An Open Letter to Hope Hicks

I was walking out of a meeting when I glanced at an article on my phone claiming you had defended Rob Porter’s character in light of abuse allegations. Not knowing the full story, or honestly even who you were, my stomach sank.  I was immediately reminded of the years I spent trying to help my ex-husband escape the consequences of his former fiancees’ abuse claims, which had led to several criminal charges I believed couldn’t have possibly been true.  He had told me about the relationships, and the women’s’ psychosis, and came across as the perfect victim.  Continue Reading

“It Could be Worse”

If I heard this one more time during my relationship, I might have become apt to levitate.  At the same time, it is one of the many methods abusers use to keep their victims at ease about the relationship they are experiencing, and effectually keep victims from raising standards or building healthy boundaries.

“You think you have it so bad…”

“I could be worse, a lot worse.  Do you want me to go back to the way I used to be?”

“I could be more like [insert name of known abusive family member or friend]… Would you like that?  I could do that.”

“I think you want to piss me off. Keep pushing…”

“You act like I beat you, do you want me to start?”

All of these, which so many victims hear regularly, serve to normalize the behavior of the abuser.  I used to find myself thinking, “Well, I guess it could be worse.”  My mind slipped and teetered immediately back and forth into all of the ways it could be worse, and all the good times we did have.  In conclusion, and in fear, I accepted what I had as reasonable enough.  After all, it could be worse.  A lot worse.

This is no excuse though.  As we explore domestic violence, even the word violence seems to indicate that there must be some physical component.  We forget how malicious emotional abuse is, and how it serves (among other things) to push the line where physical abuse starts.  There have been many cases of women and men who are berated, coerced, stricken, and terribly injured, who do not accept that they are being abused, because it could always be worse.  This might be a good place to review indicators of abuse.  The following behaviors are not acceptable, and even if your relationship does not hit every point, as I just discussed, there is no meter to determine how “bad” an abusive situation is, and you deserve better.

The following information is directly from The Hotline, a fantastic resource for men and women exploring abuse, safety, and recovery: http://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/abuse-defined/.  Remember that the abuser may employ a combination of tactics, and it is not uncommon for him or her to be relatively “well behaved” in one aspect, in order to remind you that it could be worse.  I will be going into these more throughout the blog, in detail, but for now, please read and remember: the point here is that abuse is abuse.  Respect should be mutual, and given willingly, not coerced.

Abuse Indicators

You may be experiencing physical abuse if your partner has done or repeatedly does any of the following tactics of abuse:
  • Pulling your hair, punching, slapping, kicking, biting or choking you
  • Forbidding you from eating or sleeping
  • Hurting you with weapons
  • Preventing you from calling the police or seeking medical attention
  • Harming your children
  • Abandoning you in unfamiliar places
  • Driving recklessly or dangerously when you are in the car with them
  • Forcing you to use drugs or alcohol (especially if you’ve had a substance abuse problem in the past)
You may be in an emotionally abusive relationship if you partner exerts control through:
  • Calling you names, insulting you or continually criticizing you
  • Refusing to trust you and acting jealous or possessive
  • Trying to isolate you from family or friends
  • Monitoring where you go, who you call and who you spend time with
  • Demanding to know where you are every minute
  • Trapping you in your home or preventing you from leaving
  • Using weapons to threaten to hurt you
  • Punishing you by withholding affection
  • Threatening to hurt you, the children, your family or your pets
  • Damaging your property when they’re angry (throwing objects, punching walls, kicking doors, etc.)
  • Humiliating you in any way
  • Blaming you for the abuse
  • Gaslighting
  • Accusing you of cheating and being often jealous of your outside relationships
  • Serially cheating on you and then blaming you for his or her behavior
  • Cheating on you intentionally to hurt you and then threatening to cheat again
  • Cheating to prove that they are more desired, worthy, etc. than you are
  • Attempting to control your appearance: what you wear, how much/little makeup you wear, etc.
  • Telling you that you will never find anyone better, or that you are lucky to be with a person like them
Sexually abusive methods of retaining power and control include an abusive partner:
  • Forcing you to dress in a sexual way
  • Insulting you in sexual ways or calls you sexual names
  • Forcing or manipulating you into to having sex or performing sexual acts
  • Holding you down during sex
  • Demanding sex when you’re sick, tired or after hurting you
  • Hurting you with weapons or objects during sex
  • Involving other people in sexual activities with you against your will
  • Ignoring your feelings regarding sex
  • Forcing you to watch pornography
  • Purposefully trying to pass on a sexually transmitted disease to you
Sexual coercion Sexual coercion lies on the ‘continuum’ of sexually aggressive behavior. It can vary from being egged on and persuaded, to being forced to have contact. It can be verbal and emotional, in the form of statements that make you feel pressure, guilt, or shame. You can also be made to feel forced through more subtle actions. For example, an abusive partner:
  • Making you feel like you owe them — ex. Because you’re in a relationship, because you’ve had sex before, because they spent money on you or bought you a gift
  • Giving you drugs and alcohol to “loosen up” your inhibitions
  • Playing on the fact that you’re in a relationship, saying things such as: “Sex is the way to prove your love for me,” “If - I don’t get sex from you I’ll get it somewhere else”
  • Reacting negatively with sadness, anger or resentment if you say no or don’t immediately agree to something
  • Continuing to pressure you after you say no
  • Making you feel threatened or afraid of what might happen if you say no
  • Trying to normalize their sexual expectations: ex. “I need it, I’m a man”
Even if your partner isn’t forcing you to do sexual acts against your will, being made to feel obligated is coercion in itself. Dating someone, being in a relationship, or being married never means that you owe your partner intimacy of any kind.
Reproductive coercion is a form of power and control where one partner strips the other of the ability to control their own reproductive system. It is sometimes difficult to identify this coercion because other forms of abuse are often occurring simultaneously. Reproductive coercion can be exerted in many ways:
  • Refusing to use a condom or other type of birth control
  • Breaking or removing a condom during intercourse
  • Lying about their methods of birth control (ex. lying about having a vasectomy, lying about being on the pill)
  • Refusing to “pull out” if that is the agreed upon method of birth control
  • Forcing you to not use any birth control (ex. the pill, condom, shot, ring, etc.)
  • Removing birth control methods (ex. rings, IUDs, contraceptive patches)
  • Sabotaging birth control methods (ex. poking holes in condoms, tampering with pills or flushing them down the toilet)
  • Withholding finances needed to purchase birth control
  • Monitoring your menstrual cycles
  • Forcing pregnancy and not supporting your decision about when or if you want to have a child
  • Forcing you to get an abortion, or preventing you from getting one
  • Threatening you or acting violent if you don’t comply with their wishes to either end or continue a pregnancy
  • Continually keeping you pregnant (getting you pregnant again shortly after you give birth)
Reproductive coercion can also come in the form of pressure, guilt and shame from an abusive partner. Some examples are if your abusive partner is constantly talking about having children or making you feel guilty for not having or wanting children with them — especially if you already have kids with someone else.
Economic or financial abuse is when an abusive partner extends their power and control into the area of finances. This abuse can take different forms, including an abusive partner:
  • Giving an allowance and closely watching how you spend it or demanding receipts for purchases
  • Placing your paycheck in their bank account and denying you access to it
  • Preventing you from viewing or having access to bank accounts
  • Forbidding you to work or limiting the hours that you can work
  • Maxing out credit cards in your name without permission or not paying the bills on credit cards, which could ruin your credit score
  • Stealing money from you or your family and friends
  • Using funds from children’s savings accounts without your permission
  • Living in your home but refusing to work or contribute to the household
  • Making you give them your tax returns or confiscating joint tax returns
  • Refusing to give you money to pay for necessities/shared expenses like food, clothing, transportation, or medical care and medicine
Digital abuse is the use of technologies such as texting and social networking to bully, harass, stalk or intimidate a partner. Often this behavior is a form of verbal or emotional abuse perpetrated online. You may be experiencing digital abuse if your partner:
  • Tells you who you can or can’t be friends with on Facebook and other sites.
  • Sends you negative, insulting or even threatening emails, -- Facebook messages, tweets, DMs or other messages online.
  • Uses sites like Facebook, Twitter, foursquare and others to keep constant tabs on you.
  • Puts you down in their status updates.
  • Sends you unwanted, explicit pictures and demands you send some in return.
  • Pressures you to send explicit video.
  • Steals or insists to be given your passwords.
  • Constantly texts you and makes you feel like you can’t be separated from your phone for fear that you will be punished.
  • Looks through your phone frequently, checks up on your pictures, texts and outgoing calls.
  • Tags you unkindly in pictures on Instagram, Tumblr, etc.
You never deserve to be mistreated, online or off. Remember:
  • Your partner should respect your relationship boundaries.
  • It is ok to turn off your phone. You have the right to be alone and spend time with friends and family without your partner getting angry.
  • You do not have to text any pictures or statements that you are uncomfortable sending, especially nude or partially nude photos, known as “sexting.”
  • You lose control of any electronic message once your partner receives it. They may forward it, so don’t send anything you fear could be seen by others.
  • You do not have to share your passwords with anyone.
  • Know your privacy settings. Social networks such as Facebook allow the user to control how their information is shared and who has access to it. These are often customizable and are found in the privacy section of the site. Remember, registering for some applications (apps) require you to change your privacy settings.
  • Be mindful when using check-ins like Facebook Places and foursquare. Letting an abusive partner know where you are could be dangerous. Also, always ask your friends if it’s ok for you to check them in. You never know if they are trying to keep their location secret.
You have the right to feel comfortable and safe in your relationship, even online.

 

The Challenge of Reaching Out

When I made the commitment to start blogging about domestic abuse and my experience, my main goal was to reach out to victims and families.  As I began coming up with a communication plan, I realized communicating with families and other loved ones surrounding the abused is easy.  Finding survivors would be reasonably challenging, but getting content in front of those who really need it would prove most challenging of all.  Why is this?

Abusers are masters at controlling the environment of their partners.  So much so, in fact, that the victim often is unaware that the environment is so closed off, and effectively the person closing the world off is the victim him or herself, as a result of coercion or determent.  Victims may be allowed to work, but only under certain circumstances.  They may appear to have one or two close friends (common, as we get into our twenties and thirties), but the reality is that even these relationships are controlled.  Looking back on my experience, I had a two people who I could talk to without hearing much grief…my sister-in-law, and my mother-in-law.  I had a few friends who were wives of my husband’s friends that I would see on occasion as well, when permitted, but primarily it was my in-laws who were my support.  I enjoyed the time I had with both of these women, but looking back, these relationships were contrived as well.  These were women who, in my husband’s eyes, lived the model of womanhood I was expected to uphold.  When he would make remarks around them about me that were in retrospect, extremely mean and abusive, they would brush it off as him being in a bad mood.  I remember clearly one time my mother-in-law asking me, “What would you do if your mom ever heard him talk to you like that?”.  I told her he never would.  He knew better.  But then again, how frequently did we see my mom…?

I was allowed to have Facebook, but no other type of social media.  I got in trouble several times for having “What’s App” on my phone, which he declared as an app to sneak off and talk to people so the conversations can’t be logged.  While that would have been a good idea, I suppose, I hadn’t thought of it.  I had downloaded it to talk to another (girl) friend of mine from work, who would travel frequently for recruitment, where wireless signals do not work.  He insisted that I was having lesbian relationships with any girl I happened to know.  Men were not an issue, because I wouldn’t dare try to befriend anyone of the opposite sex, but the few times I did add an old colleague or friend on Facebook, a fight ensued; I was accused of being unfaithful, and ultimately ended up removing them from my friends list.  He questioned every new person on my Facebook or in my phone, and any male co-workers I brought up in conversation, and insisted that I explain the details of our relationship, no matter how long it had been since we last spoke (friends from middle school perhaps).  It got to the point where I stopped accepting requests altogether, to save myself the stress this whole ordeal caused every time.

The people I did have in my life, (his sister-in-law and mother included) were often subject to demeaning ridicule behind our closed doors.  If I didn’t agree with him, a fight ensued and I would be named disloyal.  “Why do you give a sh-t about all these f-ing people”, he would say.  “What are they ever going to do for you?”  Ironically, in the interest of wanting to prove my loyalty and fidelity (and to save myself the aggravation associated with even showing interest in anything else), I found myself sometimes not even asking to do certain things that were outside of the allowed circle.  I missed baby showers, graduations, birthdays.  Days I can never get back with some people, unfortunately, I will never see again.  I’ll write more on this at a later time.

When the fights surrounding these types of things were over, life continued.  We would have a lovely day antiquing with his mom, or going apple picking.  We would play games and watch movies and eat munchies, all in the false comfort of home.  During this time, if I was spotted on my iPad or phone, I tended to get grief as well, so I tried to devote this time to being together.  After all, that is what a good wife does, right?

All of this to say, it is extremely hard to infiltrate the iron clad environment in which abusers contain victims.  That said, I knew that any support I opened up would need to be viewable, with the understanding that these people may not ever be able to comment, call, or interact.  If you have not been in a relationship like this before, pretend the victim is looking through a window from the confines of a locked house.  You have no way in, and the victim has no way out.  What do you do to convince this person that the world is actually warm and safe, that people are friendly and they will survive?  How do you further convince them they can thrive? How do you convey to him or her that some of the people he or she sees as happy outside, were actually once inside a locked house as well?  I view what I do in this abstract way.  What I hope to do is to be the person standing out there with a obtrusive, giant sign, that simply reads, “I was there, and now I’m happy…really happy.  You are strong, and you deserve all this happiness, too.”

In an effort to reach out, I have developed the Heroes Program.  Through this program, I hope to develop a library of survivor stories to serve as the light for those still searching for their way.  If you have a story to share, I cannot explain how much your anonymous sharing will do for those still stuck.