She was sitting on a bench window seat at the edge of the casino. It was noisy, the casino full of loud, boisterous gamblers. The evening show had just released and the herd of attendees emptied into the casino, on their way to any number of bars or restaurants. Her face was somber, her pale skin looked puffy. Her hair was an orange-ish blond, pulled back from her puffy face. Her fear-filled eyes were locked with his. He was leaning over her, talking to her quietly, but I could feel the menace as I passed. I slowed my walk and turned to look back. He was obviously very angry and she was very frightened. If anyone noticed, they didn’t show it. No one stopped to step in or inquire as to her safety.
Was this a one-time argument? Was she in fear for her life or safety? Should I ask if she is okay? If I do, will it make things worse for her?
In the end, I walked on – just like everyone else. Obviously, I feel sorry and sad. Should I have tried to step in and help her?
This is a true societal dilemma. Domestic abuse is accepted or at least tolerated. There are no rules of engagement for those situations – the times you see a man belittling a woman or yelling at her or the times you might see bruises. What should you do? What can you do? If you have a friend who is abused – how can you help?
People always click their tongues, wring their hands and say, “Why doesn’t she leave him?” or “Why doesn’t she report him?” or “Why doesn’t she stand up to him?”. Put yourself in her place. Close your eyes. Imagine being completely alone and afraid.
Abusers use many different means of manipulation. Typically, they have control of the money/income, even if the woman is the major breadwinner. They control all decisions. Friends are few and far between and, usually, any friendship must meet the approval of the abuser. In an abusive relationship, the woman lives under constant fear of pain or even death. If children are involved, the fear will be for the safety of the children or they may fear losing the children to this maniac.
Most people don’t understand that the abuser doesn’t just one day wake up and start abusing. It is a process that begins with promises of deep, abiding devotion and love. The “I can’t imagine life without you” kind of love that every woman dreams of…during this period of love, there is such a vulnerability and the manipulation is so subtle, most women won’t even recognize it. This is the person they always go back to after an episode of verbal or physical abuse. The one with tears in his eyes and remorse on his face – the one who promises it was only done out of desperate love and fear of loss. It won’t happen again, ever. Promises are made.
The dance steps start out slow and she thinks he’s just leading her around the dancefloor but then as the pace quickens, the gentle hand on her back is now on her throat, demanding that she follow.
Imagine yourself a 140 pound woman married for any number of years to a 200 pound man. In your time together, he has told you how very much he loves you. More than anyone else in your life EVER has, more than your family, more than any ex-lovers, more than your own children. You belong together forever. He would rather die than lose you. He would rather you die than see you with someone else. He loves your children and he would never let you take them away from him. If you ever left, he would take off with the children and you would never see them again. No one would be able to find them. Also, during your time together he has destroyed furniture, slammed his fist through doors, broken dishes in fits of anger. He has thrown you across the room onto the bed, he has slapped you, yelled at you and told you that you are stupid, useless and ugly. He’s slammed you against the wall and pushed you to the floor. You have no money, no car, no support system, no place to go. How would you leave?