Monday, December 15, 2008

A Further Response to the Red Headed Girl

After the discussion started by both Red Head Girl part 1 and 2, as well as the response, my friend sent me another response to clarify and extrapolate on the points he had made, and clear up any misconceptions people may have had. Agree or disagree it's well worth reading and I strongly suggest you do so.

'Ok, so I was a bit flippant with my response to the red headed girl. Let me elaborate.

First of all, there exists an entire battery of legal safeguards for domestic abuse victims. 10 years ago, 20 years ago, I admit, domestic abuse was just as likely to be laughed off and dismissed with "oh she was asking for it" as it was to be dealt with. This is categorically and emphatically wrong. It's a simplistic and misogynistic response to an inherently complicated situation and behavior pattern. Nobody "asks" for it, any more than someone is "asking" to be raped because of they way they're dressed or "asking" to be burgled because they leave a door unlocked. And like I said, years ago, domestic abuse was just as likely to be laughed off and dismissed with "Don't be so clumsy next time" as it was to be dealt with.

But this is now. Society has made leaps and bounds in terms of progress. Penalties have increased in harshness. Resources are available publicly and privately; they're no longer marginalized or confined to back alleys and shelters run out of someone's personal home. Police departments are taking proactive measurements to attempt to stop the problem before it escalates from a punch to a kick to a hospital visit to a death. For instance, the state in which I currently reside mandates that when a police officer shows up to a domestic dispute call, he/she is required to arrest someone for it. Even if you and your partner are having a loud play argument about which shirt looks better on someone, if someone calls the police and says "This couple is arguing", the police officer is required, by law, to arrest someone. And so in situations like the one I described, he would have been required to arrest someone. It is no longer incumbent upon the officer's discretion as to whether or not he/she arrest someone. They HAVE TO arrest someone in any and all cases of a response to a domestic abuse situation they arrive at.

There are restraining orders. I can hear you saying now, "Of course he's not going to follow the restraining order! What's the point!" You're right. The abuser isn't going to follow it. Everyone knows that. But the point of the restraining order is so that when the abuser inevitably returns, usually with malicious intent, they can be arrested on the spot, without having to prove anything or show evidence. Proof was already shown to get the restraining order. In certain cases, the court can even issue a domestic restraining order against a person without the victim's agreement or desire, this case, making it so that the if the next time the police respond, the jail term is longer and the penalty harsher.

So, to reduce the victim's options to two negative choices, in my opinion, is oversimplification. There are numerous laws on the books in every state to protect victims, and domestic abuse is taken extremely seriously by law enforcement.

No one's saying it's easy to walk away. There are finances, there may be children, a whole life nobody can be expected to just simply uproot, even if their life itself is at stake. I don't have any easy responses to any of this. It is my fault my response to the red headed girl came off as flippant.

Furthermore, I acknowledge my abject lack of knowledge in this subject. I am, in affect, trying to talk street without ever having gone to the school of hard knocks. My opinions, and responses and feeling on this subject are predicated on the very few domestic abuse situations I've witnessed, either as a civilian ride along with a police officer, or as the friend of acquaintance of a victim.

My point was that, in my experience, while it's a simplification to say "He/she lets is happen to themselves", there is also personal accountability. Stephen's right; sometimes, the victim loves their abuser. But Lexi's right as well. Where does personal accountability enter the equation? I once saw the police place a boyfriend under arrest for domestic abuse. As two officers are walking him out of the door, the girlfriend, with two swollen cheeks, a black eye, and a missing tooth, starts screaming at the officers, hurling racial and professional epithets at them. She doesn't want to see her boyfriend incarcerated, even though she knows that this pattern of abuse is only going to escalate and get worse and worse and more and more life-threatening. She is screaming at the top of her lungs and sobbing, begging him not to be taken away, even though there's no way around the simple fact that he just physically assaulted her in a quite serious manner. Obviously, no one can go up to this woman and say "You need to walk away. It's going to get worse and worse and he's going to do permanent damage to you". That's too simple. The expectation that she would listen to this is ridiculous. Of course she's not going to. She loves her boyfriend, even if he beats the living shit out of her at his convenience.

That's my point. Nobody can render a victim any assistance of any kind until they decide that they won't be victims anymore. And to say that this woman, or any victim, only has two choices available to them, both ending in varying degrees of more abuse is, I feel, a simplification. The laws exist to get people out of this cycle, to help people, to punish their abusers and to keep them safe. If they can't utilize the laws, the police, the courts to help them, and they can't walk away, what would you have them do? It is not incumbent upon society to swoop into every troubled household and extract the victims.

We are past the days of small bail, small fines, 30 days in jail, and five police responses to the same residence in the same night. There is tremendous pressure upon police officers and courts to prosecute domestic abuses and prosecute them harshly. Is it a perfect legal system? Nobody's stupid enough to declare that. But once again, if they aren't going to utilize the legal system for help, what's the alternative? Some people are going to slip through. That's inevitable. But no professional legal authority who takes their job seriously is going to laugh it off. They're not going to dismiss it and say "Don't fall down the stairs next time". Domestic abuse is one of the new hot buttons in law enforcement, along with the explosion of growth in street gangs or digital crimes, for instance. One of the reasons for this is because of the realization that for a long time it was dealt with so flippantly and victims were marginalized.

When I mentioned a "victim culture", I didn't elaborate, and that is my own fault. When I say "victim culture" I mean people who put bandages on their wrists when they don't self-mutilate, people who are vocal about being medicated, people who brag about being previously abused (I have witnessed this. First-hand), people who use the fact that they see a therapist as something of perceived social value. Therapy can obviously help; I don't disagree. But like Lexi said, just talking isn't going to anything. A person has to be willing to make the mental and emotional steps to progress past their previous hardships. To me, it seems, at least among our generation, (Generation Y or the millennials, I think we're called), having "problems" has become cool. In my opinion, there is now a real social value inherent in taking mood medication, seeing a therapist, or having some sort of other stage-whisper concealed mental or emotional problem. And this is hardly applicable across the board and I don't mean to marginalize the people who have legitimate problems and wish they didn't and don't want their friends or the public at large to know about them.

But you really haven't seen the tremendous growth in social value of being "depressed"? And people are conditioned to publicize their problems because society rallies around them and they'll feel loved and cared for. You haven't seen the growth of people who like to publicize the fact that they drink heavily, or take non-prescription adderall (I don't know how to spell that) or oxycontin or otherwise engage in obvious risky and self-destructive behavior simply for the attention and perceived popularity it'll bring them? Sometimes, these are cries for help, and that hasn't changed over the last 10, or 20, or 30 years. But as I've seen it, and once again, this is predicated on my own experiences, the people who do this neither want nor need help. They just want people to know they're "disturbed" or "have problems" because they feel it will being them increased social worth or popularity or attention simply for attention's sake. And my point is, society responds to this. Every time.

Of course, there's an element of chicken-and-egg in this. Is it that as psychology has gotten more advanced, problems identified easier, that more people are seeking solutions and help? Or has a better understanding of psychology simply yielded more people who want to have problems, and so manifest them to get attention? I don't know. But that's the way I see it.'

For information on how you can support Domestic Violence Prevention groups, please see Steve's post here.


Nevie Brooks. said...

"having "problems" has become cool. In my opinion, there is now a real social value inherent in taking mood medication, seeing a therapist, or having some sort of other stage-whisper concealed mental or emotional problem"

I am glad this person has apparently never been the target of ridicule for having gotten help for depression, seeing a doctor, being on prescribed meds, and therefore, after having sought treatment, been called "crazy". He is so out of touch with the reality of the stigma of it that it makes me shake. His kind of attitude is exactly what DISCOURAGES still too many people from seeking help today.

Ozkirbas said...

There's a lot in your response that needs addressing. But, I suppose the most constructive response is to tell a story of my own. I don't normally tell survivors' stories for them and I've certainly never posted one to a public forum like a blog before. However, this particular survivor speaks openly in the public about her personal experiences, and so, I think it'll be okay. The is a domestic violence story of a woman who did everything right. I'm going to call it "451 degrees."
(Disclaimer: The name of the parties have been changed to "Tom" and "Sally" out of respect. I should admit, I'm fuzzy on the details, but I remember the main crux of it. I, also, encourage any survivor, or friend and family thereof, to seek out their local Victim Advocacy or Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis/Resource centers)

"451 Degrees"
Sally was a strong, independent African-American woman living in Baltimore. Like most people, she lived paycheck to paycheck. She sold cellphones for Verizon and was able to support her two children doing so. Her history with men was sordid; her prom date raped her back during high school because she "owed it to him and was being a bitch". Trusting men became a little problematic for her after that. She dated a little, but it wasn't until she met her future husband when she started to feel safe again.

Tom was a great guy. He was charming, handsome, romantic even. He liked sports, thoroughly enjoyed Sprite (tended to carry one around with him), and seemed to be a godsend. Things were great. Sally felt safe, secure, even blessed. But, after the wedding, things started to go downhill. Tom would tell her things, subtle threats when she didn't do what he wanted or do things exactly how he wanted them. Phrases that, if anyone else had heard them, they would think nothing of it. But, Sally knew what he meant and it scared her. His behavior escalated, as it does in such cases, from subtle threats to direct, verbal assault. Fearing for herself and her children Sally called the police. Of course, they couldn't arrest him yet. They wouldn't even leave the station. Their words, "There was nothing they could do at this point". This would happen often; He'd provide a little threat with a little subtext and it would slowly evolve into something horrible and she'd call the police, and they would do nothing. She tried to separate and went to court for a protective order. The judge, believing that his behavior didn't justify the effort to obtain one (of which, as I understand, is an outstandingly simple process in comparison to other proceedings) declined. And then one day, he hit her.

He smacked her right across the face, left a huge welt. Luckily for her, she was able to get to a phone and call the police pretty quickly after. My state has a police requirement to arrest on DV cases, as well, you see. And that's what they did. Of course, bail was low and Tom had a few friends on the force. He was out soon there after. Back. He called frequently just to threaten her. Sally kept a log, documented everything. But, his threats were still too subtle. She tried to keep up a social life, but she'd go out and there he'd be. Just to say hi, see the kids, "catch up". And whisper another threat that meant something to them, but to no one else. It was something along the lines of "We'll see what my boys have to say about this". She knew that when Trey said "Boys" he meant "his crew" and when he said "have to say" he knew he meant they'd do something she didn't like. To Sally or her kids.

Sally filed charges, the model citizen that she is, and attempted to take Tom to court. Their case was weak, despite documentation and his arrest - Tom still had a substantial amount of support to keep him out. Sally filed for another protective order, the judge still turned her down. The case was coming up soon, and it seemed that the Prosecutor had covered substantial ground and the case was going to be a success. Tom called with more threats again, telling her to drop the charges. She told him no. Tom's last words to her were "Last Chance" and he hung up. The next day was a work day, so Sally went in to sell cellphones to support her kids. Tom came in at about midday, assumably to talk. She was busy at work behind the register and didn't see him until he was very close. He was carrying a Sprite bottle, as he often did, open as if he was just drinking it. Without saying a word he walked over, dumped the clearish, artificially flavored lemon-lime beverage that is Sprite all over her. Except, it didn't smell like Sprite. Didn't smell like Sprite at all. In fact, it kind of smelled like lighter fluid. And, very quickly, he took out a lighter, lit her on fire, and walked out. No one stopped him, everyone was stuck in shock because, in a matter of seconds, a tall, well dressed, seemingly nice looking man just set a friend and co-worker on fire. Sally suffered 3rd degree burns over 70% of her body. But, she survived. Her kids were traumatized, probably for the rest of their childhood, from seeing their mother that way. She may never date or experience sex again.

Tom was convicted and found guilty. Of course, he was a model inmate. He might be out again this year on parole. He's been incarcerated a total of 5. Sally is still doing what she can to keep him in prison, but nothing is guaranteed. Sally fears distinctly of what Tom will do if he's released and understands that there's a substantial chance that he will.

Sally's story isn't an anomaly. Issues of DM, Rape, and the like are issues of control, predominantly of which survivors and victims have a fairly minimal amount. Because, that's kind of the point of it. I could go on, but this post is long enough already and I fear I may have already lost many of you. I'll close with a final comment:

Rape and Domestic Violence is a complex issue where survivors of such do what they can with what they have. Stories may have similar facts, but each story is inherently different and unique. Over half of women will be in an abusive relationship and abuse isn't always physical. Nationally, 1 in 4 women will either fend off a rape or be raped at sometime in their lifetime. Between 1 in 5 and 1 in 10 men will too. 86% of the time it will be in a safe place where they feel comfortable (ex: at home) and 84% of the time the offender will be a friend, family member, or someone trusted (at Univ. of MD, it was about 98%). Be respectful when you discuss this subject in public with your friends; you never know when a survivor is standing just within hearing distance or whether or not one of your friends may have gone through a similar situation and simply hasn't told you about it. I encourage any and all survivors and friends and family there of, or if you simply have questions, to contact your local Victim Advocacy or Crisis centers for support.

I hope this post was constructive and I look forward to posting more in the future.

~Jinx~ said...

This is going to be a bit hard to type. I don't know how I can get it all out without thinking about how for years of my life I was a punching bag for the piece of crap that I married when I was too young to make a decision of that magnitude. I am not saying that no women are capable of making a decision like that at 17, but most are not, I was one of those that was not ready.

There were many reasons that I got into that relationship. Most are typical of abuse victims. I had been hurt by those that were supposed to protect me, abandoned by my father, *insert a bunch of whining and teenage angst here* I made a rash decision and paid for it, I did not see a way out.

Let me say that there were no signs of abuse until our wedding night. That night he had friends over playing games. I made constant errors (in his eyes) that night. I didn't know company was coming, I cooked for him and me, nothing for the guys he had over....and then when I was cleaning up the trash bag ripped. I giggled and made some comment to him about how I told him we shouldn't have bought the cheap brand, supposed to be a joke, but he took it as me attacking him....then I was hit for the first time.

I cried, I felt like a part of me had died. I knew at that moment that I had to get out, was thinking about how our marriage should be able to be annulled. Then he apologized and swore it would never happen again. Yes, following the typical reaction of the abused, I believed him, it was just stress that made him do it. Heh.

I lived with the abuse for quite some time. One day I tried to hint around to my grandmother and get some support, but her reply to me was "You have to do all you can to keep your man happy."

We had a child, he quit working. I could mention tales that would make your head spin. Raped only a week after giving birth, given a broken nose when I tried to breastfeed my child for the first time out of the hospital (was a preemie & I had worked on my supply by pumping).

I went to the hospital countless times. He was always right there, playing the part of the concerned husband. I asked once when he left the room for them to call the police, but no one ever showed up, we left the ER about an hour after me asking.

Help is not as readily available as some might think. Some states and counties turn a blind eye to it. Mine certainly did. They weren't helping me. I went to see about a restraining order....I was told that I would need to have proof, they couldn't just mark him down as an abuser without any proof. There was no help. I spoke to many people. I'm from a little podunk town in the middle of the bible belt. Maybe this is what made me remain a victim all those years, but there are more places like that in this world than you may know about.

He went out to a strip club one night with his friends. Like I said earlier, he wasn't working. He saw this as a new way for me to support our family and talked me into starting to work at the club. I am shy, I was terrified by this, but I did see it as a bit of an escape....and it did work. He couldn't hit me as much. My whole body was out there for the world to see and I have a very pale complexion, bruise so easy.

The abuse then turned into pinching and hair pulling. It was always emotional. "You're so f***ing ugly I don't know why people pay to see you naked." "You had to have screwed someone to make this much money in one night, it's not like you have much to shake for tips."

I made some great friends at the club. Those girls gave me the strength to finally stand up to him when he raised his hand to me. One day we got some sweets from Dairy Queen. Walking in the house I dropped his. His face turned red and I just knew I was going to get hit and I fought back. He didn't have a chance to hit me, I grabbed his throat and slammed him against the fridge and told him he would never touch me again, in any way. I'm a bit ashamed at how violent I was, but only a little. I headbutted him and broke his nose, I hurt his manly parts so much that by what I was told in court he urinated blood for a week.

The police were called. I was the one that was arrested for domestic abuse. I do not care if that is still on my record. The night I spent in jail was the first good night's sleep that I had in years, I was bailed out by my stripper friends and I felt like I could finally walk with my head held high. Charges were dropped after 2 days in court, he was a bit embarrassed about having the whole town hear about how his wife got the better of him.

Now I spend most of my free time as an advocate of women's rights. I speak monthly at women center's, trying to get them the help the deserve. Help is not always out there, for many women in many places. It does seem like they are stuck. I know that many women try and try for help. Yes, it is true that nobody can render a victim any assistance of any kind until they decide that they won't be victims anymore, but just deciding that you don't want to be a victim is not enough. You do still need help. Many women are not offered that kind of help, even when they search for it. Even when they KNOW that their life depends on it.

Many people just say "Just leave, pack up, run away." Do you know how hard that is? To leave everyone and everything you know? Many people find the bruises easier to live with than leaving behind everything and everyone that they know.

Five years ago...after being away from this for five years I found out that he was in prison for beating his sister half to death. I spoke on her behalf about my life with him. I got a formal apology from the Police Department about how my situation was handled and was asked to work with them. I travel to my hometown frequently to help make sure that other women don't slip through the cracks like I did. Many women asking for help are ignored or neglected daily. It's sad.

Signed, a little red headed girl~

David Pratt said...

Oh, Jinxie. I love you.

B.Graham said...

I think one of the most serious issues we have as a society today is the ever so prevalent perception that, "It's the 21st century. We're so over all the problems of our parents and grandparents."

But that kind of thinking just makes reality so much easier to ignore, and creates a volatile and ever more dangerous situation for the people living in it.