I remember when I met Andrea Sloan, the Executive Director of the Texas Advocacy Project. A small group of Impact Austin Focus Area Committee Members met with her and her staff, in order to discuss their presentation as a finalist for the Impact Austin $100,000 grant. (they won!)
Andrea is a petite,dark blonde woman with fine features and intense, green and gold eyes. She has a depth in those eyes that belies her youth and we were impressed with her passion and her transparency when she told us what Texas Advocacy does for Texas’ victims of domestic violence, teen dating violence and sexual assault.
We discussed the statistics on domestic abuse and violence and Andrea said that it was often difficult for people to believe how much goes on right here in Austin, or in the next neighborhood, or perhaps even next door.
She said that they know, “One in four women in America will experience severe physical abuse from an intimate partner and that number goes higher when you include emotional abuse.” However, many victims hide this information and so if you are one of the lucky ones who does not experience it, you may think it is an exaggeration.
The Centers for Disease Control will argue that point.
CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) is an ongoing, nationally representative telephone survey that collects detailed information on sexual violence, stalking, and intimate partner violence victimization of adult women and men in the United States. Click on the link to see a complete download. The survey collects data on past-year experiences of violence as well as lifetime experiences of violence. The 2010 survey is the first year of the survey and provides baseline data that will be used to track trends in sexual violence, stalking and intimate partner violence.
Texas Advocacy Project provides many free legal services to victims of domestic abuse, including Emergency Protective Orders which often protect a victim in that most dangerous period after the abuser is taken to jail and then released on bail. There are many other services, but this is the one that I became most familiar with during my Impact Austin work.
My first personal experience with a victim of domestic abuse was in my early twenties. I met a stunning woman who worked at my office and we became friends. Betty (not her real name) had dark hair worn full and glossy to her shoulders, porcelain skin, beautiful dark blue eyes and a slender, feminine figure. We were talking one day and I expressed admiration at how lovely she was. She looked at me with a strange grimace on her face and said, “I didn’t always look like this.” I laughed and said, “What, a little gilding on the lily?” She grew very quiet and pensive and I suddenly realized this was hard for her. I quickly assured her I didn’t mean to pry and she said, “No, you are a friend,” and she told me her story.
She married young to a man who was ten years older. Although she had no idea at the time that this was not the usual way to express love, he spent the next five years of their marriage isolating and tearing her down through emotional abuse. By the time they had a child, the abuse had become physical, but she was afraid to leave because he told her he would kill her if she ever left him and she believed him.
One night when her son was about four, the physical abuse affected him as well and she finally fought back. She never had before and she said, “It was like it was what he was waiting for.”
He beat her until she was nearly unconscious and then when she came to, he started again. A neighbor called in the disturbance and when the police came and saw the pitiful wreck he had left of her on the floor of their living room, they arrested her husband and called an ambulance for her. Their son was a few feet away, screaming and crying as he hid behind the couch.
Her husband had fractured her jaw, her orbital sockets on both eyes, broken several of her ribs, her collarbone, two bones in her arm and had punched her so hard in the mouth that most of the upper teeth were dislodged. Her sight would forever be compromised in one eye and the months of surgery it took to restore her to functionality were only eclipsed by the years of surgeries she would require to recover her appearance.
He served three years of a ten-year sentence and then began trying to find her.
She changed her name, her occupation, her appearance, protected her son any way she could and avoided public photography of any kind…just in case.
Betty told me this story, mostly with her head down, as if she was afraid to meet my eyes and see some kind of condemnation there. I learned from my new friends at Texas Advocacy that this is not uncommon.
Many people don’t understand how fear of the unknown (loss of security, income, support for children, even access to a car) can be more frightening than violence or abuse. The fear of the known…”He will kill me and my children if I leave,” is even worse. Many women who have not experienced violence or abuse often think it is because they are smarter, stronger, or more informed and that this somehow shields them. They don’t understand why an abused woman would stay with her abuser or how she could even be attracted to him. They also don’t realize that abusive relationship patterns surface as early as high school.
I assure you, it can happen to anyone. It can happen to me, to you, your sister, your mother, your daughter…anyone.
Consider learning more, getting involved, talking about dating and domestic abuse openly with your children and doing something to help where you can. The odds are just too high for us to ignore.
A condensed version of this post was featured in the March 1, 2012 Story Circle Network “One Woman’s Day” blog.