Sarah is a beautiful, married, 29- year-old marketing rep for a telecom company. She’s independent, strong and self-confident.
Her husband owns a plumbing business and is successful, handsome and the life of the party. They seemed like the perfect couple, though Sarah seemed a bit clumsy, sometimes showing up with bruises due to a “fall” or “running into a door.”
One day Sarah turned up in the ER with a broken arm, two broken ribs, a smashed face and a concussion. Her husband was an abuser, and Sarah was the target.
They separated for three months before Sarah took him back, telling me, “I know he has a temper … But, I love him!”
Sarah isn’t an isolated case, and the statistics are bleak. According to the Domestic Violence Resource Center, one in four women will experience domestic violence at some point in their life. That’s means more than 1 million women a year. Many are repeat victims.
Even worse, domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to American women between 15 and 44. That’s more than the injuries sustained from automobile accidents, rapes and muggings — combined. In total, 2 million injuries and 1,300 deaths occur annually due to domestic violence.
The reasons given by abused women as to why they continue to live in fear and shame are many and varied: “It’s my fault,” “I shouldn’t have made him mad,” “He’s under pressure at work,” “He promised it will never happen again,” “He apologized, and is so sorry,” “He said he’ll spend the rest of his life making it up to me” and the most common of all, “But, I love him!”
Catherine is a colleague. She was happily married to a very successful and loving attorney. The day came, however, when he engaged in fraud, was convicted of a felony and was eventually disbarred. He lost the only source of income he knew. Although Catherine stood by him, as it dawned on her husband that he would never be able to practice law again, the lashing out began. It started with blaming her for everything; yelling morphed into slapping, hitting and, ultimately, threats of death.
Catherine felt trapped and helpless, but finally found the strength to leave — only after her husband held a knife to her throat for hours as she begged for her life on the kitchen floor.
There is no typical abuse victim. Rich or poor, weak or strong, black or white, male or female – anyone can end up as a victim. I know, I know. The majority of you are shaking your head and saying, “Why doesn’t she just leave, already?”
It should be that simple, but it’s not. From financial dependence, fear, shame, isolation, hope that it will eventually get better, feeling degraded, trapped or being born into abuse, the reasons are many.
For some who finally try to leave, this is the time of gravest danger. More than 70 percent of domestic violence injuries or deaths occur when the victim leaves or attempts to leave. The abuser often lives by the mantra, “If I can’t have her, no one else can either.”
That is why the clear-cut advice is this: If you’re going to leave, have a plan in place, and don’t tell anyone except one or two trusted family members or friends.
Inform the local women’s shelter of your plans and have a restraining order ready and waiting. Secrecy is critical.
The key to getting out of an abusive relationship is to do your homework and have the groundwork in place:
1. Have a place to go: A good friend had a room ready and waiting, but only her brother and best friend knew about it.
2. She had slowly and discreetly removed sentimental and necessary items from the home when her husband was away and given them to her brother for safekeeping.
3. A secret text word was set up for her brother or friend to call 911 in case something happened or tempers escalated.
4. Money: Camille had taken a little money here and a little money there; she sold her wedding dress and some clothes and opened an account at a new bank. She used her brother’s mailing address for the new bank statements. The day she left, she withdrew the maximum amount of cash from their joint account.
5. Women’s shelter. She spoke with a counselor at the shelter who helped with the plan and recommended an attorney. She had an initial visit, and a restraining order was set up to be filed on the day she left. If he broke the restraining order, there would be no second chance. The police would be called and charges filed, no matter what he said or how much he begged and promised to change. This was her new life and she was going to be in control.
6. She had her cell phone number changed the day she left and the new number was unlisted. She also added 911 to her speed dial.
Domestic violence can happen to anyone, anywhere and at any time. Being in tune and acknowledging an abusive relationship for what it is can often get you out in time, before you become completely enmeshed.
Life should never be lived in fear, especially at the hands of someone you love and who professes to love you. You don’t want “But I loved him!” engraved on your tombstone.
If you need help, call the National Domestic Violence hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
Dr. Dale Archer is a board certified psychiatrist who founded the Institute for Neuropsychiatry in Southwest Louisiana. He is a frequent guest on Fox News, CNN Headline News and other national TV programs and the author of the New York Times’ bestselling book Better than Normal. Visit him at DrDaleArcher.com.