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“Domestic violence can be defined as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.
Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.”

US Department of Justice: Office on Violence Against Women: Domestic Violence

I was reading the really sad story of Nancy Richards-Akers, a romance writer who was murdered by her husband a few years ago, and I couldn’t help but wonder if domestic violence is just as prevalent within the homes of romance writers, as it is everywhere else.

I didn’t realise that her murder had been the third time within a three year period, that a romance writer had been killed by her husband.

Continued after the cut…

Apparently, Pamela Macaluso, and Ann Wassall, romance writers from California, had also been killed by their husbands in 1997, and 1996, respectively.

According to an article in Wikipedia, 20% of all violent crime experienced by women in the US, are cases of intimate partner violence.

I’m pretty sure a lot of readers probably don’t think about authors who write about falling in love, being victims of domestic violence themselves. Thinking about it boggles the mind, but here are some stats that I picked up, from various websites.

In England 16 per cent. of all crimes are cases of intimate partner violence

Bureau of Justice Statistics: Intimate Partner Violence and Victim Age group 1993-1999

Does anybody know what the average age of romance writers are?

Some more scary US based stats for you:

85-95% of all domestic violence victims are female.

Over 500,00 women are stalked by an intimate partner each year.

5.3 million women are abused each year.

1,232 women are killed each year by an intimate partner.

Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women.

From American Institute on Domestic Violence

Also, according to the Home Office for England and Wales, 1 in 4 women will be victims of domestic violence in their lifetime.

Those are scary statistics aren’t they? With stats like those, it seems inevitable that some of the authors that we revere will probably have been victims at one point or other in their lives. Some may still be victims, but perhaps aren’t telling.

I was reading this article by Jean Marie Ward, about Richards-Akers, when this paragraph caught my eye:

Reading this made me wonder how many romance authors out there are actually victims of domestic violence, but yet publically maintain that they have fantastically understanding husbands, who support them in everything they do.

I must admit, I always wonder at the real truth, whenever I read author bios, that spend about ten paragraphs extolling the virtues of their significant others. Call it the cynic in me.

I’m willing to bet that a substantial percentage of romance writers have been victims of domestic violence, at some point in their current relationships, but possibly feel that it would shatter the illusion that some readers have of romance authors having happy, satisfying marriages.

It seems unbelievable that people who dedicate their lives to writing about love, mutual respect, and trust, may be living in nightmarish situations, that few of us can imagine, but I’m guessing that these people exist in Romanceland, and that you may have shared a drink or two with them, without ever guessing at the real truth.

Help for victims of domestic violence is available, I’ve listed some sites for anybody who needs information on how to get that help. Before using the websites, I thought it would be prudent to post the same warning message that the USDOJ has on their site:

(“Warning: Before e-mailing or using this Web site, know that an abuser in the home can discover your Internet activities. The safest way to find information on the Internet would be at a local library or a friend’s house. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), TDD 1-800-787-3224.”)

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (USA)
Institute on Domestic Violence in the African-American Community (USA) (music on home page so you may want to lower the volume)
Family Violence Prevention Fund (USA)
Domestic Violence and Incest Resource Centre, Australia
Shelternet, Canada
Women’s Aid, UK
American Domestic Violence Crisis Line For Americans Overseas

USA National Domestic Violence Crisis Line 1-800-799-7233.
Womens Aid Helpline UK 0808 2000 247

Information Sources:
Home Office – Crime in England and Wales 2004/2005
American Institute on Domestic Violence


  • Anonymous
    August 8
    5:07 pm

    Unfortunately you’re dead on the money.

    Considering how many women are abused, it would be naive to think that the romance writers of the world might somehow escape it.

    I’ve never been a direct victim of domestic violence-sort of an innocent bystander, I guess. I’m no stranger to it. I saw it all the time growing up and it leaves scars like you can’t imagine.

    If anybody reading this is in a bad situation, if you have kids, please, please please get them out of there. Even if they’ve never been hit in their life, it leaves scars that last a lifetime when they see you being hurt.


  • Shelia
    August 9
    4:47 pm

    Sadly, this hits people in all areas of life. Last week, this guy brought up the subject and how he couldn’t understand why women allowed themselves to be abused. Needless to say, it sparked a debate.

    If anyone is reading this post and is going through this or knows someone who is, there’s help out there. A lot of time abused women feel nobody cares or that there’s no way out. There’s a way out.

    Sadly, some of our teenage girls are going through this too.


  • Barbara B.
    August 9
    6:13 pm

    Not a popular topic, apparently.

    I remember reading about the Richards-Akers murder. I’d read some of her books and wondered why I hadn’t seen new releases from her. Needless to say I was pretty stunned when I found out why. Romance writing must have been as big an escape for her as it can sometimes be for a romance reader.

    I’ve never been in that kind of relationship, but I can certainly understand how it could happen to someone.


  • Nora Roberts
    August 9
    9:00 pm

    I knew Nancy. We belonged to the same chapter of RWA. She was an interesting and generous woman.


  • eggs
    August 10
    1:11 am

    I would imagine the percentages of romance novelists who suffer domestic violence would be the same as the general population. Career choice doesn’t seem to make much difference in who gets battered.

    I made a new friend this year, one who had just left her violent husband after ten years of marriage. Guess where she worked during her marriage? In an organization dedicated to getting help to women who were victims of domestic violence. She helped other women escape their nightmares, yet couldn’t escape herself for many years. No one, including her own family, had any idea what was going on in her home.

    My friend’s an intelligent, articulate, well educated woman who knew exactly where to go for help, yet for some reason, she just couldn’t do it. When I ask her why not, she just shakes her head and says she doesn’t know why and looks as genuinely mystified by her actions as anyone else. It’s like she was living in a trance or something for all those years.

    There is something deep and murky about why women suffer domestic violence in silence. It makes nonsense of our attempts to understand it. All we can do is to make it clear to our friends and relatives that if they ever need help for any problem, then we will be there to support them. But we have to wait for them to come to us for that help. There’s no point in trying to force it on to someone who’s not ready to go. Alll that will do is make them embarrassed to come back to us for help when they finally do decided to leave.

    I think this is a hard topic for many women to post on because all we can really say is that we don’t know why some women stay and some women go. I think it makes us feel guilty to know that other women are suffering like this and there’s not a damned thing we can do about it until they’re ready to come forward for help.



  • Ann Aguirre
    August 10
    1:47 am

    “Not a popular topic, apparently.”

    I think it’s more accurate to say it’s not an easy one.

    This isn’t a post where you can cruise by, drop a pithy witticism and go on your way. It requires a lot of thought because one doesn’t want to make light of the sufferings of others, or to post something that makes it sound as if there’s some easy solution.

    It’s also hard to know what to say of a woman who accurately forecast her own death. My heart goes out to her children, and I wish all men understood that being with a woman doesn’t render her property.


  • Emily Veinglory
    August 10
    2:12 am

    Not a contraversial topic. It’s terrible, it’s true and it affects all communities.


  • azteclady
    August 10
    3:21 am

    As Ann Aguirre said, it’s more that it’s not an easy one.

    I have a teenage daughter, and I’m terrified for her. Have I given her whatever emotional and mental resources I can, to keep safe? to get out of such a situation if–God forbid!!!–she ever needed to?

    And so, a short comment, a passing thought, are just not possible.


  • Angelia Sparrow
    August 10
    4:57 am

    Also, just to add more info:
    The leading cause of death for pregnant women is homicide.

    My mother stayed with an abusive man for 15 years because she could not afford to live on her own with two kids.

    My sister and I were much more hesitant about men.


  • Anonymous
    August 10
    12:32 pm

    I debated whether to comment on this topic because it has been very real to me. I am a romance author and I managed to live through 5 years of abuse.

    The thing you have to understand is that most abusers don’t start the relationship out that way. They wait, they’re predators waiting for the right moment to strike.

    I believe a form of brainwashing occurs. When you hear every day that this person loves you like no other, you believe it. Then when the abuser begins to tell you that you’re a piece of sh*t every day, you begin to believe that. In my case it was a slow progression, but an effective one.

    By the time the abuse was at its worst, I honestly felt like I deserved it. No, it doesn’t make sense to me now, and it won’t make sense to most people reading this, but that’s the way it was. Don’t get me wrong, most of the time I didn’t feel I actually deserved to be thrown down the stairs or punched in the stomach, but I honestly believed this person loved me like no other. If he felt the need to do these things to me, why wouldn’t everyone else?

    There were times when the tension in my house was so thick that I’d provoke the blows out of him. It was easier to take the punches than to deal with the wait.

    It wasn’t until my friends and family washed their hands of the situation, that I was able to step back and see my relationship for what it was. I think it’s instinct to hold onto something when everyone’s trying to pull you away. Once I was left alone, I finally saw it clearly. Just because I finally believed in myself enough to leave doesn’t mean the abuse stopped. It was a long road of sleeping with a shotgun, calling the police, and counseling.

    It’s been many years since I’ve seen my ex-abuser, but I still get a phone call about once a year. I live with the permanent and emotional scars of my life with him every day.

    I think if I could give advice to someone who knows a person going through this it would be. Don’t tell the person they are crazy to let a man hit them. Don’t say things like, “What are you thinking?” Because that’s just it, most of the time, I wasn’t thinking. He was doing the thinking for me. Instead of my family putting me down for living in the situation, I think it would have helped had they just tried to build up my self-esteem more. That’s what was missing. I no longer believed in myself. I actually no longer had a self.

    I’m sorry this was such a long post, and most likely not written very well, but emotions are high and regrets deep.

    -Still a little self-less


  • Monica
    August 10
    1:06 pm

    I think if I could give advice to someone who knows a person going through this it would be. Don’t tell the person they are crazy to let a man hit them. Don’t say things like, “What are you thinking?”

    I agree with the anon poster. The last thing we need to be doing is blaming the victim.

    I have a segment on domestic abuse that includes the story of Nancy Richard-Akers on my website. Her daughter recently contacted me and wrote that it was mistaken that she observed the shooting as was reported in the media in some instances. Understandably it was important to her that people get it right.


  • Karen Scott
    August 10
    2:00 pm

    I debated whether to comment on this topic because it has been very real to me. I am a romance author and I managed to live through 5 years of abuse.

    Anon 01:32, I’m very glad you decided to share your story. I think it’s important for subjects like this to be spoken about openly, so that people in a similar situation know that they are not alone, and that there are other people out there who actually understand.

    I would like to think that if my husband started abusing me, I would be strong enough to leave him, but the truth is, nobody knows how they’d react until confronted with it.

    In my town, domestic violence calls are treated as a priority as far as the police are concerned, which is great, seeing as only a few years ago, police could refuse to get involoved in ‘spousal disputes’. I think there have been a few cases of husbands killing their wives for one reason or another, which prompted the change in law, with regards to the way DV incidents are handled.

    I wonder how other countries, with the exception of UK and US deal with the issue?

    Monica, I came across your post whilst reading up on Akers-Richards. I was going to link, but my post started going on a bit too long.


  • Bonnie Dee
    August 10
    2:27 pm

    “eggs said…

    I would imagine the percentages of romance novelists who suffer domestic violence would be the same as the general population. Career choice doesn’t seem to make much difference in who gets battered. “

    Or economic bracket either. I shouldn’t imagine there’d be any more or less abused women among romance writers than in any other field.


  • Anonymous
    August 10
    2:37 pm

    In my town the police try very hard to protect victims. The problem is that when I went to them after my abuser threatened to kill me, they said I could get a restraining order against him. I asked how that would work and they told me they’d pick him up, but that he would most likely be released the next day. I told them they might as well call the morgue right then. My ex was not a man to take something like this lightly. The police can only do so much.

    I’d like to share a short story. This is truly the problem in my opinion. On the last night I spent with my ex, he began beating me. I lived across the street from a large furniture store. I managed to get away and run toward what I thought would be help. I ran into the store and yelled and cried for someone to please help me. Everyone just looked at me. My ex came barging in and pulled me out by my hair, with not one person coming to my defense.

    I think I lost my faith in society that night. A phone call to the police is not the same as trying to break up a fight on your own.


  • Karen Scott
    August 10
    3:21 pm

    My ex came barging in and pulled me out by my hair, with not one person coming to my defense.

    Funnily enough this isn’t the first time I’ve heard something like this happening, and it’s something that I find truly staggering.

    I have to say though, a friend once told me that her husband had tried to intervene between a woman and her boyfriend, (they were arguing and I think he was basically hitting her), but the woman ended up screaming abuse at my friend’s husband who was trying to help. My friend said that he was so offended that he swore he’d never intervene in a domestic again.

    When I was younger, I remember a similar scene, and some bystanders tried stopping the guy from beating on his wife or girlfriend, but she in turn started hitting the people who were trying to help her.

    I’m pretty sure that if I saw a woman being dragged kicking and screaming by a man, my instinct would be to try to do something to help her. I think I would find it very difficult to stand and do nothing, but that’s just not the way I’m built I think.

    I wonder if the lack of intervention from outsiders is mostly due to lack of empathy, or if they actually feel that they are powerless to intervene, and perhaps fear the repercussions for themselves?


  • Anonymous
    August 10
    3:45 pm

    I don’t ordinarily post anon, but I don’t usually talk about my personal life online either.

    Anonymous 01:32 has it exactly right.

    It’s a slow process and it involves brain-washing. These men don’t begin beating you on day one. They ease into it.

    First he alienates you from your friends and family, poisons those relationships slowly, and makes you feel he’s the only one who really loves, values or understands you.

    I was complicit in that. I let it happen. I didn’t see where we were heading. I let him make himself the center of my world.

    And then the emotional abuse begins. He slowly begins to chip away at your self-worth, telling you that you’re worthless, lucky to have him, nobody else could ever love you. If you hear it enough (and have nobody else telling you otherwise) you eventually internalize those feelings. You become desperate not to lose the one person who “loves” you.

    And then the physical abuse begins. You’re conditioned to accept it. You must be doing something to provoke it somehow. And it becomes a fault of yours, not of his. If you didn’t do such and such, he wouldn’t hit you. You actually start to think that ANYBODY would have that reaction to you. I mean, you’re just that stupid, annoying, incompetent, or whatever mental knife he’s used to carve up your self-esteem.

    Sure, if a man punched a woman in the face on the first date, it would be something different. This kind of long-term abuse has a lot in common with the kind of programming you see in a cult. And that takes a LOT of effort to undo.

    So does this. The healing takes years. I got out because I had small children, and I thought to myself, Is this really what I want them to see? What I want them to know about “Love” between a man and a woman? The answer was no, of course. I had to protect them.


  • Cara
    August 10
    3:52 pm

    I too have tried to help a friend who’s abusive husband was on the attack and my help was denied. It comes back to her reaching the point to clearly see what she was up against because we can’t help someone who isn’t ready to help themselves. But you can try and lift them up and realize their value. You can’t tell them what they are doing wrong, that only feeds the brainwashing they are living with.

    My sister wouldn’t leave her abusive husband for herself. Knowing my big sis loves me, I picked a fight with him. She left him the moment he went after me, because what she wouldn’t do for herself, she would do for her baby sis! I wouldn’t recommend that, its just a chance I was willing to take for her.

    Like Angelia Sparrow, I watched my mother’s relationship and became the opposite. More wary while my sister followed the pattern.


  • Kat O+
    August 10
    4:05 pm

    I wonder if the lack of intervention from outsiders is mostly due to lack of empathy, or if they actually feel that they are powerless to intervene, and perhaps fear the repercussions for themselves?
    This reminds me of something in the news a few months ago when three people were shot dead trying to help a woman who was being physically assaulted in broad daylight in the city. Turns out the guy was a gangster, but still, examples like that make people think twice about physically intervening. Although one would hope someone at least called 000 or that if they were in a group they’d be more inclined to help (strength in numbers and all that).


  • azteclady
    August 10
    5:07 pm

    A few years ago a woman with a young child was attacked by her live-in boyfriend. He choked her, and she got out by scratching his eyes.

    She then drove to the preschool where I worked, to warn us not to release her boy to this person–who was in the list of people authorized to pick him up. At this point she broke down and admitted she didn’t have a place to stay, nor money, etc.

    Feeling empathy and horror, I opened my house to her and the child, then drove her (with a police escort) to the apartment to pick up some things. The cops asked me, while she was inside, if we were related or close friends, and I explained that I only knew her very superficially. They asked if I had kids myself (yes, two), then looked at each other. Then one of them said, “If you have a place for your kids to stay until she leaves, send them there. And be very careful yourself.”

    It seemed, at the time, such a callous thing to say. Hello, I was trying to do for this woman what I would have hoped someone to do for me were I ever in her situation.

    Two days later, I come back home after work to find this woman screaming abuse on the phone. Turns out she had called her mother the first night in my house, and given out my phone number and address. Which her mother gave to the boyfriend on the spot.

    At that point I gave her two days to leave my house, and sent my own kids to stay with my ex until a week after that.

    A few days later my boss called me to ask what on earth had I done to this poor woman, how could I be so heartless to “kick her out when she was down,” etc. Apparently there had been a nice, drawn out scene during my lunch hour.

    I would like to think that I would again offer my help, but my house? Never again, sorry.


  • shiloh walker
    August 10
    6:59 pm

    So does this. The healing takes years. I got out because I had small children, and I thought to myself, Is this really what I want them to see? What I want them to know about “Love” between a man and a woman? The answer was no, of course. I had to protect them.

    Good for you. This is the hardest part for me to deal with, seeing the children who are in such a position.

    I wonder if the lack of intervention from outsiders is mostly due to lack of empathy, or if they actually feel that they are powerless to intervene, and perhaps fear the repercussions for themselves?

    I think, in part, it’s this. But then we’re also in a society that believes everybody should mind their own business. I was at the circus with my kids and took my daughter to the bathroom. While I was in there, this mom was yelling at her THREE YEAR OLD CHILD calling her worthless, ungrateful, and awful because the girl asked for a toy. I don’t just mean fussing, she was yelling to the point you could hear her outside, over the chaos of the circus. Everybody went in and out and said nothing. I couldn’t NOT say anything and the woman got totally pissed, saying I shouldn’t interfere with a woman disciplining her child~I pointed out that calling somebody worthless isn’t discipline. It’s cruelty. Whether she heard a word I said or not, at least I tried to help. But I think so many people are ‘taught’ to believe we mind our own business and don’t worry about what other people do. That mindset is probably what leads to why so many people ‘see’ but not react.


  • Anonymous
    August 10
    8:59 pm

    I found out about a situation recently where a woman who called the local police about her drunk and abusive husband was told that if she had him kept overnight she would be required to foot the $2000 plus bill herself or they would process and release him to come back to the house with her and their children to “sleep it off”.

    It makes me ill. In her case she had family nearby and was able to load up the kids and be gone before he got back. She was lucky in that respect.



  • Anonymous
    August 10
    10:51 pm

    Don’t ever discount the terror a battered woman feels. My husband followed me when I left him. I was on a business trip in another city and he knocked on the hotel room door. Thinking it was room service, I opened it. What followed was eight hours of pure terror. I laugh at horror movies now. Nothing can equal those moments.

    My husband held me at gunpoint and told me he would kill me if I moved. I believed him. At the end of the eight hours, he put the .357 magnum in his mouth and pulled the trigger. The police said I was blessed that he didn’t kill me first.

    When an abuser says that he’ll kill you, believe him. Take every precaution to protect yourself.

    By the way, I do write romance, and my books are best sellers. I write romance because I believe in happy endings. They really do happen.


  • Anonymous
    August 11
    10:24 pm

    I’ve never been in an abusive relationship; however, personally and professionally I have seen many. I’ve known women who were shot by their husbands and worked with one who stabbed her husband to death with a butter knife.

    I have seen cases where the husband took out a number of bystanders who got between the husband and his wife– ask a cop about how dangerous it is to intervene in this situation. I have seen cases where a woman was given help and support both emotional and financial but she repeatedly went back to her husband– this was professional help and support by the way. I could not blame the professionals becoming jaded over time.

    I have seen women lose their children because they would not give up their abusive relationships, and sometimes they blame the children because the children “upset” the husband with their needs. It’s incredibly complicated, so, if I see something I stand back and call the cops or child protective services. You would not see me intervening.

    And I do remember one of the strangest things about the Nancy Richards-Akers was that I had just finished a book by her– one of the ones set in Ireland– and been totally icked out by her hero’s behavior. I remember telling someone at the time, “This isn’t romance, this is abuse.” Irony much?

    If you are interested you might want to check out this article about the murder also:


    Oops probably better be Anonymous for this one.


  • Stacy~
    August 12
    12:58 am

    It’s not only not an easy topic, it’s a disturbing one. There are no right or wrong ways to handle situations like this because they are so unpredictable and dangerous. It’s easy for someone like me who’s never experienced abuse to say “I’d never let that happen to me” but as Karen mentioned, unless you yourself are confronted with it, you really have no clue how you’d react. That’s a scary thought.

    I know women who’ve lived through it but stayed. I know others who’ve left, and still others who fought back. Some have children, some didn’t. Abusers know how to use any means necessary to get what they want. Many of them have no problem hurting children or other people who might try to help. It’s sickening really.

    To those who’ve escaped an abusive situation or to those still living it, I’m praying for you and hope that if I’m ever faced with being in a position to do something, to help, I will have the guts to do it and not bury my head in the sand.


  • K. Z. Snow
    August 13
    12:38 am

    Thank you so much, Karen, for raising this topic…and all posters whether named or anonymous who contributed.

    An abusive spouse is–believe it– nothing less than a domestic terrorist. Just reading about the hotel-room incident made me wither inside. It’s beyond tragic that such a huge yet largely silent sisterhood exists, based on such experiences.

    Although my own experiences weren’t anywhere near as dramatic (or traumatic) as that recounted by Anon., they were grueling and horrific enough to destroy all peace of mind and creative impetus for way too many years. I recaptured these essentials only after I rid myself of the monster via divorce.

    No matter what role a woman plays or doesn’t play in her victimization, this subject makes my heart ACHE…especially when there are kids involved. But, sad to say, it’s one we can’t afford to ignore.


  • azteclady
    August 15
    7:00 pm

    National Network to End Domestic Abuse

    There are tips on technology and safety there.


  • Dawn
    August 20
    10:10 am

    I’m coming in on this really late, as I’ve been away for a couple of weeks. This is a very emotive subject, I’ve not experienced it and I guess I’m like everyone else who wonders how someone would stay with an abuser. As everyone says, you just don’t know what you’d do until you’re in the situation yourself.

    I remember watching Comic Relief this year when they showed a piece about a woman who’d finally gotten away from her abusive partner. They played the actual 999 call and it was just harrowing listening to the call.


  • L
    February 14
    12:10 pm

    I wonder how other countries, with the exception of UK and US deal with the issue?

    I live in a country where a few years ago, a man forced his wife to walk naked to work because he thought “she was a cheating whore” and deserved it. She was a nurse. Nobody intervened. The police were called but there’s nothing they can do about it, and even the police can be assholes like that guy.

    We have a bunch of laws but nobody enforces them, since most people are taught that it’s not their business and they shouldn’t meddle into the affairs of others.

    The same goes for child abuse. If it’s a family member, these things are mostly hushed and covered up, and if it’s a stranger or a neghbour, then it’s their problem, not yours. One of my friends was badly beaten and almost raped by a friend of her family recently, and her parents didn’t let her press charges…

    The sad thing is, I don’t think it’s just my third-world country that’s fucked up like that. These things happen everywhere, and they will continue to happen, because there are too many people willing to close their eyes to the suffering of others. I’m sorry, but it’s just too hard not to be jaded and cynical, speaking from where I’m standing.


  • Anon
    February 21
    1:46 pm

    This starts pretty abruptly but its 5 am and I haven’t the energy to re-write the thing. Let me just preface by saying, as to the question of why women try, stay, and put up with abuse, even to the point of defending their abusers, this is my take on some possible (in my opinion) heavy contributing factors. It’s long and rambles slightly (and may have spelling errors), and for that I apologize. I just feel like talking about it, mostly because I feel stuff like this is frequently overlooked in favor of more pat (and also true) answers like “brainwashing.” Its not that I’m right necessarily, just that I don’t think I’m entirely wrong, and that I have this weird idea that if mindsets like these were not just more understood, but respected (not dismissed as “delusional,” “reactionary,” or other thoroughly unflattering verbs) we might get farther in saving women.

    Again, I could be wrong, this is just my experience.

    People here are talking on and on about abusers as monsters, and I agree; I frequently call my abuser the Stepmonster. But they forget one important thing as to why women may stay–many abusive men are also pathetic.

    I watched my stepfather turn to a raging monster. I endured sexual abuse at his hands. I hate that man with every fiber of my being, and laugh at people who tells me hate will destroy me. Hate is the only logical response I can see to such crimes, and it was my childish anger and hate that allowed to me to rise above the misery of my life and recreate myself as more than just a victim. It was only when I allowed myself to hate the real culprit rather than turning that anger inward that I could paste myself back together at all. I think its underrated as a survival emotion.

    But, at the same time, I watched my stepfather go through his mood swings. He had childish tantrums, but he also had crying jags. He was easily hurt. And, as often as his fists and nasty name-calling mouth begat violence, he could, in the next moment, behave like a whipped puppy dog in need of petting.

    And none of those moments were faked.

    His father made him look like a veritable saint. The man beat the whole family silly, drank ceaselessly, and on at least three occasions tried (and once nearly succeeded) to murder his own son. That injured little boy still lived inside the big, bad, abusive, ex-military Stepmonster, and he still, in his own way, cried for his mommy.

    And later, when I stumbled into and out of an abusive relationship of my very own (because I am just brilliant that way), my chosen darling was prone to mood swings, depressions, and was also easily wounded. The son of an alcoholic dad, he also had his war wounds, and also was just looking for someone to obsess over, someone who would love him and never hurt or leave him. A baby boy, crying for his mommy.

    It may not be that way in every abusive relationship, but I know both in the one I endured as a kid and the one I was in later, it was those moments of thawing that made it all seem okay. Daddy was a real person, flawed, vulnerable, sad. Beau was just troubled and wounded, and the proper application of love could serve him, save him, heal him.

    Its a twisted way of thinking, and sometimes you even realize that WHILE its going on, but I think it also speaks to the human in us on the deepest level. We are once again small children faced with a wounded bird, and it doesn’t matter that it just viciously pecked at our hands, it needs help and that’s all that matters. I think the desire to heal, to pull together tribe, community, is almost a compulsory instinct (especially among women), and I think the softer side of abusers plays on that instinct.

    So maybe we don’t know why we stay, but we do. Hoping, trying, loathing, wanting to run away, afraid to try. It all gets tangled up until sorting it out takes a bloody miracle.

    I also recall, when I was young, a time when I tried to look forward into my own future. This was a time when I was having major memory loss about the past. Yesterday, sometimes for two or three days, vanished.

    If you asked me on Wednesday what had happened on Tuesday, I couldn’t have told you. If you asked me the same question a week later, I could. My short term memory was shot, a condition I suspect kept me breathing and moving forward. This was the period of my life my mom thought I was suicidal–apparently I was exhibiting symptoms. I was eight or nine at the time.

    I just recall that one moment of looking forward, from that timeless place I was in, a child without a past, and it was terrible. The days went on endlessly, every day bleaker than the last, like looking down a long train tunnel with no escape back into light. Behind me was only an endless void, a darkness of memory where I, as a person, did not exist. The whole world seemed to close in around me, and the despair and horror (yes, horror, there is no other word for it) pressed down on me, started to crush my will.

    It was only for a few seconds, standing by the kitchen sink, the day outside sunny, me just momentarily lost in thought as I looked out the kitchen window, but it was enough. I shut down that line of thought quick, because I felt I couldn’t bear it. To think ahead was to die, or want to die, and to look back was worse. The only way to survive was not to think, only to act. One foot before another, breathe in, breathe out, stay in the “Now.” And I did, every day.

    Even after I was out, on my own, free, it took years to stop living in that “Now” of thought, and to this day I have memory problems. I can recall things clearly that happened when I was three, four, five–the pre-Stepmonster years. After that there’s so little I might as well have amnesia.

    If I had to guess, this would be another part of the reason women stay. When you only have the “Now,” there is no consequence for tomorrow, no recollection (willing or otherwise) of yesterday. There is only today’s pain, today’s torment, and your only overriding goal is to make it to nightfall, to the next morning, as undamaged as possible. How can one plan an escape when one can’t even imagine tomorrow as a possibility? How can one see how bad things are when one can’t bear to look back towards yesterday?

    People call these woman stupid, chide them for their behavior when staying, even get mystified by it, but the reality is so much more organic than rational thought. Its base, knee-jerk survival mechanisms that help you survive it, walk you through it one day, one breath at a time. But at the same time, those very organic mechanisms become your own traitor, preventing your escape.

    How do you explain that to an outsider?

    How can I explain that I will never stop loving the beau who hit me, even while I never want to see him again? How do I explain how much I pity my stepfather, even, sometimes, want to give him a measure of peace, but at the same time I can never stop hating him? How do I explain that one moment in time and how it affected me profoundly for years, how it stopped me from taking any action at all, especially since running away, telling a teacher, or whatever seems such a simple solution–even I see it as simple, these days.

    How does anyone explain the things the body does in survival mode, when they often barely understand it themselves? And unless someone else has been through it themselves, how does it not turn into another menopause or PMS or biological clock–functions to be mocked because they are ill understood and seem not to fit in a rational, science-based culture? Never mind they are science based themselves, its like masturbation, its uncomfortable think about, too emotional, to private and personal, and therefore something must be WRONG with it.

    Abuse is horrific, but people on the outside oversimplify it, bring it down to a moralistic, rational idea of what’s right and what’s wrong, and it should be that simple. It really should. But like everything in life, if wishes were horses, you know?


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