Shattering Silence of domestic abuse

Becky Bowman

I shouldn’t have to go further than Laci Peterson to get your attention.

Peterson’s death, for which her husband has been charged, has garnered national media attention in the last six months – but not because her case is rare. Thursday of last week, in Chicago, the boyfriend of former Time magazine reporter Julie Grace was charged with her murder.

Domestic abuse – physical, mental or emotional – happens all the time. And it knows no geographic boundaries. It even happens at Northwestern.

Take me, for instance. You probably have no idea that I spent most of 2001 dealing with and trying to get out of an emotionally and psychologically abusive relationship, or that I left only after I had physical marks to prove my hurt. But I did.

Then again, you probably don’t know that about one out of every three girls in this country has or will enoucnter some type of abuse or harassment in her life, according to statistics published by the American Institute on Domestic Violence. Or that a woman is beaten every nine seconds in the United States, and women ages 20 to 34 endure the highest rates of domestic violence.

You don’t know these things because no one likes to talk about them. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Domestic violence lurks behind a shroud of silence that tells women to suck it up and deal with what is before them. And at college “domestic” doesn’t even sound like something that applies.

Each year we march against rape and other abuse during Take Back the Night = but tha tevent is rooted solidly in the problem of sexual assault, which may or may not be a part of domestic assault, which carries a strong stigma with it. Rape represents an ultimate abuse against human dignity, but few understand the depth of abuse and hurt that can lie behind a single rape – or murder.

My relationship left only scratches and bruises, but the emotional pain I suffered was much worse. My abuser told me over and over that I was stupid and that I was inferior. He set my schedule – including fetching his dinner every night – and called to make sure I followed it. An editor at The Daily once removed the phone from my ear in the middle of a loud verbal attack. A woman on Michigan Avenue threatened to call the cops one night on my behalf – and still I stayed.

And no one close to me knew.

Domestic abuse tends to conjure negative images of poverty-stricken famileis and beer-guzzling husbands. But the truth is that it can happen to anyone – yes, even men.

“Domestic abuse” also brings about an air of uncertainity. time and time again, a woman will report her abuser to the police and then deny her own allegations in court – foregoing her own safety for the sake of guilty feelings or a fear of further abuse.

But we wear two faces only because our abusers do. My abuser was the charmer of the party – like the one at which I met him. His friends revered him. His immediate attention and his friends’ opinions made me – one who had never been singled out in a crowd – feel like something special.

Those feelings eventually became the barrier between my safety and me. To get out, I had to admit it wasn’t working and that I was in danger. At the invincible age of 19, I was interested in neither.

This is probably the last thing I want to talk about. But silence will help no one. Silence has led only to ignorance, an ignorance that causes people – from friends to family to strangers – to ask victims of abuse all sorts of crazy questions. The worst, by far, is, “Why did you stay?”

So I’m inviting you to help me break that silence. Love that Harms, a panel discussion on domestic abuse, will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday in Norris University Center Northwestern B Room. One night of talking about abuse – with fellow survivor journalism Lecturer Michele Weldon – might not erase the shadow of domestic abuse. But it could open the door for someone who needs it.

So don’t hesitate. Don’t back down. Don’t swallow your feelings any longer because you feel like no one will understand. We understand. And we’re speaking up.