Love Shouldn’t Hurt
By Colleen Kendall
It was her eyes that first grabbed my attention, even before the black and blue bruises covering the landscape of her face, the swollen right eye, the protruding lip, or the outline of hand marks on her arms—all indicators that she had been the recent victim of physical abuse.
The glaze in her eyes held a distinct story of much more hidden within the recesses of her silence. She stood in front of the airport bathroom mirror, her hands frozen in the trickle of water from the faucet streaming over them. She stared intensely into her reflection, focusing deeply on her pupils, as if the person imaged back was a stranger—someone she had become years before from the ravages of emotional, mental, and physical abuse.
Women shuffled past her, mouths fell open, eyes fixated on her body, but no one approached her, perhaps out of not knowing what to say or do. I felt my feet move the few steps to her side, and I gently asked, “Have you been beaten?” She adjusted her head slightly and made a half nod, as if fully shaking her head might divulge a secret that her abuser would see through the wall dividing us from the terminal.
“Can I help you? Who did this to you?” I asked. When our eyes met, it was as if there were a thousand words shared between us in the span of only a few seconds. The words “my boyfriend” managed to lightly tumble over the bridge of her lips. Then in a brief moment, as if hearing her own voice startled her, she quickly exited out of sight amongst the myriad of people. I searched for her, straining to see the direction she went, but she had disappeared into the crowd, leaving me wondering what I could have said or done in that fleeting encounter.
It can be hard to know the right words to impart to someone you may know or suspect is being abused. Educational information from the St George DOVE Center imparts, “Domestic violence occurs in homes throughout every community. It knows no boundaries of color, gender, age, socioeconomic status, or sexual orientation.” It includes physical, mental, emotional, religious, financial, verbal, sexual, and electronic abuse. It is a pervasive, life-threatening crime, affecting millions of individuals throughout the United States each day.
Some warning signs of abuse in a relationship are:
- Controlling and possessive actions
- A quick commitment early on in the relationship
- Unpredictable mood swings
- Explosive anger
- Isolation from family and friends
- Verbal abusive
- Rigid sexual roles
- Placing blame on others
- Cruelty towards animals or children
- Abuse to prior partners
- Threats of violence (including self-violence, such as suicide threats)
- Making excuses or justifying abusive behavior
- Extreme monitoring of electronic devices
While statistics are staggering—nearly twenty people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States—there is hope that you or someone you may know who is experiencing abuse can escape and recover from the current situation.
Approaching someone you may suspect is being abused can be a game changer, as most victims blame themselves for their abuse. It also can be a lifeline for a victim feeling isolated and alone. Six tips to help you navigate through this process are:
- Respect the victim’s privacy and confidentiality. This is essential to building their trust and ensuring their safety.
- Express your belief in what the victim is sharing with you; listen and validate their experiences.
- Acknowledge that the injustice and violence perpetrated against the victim are not his or her fault. No one deserves to be abused.
- Don’t victim-blame with statements such as, “Why don’t you just leave.”
- Help prepare a future safety plan for leaving by referring to local community resources, such as the DOVE Center.
- Respect the victim’s autonomy and right to make decisions according to his or her own timeline. Keep in mind that it is extremely difficult for a victim to leave an abusive relationship after his or her self-esteem has been eroded and stripped away by the abuser. According to the National Domestic Violence Coalition, on average “a woman will leave an abusive relationship seven times before leaving for good.”
In my mind’s eye, I often think of the woman in the airport that day. To me, she represents the multitude of women and men suffering silently from abuse every day. Having found my way to a life of safety, peace, and happiness after experiencing the damaging effects of abuse myself, I know that there is hope beyond abuse.
If you or someone you know is the victim of abuse, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or the DOVE Center twenty-four-hour helpline at 435-628-0458.
Visit the DOVE Center website at http://dovecenter.org/ for more information.