said. "He makes you feel as if you're imagining being abused, and you begin to think you're the crazy one."

Gittins said family and friends who see this isolation occurring in their loved ones should not allow them to be isolated. She said they should make every effort to be social and supportive with the one being abused. She said the longer the abuse occurs, the more control the abuser has over his partner and the more dangerous the abuser becomes.

Leishman agrees with this research. She said the first step she took to getting out of her abusive relationship was telling her friend what was wrong. She said she began to feel afraid and turned to her friend for support. Through this, she realized how skewed her perception was and how much control her partner had over her.

"I realized the longer I was with him, the harder it would be to leave and the more dangerous it would be to leave. I needed to end it."

Brandy Farmer, another victim of abuse, agreed with Leishman and said her biggest step for ending the abuse was to get help. She said she realized she was being abused when she read an article in the newspaper on signs of domestic violence. She said she hid the article in a stack of printer paper so her spouse could not find it and then began looking for resources of escape.

"All you need to do is tell one person," Farmer said. "That is the biggest step."

Gittins agrees with Farmer. She said an abuser's power comes through isolation, and destroying that isolation limits his control over his victim. She said the importance of supportive family and friends comes into play when the victim finally decided to escape. She encourages women in abusive situations to seek help and reach out to those around them.

"Power and abuse thrives on secrecy and loyalty to the abuser," Gittins said, "Just tell someone, one person, and you can shift your reliance to someone who will help you."

Although Leishman's experience is one she said she'll never forget, she said she feels it gives her the ability to help other women in abusive relationships. She said she advises anyone who is experiencing any warning signs to leave the situation before it becomes worse and to get help as soon as possible."

"There is no justification for abuse. There is black and there is white. There is no gray in an abusive situation; it's just wrong. Don't become a victim."

For more information on domestic violence warnings signs, support groups of those who are victims of abuse, or information on how to leave an abusive situation, contact 1-800-799-SAFE or visit one of these websites: HelpGuide,Stop Abuse for Everyone or Domestic Violence Blog page.

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