“My Mother did not raise me to be a punching bag, so don’t hit me.”
With these words, spoken to me by my wife over 30 years ago, I was introduced to the sad and terrifying world of domestic violence.
Let me clarify something before I go on – my wife, did not say this to me because of anything I was doing or was about to do. The statement was completely unprovoked.
After my initial shock of hearing her say, “My Mother did not raise me to be a punching bag, so don’t hit me.” I had to ask why she said what she did. The story she told me was terrible and almost unbelievable in its portrayal of inhumanity.
She was previously married to a man who abused her physically, verbally and mentally. He hit and kicked her, threw things at her, called her vile names, isolated her from friends and family, forced her to cook meals at all hours of the night and day for him and his friends and made her endure the degradation of sleeping on their living room floor while he ‘entertained’ girlfriends in their bedroom.
She felt trapped in this marriage. She was forced her to quit her job, forbidden to contact friends or family, not allowed to go out alone except to buy groceries for which she had to account for her time and any change, because he would not allowed her to have money. This was not a marriage, this was enslavement.
My wife lived in fear. Even if she was allowed to contact her family, she was too ashamed and embarrassed by what was happening to her. She blamed herself for not being able to please him. And she blamed herself for ignoring his violence before they married. She believed, like many women, that marriage would change her husband’s violent behavior – and in fact, it did – they got worse.
The violence made her afraid to leave the relationship. His abuse was reality for her – a reality that seems almost impossible for us to understand. She was only able to escape when she suffered a mental breakdown and he dumped her at a hospital. A sympathetic nurse contacted her family, who knew nothing of what was happening to her. Her sister flew to New York and brought her back to the safety of their home.
I tell you this story for two reasons:
First – It is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops urges us to make known the Church’s concern for victims of this terrible and devastating scourge on women, children and families.
Second – I believe it’s important to tell my wife’s story, so other victims know that they do not suffer alone and that there is help available for them and their children.
You may wonder why I only mention women and children as victims – While men can be victims of Domestic Violence, it is women and children who make up the majority of victims – And over 50% of men who abuse women are likely to abuse children too.
I want to give you some background on Domestic Violence, which is defined as:
Any kind of behavior that a person uses to control an intimate partner through fear and intimidation
- Domestic Violence is an under-reported crime (like child abuse)
- It is estimated 30-50% of women have experienced some form of domestic violence sometime in their life
- Younger, unmarried women are at greatest risk for domestic violence incidents
- One third of victims were abused by a spouse, - 14% by an ex-spouse
- Women aged 16-24 are three times more likely to be victims of abuse
- Women 35-49 run the greatest risk of being killed in a domestic violence incident
Domestic Violence is a learned behavior – passed down from father to son, mother to daughter – a reinforced learning through observation and experience
Drinking or drug abuse does not cause someone to become violent: it just exacerbates their existing violent tendencies
Victims of Domestic Violence and their abusers come from every ethnic and age group, every race, religion, and social and economic class, including women with disabilities, the elderly and women who become pregnant.
It’s easy for us to say to victims, “Just leave, get out of it: run away!” But without resources, friends or any family nearby (all of my wife’s family lived in the Philippines), leaving is a difficult process. Cultural norms may also keep women from reporting abuse; believing that what goes on inside a family is no one’s business.
Victims worry about their children, they want to escape, but are not sure they can make it out without taking their children or keeping them safe. In addition to great courage, escaping takes planning, money and a network of safe friends – resources often denied by the abuser to his victim.
The Church wants all victims of Domestic Violence to know that it does not condone violent behaviors and that there is no scriptural basis for allowing men to abuse women. The Bishops declare that, “A correct reading of Scripture leads people to an understanding of the equal dignity of men and women and to relationships based on mutuality and love.”
The Bishops want us to know that violence and abuse break a marriage, - not divorce. No person is expected to stay in an abusive marriage. The bonds of marriage are secured only in a valid marriage. The Church’s annulment process determines if a marriage bond was, in fact, valid.
Jesus commands each of us to love as we love ourselves and to have dignity and respect for all our brothers and sisters. In His name, let us pray for victims of Domestic Violence to find peace, and their tormentors to seek healing.
Listen, God, to my prayer
do not hide from my pleading
hear me and give answer.
If an enemy had reviled me,
that I could bear;
If my foe had viewed me with contempt,
from that I could hide.
But it was you, my other friend,
You, whose company I enjoyed,
at whose side I walked
in procession in the house of God.
But I will call upon God
and the Lord will save me.
At dusk, dawn and noon
I will grieve and complain,
and my prayer will be heard.
(Ps 55:2-3, 13-15, 17-18)