Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Is this Domestic Violence? And could it happen to you?

By JuJuBe (Joanna)

This is probably the hardest blog post I have ever written. But, it is a story I need to tell.

I have always been the type of person to see the good in every individual I come across. I try not to hold a person’s past against them. I try to be open minded and accepting of people who the rest of society sees as irredeemable. And, at one point that really got me in trouble.

When I was 19 years old, I met a man named Gary. He was one of the most handsome men I had ever met. He and I got along great, and we became quick friends. Every day I would leave my house early in the morning, head over to pick up Gary, and we would spend hours hanging out in my car, smoking weed, and driving from house to house to visit friends. Even though he had a suspended license, I always asked him to drive, because I had just gotten my license a few months earlier. It never seemed to be an issue.

Being the “sucker for love” that I am, I fell for Gary. Of course. But, he made it a point to tell me that he was used to being with only the hottest women, and could never be my man. But, I was good enough to perform sexual favors for him when no one else was around. And, since I had only had one boyfriend prior to meeting Gary, I thought that was enough. I thought it made me special. I mean, after all, he was the type of man every woman dreams of hooking up with. Plus he had a body to die for.

Gary confided in my that his most recent girlfriend had just had his baby. She was 17 years old, and had moved to Florida, so he had never had the opportunity to see his brand new daughter. The parents of his ex would not allow him to have any contact with their daughter, or with his own child. I really felt for him.

Of course, her parents had good reason to keep him away from their child. See, he had a very volatile relationship with the mother of his daughter. In fact, the police had been called numerous times because he had a habit of beating this girl. And, even though I had done volunteer work at a shelter for victims of domestic violence, I was convinced he was a good guy. I even began to believe that his ex had been “pushing his buttons” and therefore the abuse was NOT his fault. The fact that he confided in me that his mother had been beaten by his father on a regular basis really had me feeling sorry for him. And of course, I believed him when he told me that he would never hit a woman again. After all, it wasn’t his fault. It was his father’s fault. It was his ex girlfriend’s fault. It was his society’s fault. It was everyone else’s fault but his. And it could never happen to me. I mean, after all, he promised he would never hit ME.

I saw flashes of his temper over the first few months of our friendship. He would become angry suddenly if I said no when he asked me to drive. He threatened one of his friends for a totally innocuous comment. And, he told me that if he ever got arrested for driving my car, he would hold me personally responsible, and that there would be hell to pay if I did not find a way to bail him out. But, I was convinced this was my best friend and that he would NEVER hit me.

And, of course, I was wrong.

One day, we were in the car with two of his friends. I was upset and did not want to drive. I told one of his friends to drive because I was high, I was depressed, and I was too intimidated to drive with a car full of people. And, while I was saying why I could not drive, Gary slapped me. Knocked my glasses right off of my face, and shocked the shit out of me. No one had ever laid a hand on me before, not even my parents. Gary’s friends got all quiet. It was obvious they had seen this type of behavior from him before.

Usually when I was with Gary, I wanted to spend time alone with him. This time, I did not want his friends to leave. But, they were anxious to get the hell out of there. And as soon as Gary and I were alone, he started grabbing and squeezing my face, mashing it up until I had a fat lip. When I started to cry, he asked me why. I told him he was scaring me. Gary acted like he was shocked at his own behavior, and began to apologize over and over again. I just wanted to get the hell out of the car and away from him.

Or course, the next day he was calling me all day telling me how sorry he was, and how it would never happen again. Although I was still terrified of him, I went RIGHT BACK to see him again. And the entire time we were together, I was on the verge of a panic attack. If I was driving and his friends gave me directions, I made sure to get his approval first before I followed their instructions. Every thing he asked for, he got. Anywhere he wanted to go, we went. I was scared to complain or protest. I remember at one point, we were in the car with his 9 year old nephew, and he was yelling at me. I started crying, and he couldn’t understand why. After all, he had PROMISED it wouldn’t happen again, so why was I so scared?

After about two weeks of capitulating to his every demand, Gary and I were sitting in the car on a dark street. He was resting before we drove back to my house. My parents were away, and I had invited him to spend the weekend with me. I was bored and anxious, and I started to snap my hair clip over and over. Well, this infuriated Gary, and he grabbed my face and started pinching me as hard as he could. Then, when he realized what he was doing, he started telling me to punch him in retaliation. I was afraid to, but he grabbed my collar and threatened to beat the shit out of me if I didn’t do it. I could not bring myself to do it, because I was afraid he would kill me. But, I tried half heartedly to punch him, because he had promised to fuck me up if I didn’t.

At that point I made the decision to never see Gary again. I just wanted to get as far away from him as possible, but I was afraid to tell him. So, I let him come back to my house with me. He slept in the den while I was in my bedroom. I was instructed to not lock the door “or else”. So, I left the door unlocked and he checked in the middle of the night to make sure I had obeyed him. The next day I was going to have him drop me off at work, and let him borrow my car for the day, as was our usual practice. But, I promised myself that as soon as I dropped him off for the night, I was going to cut all ties to him.

The next day, he was driving me to work, and we got pulled over by the police. He was arrested. I became panicked, because I had no money to get him out of jail, and he had already threatened me that there would be trouble if I didn’t get him out. I begged my sisters to lend me money, but they said no. Finally, I broke down to my sister, and told her what had happened with Gary. She promised me that she would not allow Gary to get to me. She told my mother and father what had happened when they called from their vacation. And she arranged for her boyfriend to spend the night at my house in case Gary decided to come calling.

Even though Gary had hurt me, I still wanted to see him and talk to him. He had told me before he was arrested that even though he had hit me, he would never PUNCH me. I mean, he had only SLAPPED me, so it wasn’t such a big deal. And, he told me “I would never have hit you if I didn’t love you” And the sad thing was, when he said it, I was thrilled to think that he actually CARED.

And each time he called my house, or came to my front door, or sent one of his friends over, my family turned him away. But, I must confess, part of me got excited, thinking that he cared enough to try to come back into my life.

I can see how easy it would be to end up in a seriously abusive relationship. If my family had not been around to keep Gary away from me, I would have invited him right back into my life. He knew exactly what to say to make his abusive behavior more palatable. For YEARS after, I still thought about Gary and wanted to see him again. So, I will always be grateful to my family for making sure that I did not accept his behavior.

I have no doubt that if I had continued my relationship with Gary, he would have broken promise after promise. First he broke his promise to never hit me. If I had continued to allow him in my life, I am convinced he would have eventually broken the promise he made that he would never PUNCH me.

Abusive men are skilled at appearing sincere in their apologies. They are able to convince their victim that the abuse will never happen again. They have their victim believing that if she changes HER ways, he will become the man of her dreams. They are able to prey upon a woman’s insecurities and convince her SHE was in the wrong. They are skilled at the art of manipulation. And they pick the perfect prey…. Women who are insecure, women who are “needy”, women who are “suckers for love”. Women like me.

And without a strong support system, for some women, it is easy to be drawn in by an abusive man’s charisma and charm. He is a chameleon, a skilled actor who knows just what to say to make a woman accept his behavior.

For a long time, I made excuses for Gary. I wanted to believe he was sincere when he told me he loved me. But, I realized after a while that an abusive man will say and do anything to continue his domination over his victim.

To this day, I still wonder if this experience qualifies as “domestic violence”. I always thought of domestic violence as a continuing pattern of abusive behavior, not something that only happened once or twice. I wonder, do I have the right to speak out about this experience when other women have been through so much more? But I recognize how easily this could have escalated without people around me to keep me away from Gary. And I do not want any woman to believe that “he didn’t mean it” or that “it will never happen again” because if it happened once, it WILL happen again.

The thing that scares me more than anything, is that I am STILL a “sucker for love” and I STILL have issues with my self esteem. Although I have intervened when I saw another woman being abused, I have a deep seated fear that if I was in a similar situation today I would stay with a batterer, simply because I no longer have my family around to keep me from running back.

I always looked at abused women and thought they were crazy for proclaiming their love for the men who were brutalizing them. But, deep inside of me, part of me still believes the comment that Gary made… “I wouldn’t hit you if I didn’t really love you” It is totally irrational, and I do not know WHY I continue to associate abuse with love, but that one statement got in my head and stayed buried there, and I simply can’t let it go.

All I can say is I thank God my family kept Gary away from me, and I sincerely hope that I am able to become strong enough to not allow anyone to hurt me again. So far I have been lucky. But I am terrified that one of these days I will encounter a man who sees how easy it is to prey on my vulnerability. I really hope that if someone like that does come into my life, I am strong enough on my own to not accept anything less than a loving, respectful relationship.

If you or someone you love is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

For more information, visit the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Know the Warning Signs of Domestic Violence

Are You In Danger?

The following is a list of common things a batterer can do to their victim. An easy way to assess the danger in your relationship is to go through the following list, answering each question yes or no.

1. Has your abuser done any of the following:
* Punched you
* Slapped you
* Kicked you
* Bitten you
* Pulled your hair
2. If you are married, did any of these things happen before you were married?
3. Does your abuser use alcohol or drugs excessively?
4. Does your abuser have intense mood swings?
5. Does your abuser stalk you?
6. Follow you?
7. Try to isolate you from others?
8. Try to dominate you?
9. Show up at your work unexpected?
10. Threatens suicide?
11. Obsessed with weapons?
12. Threatened you with a weapon?
13. Threatened you by phone or mail?
14. Threatened to kill you or someone you love?
15. Tried to hurt you when you were pregnant
16. Sexually assaulted you?
17. Kidnapped you or held you hostage?
18. Previous violent relationships?
19. Criminal record?
20. Criminal record related to violence, or sexual offenses?
21. Had a restraining order filed against him/her?
22. Violated the restraining order?
23. Intimidate or threaten you in order to control you?
24. Accuse you of being unfaithful?
25. Broken into your home?
26. Cut phone/power lines connected to your home?
27. Does your abuser have a difficult time when you are not with him/her?
28. Have frequent outbursts?
29. Tries to excuse the beatings?
30. Have the police ever been contacted?

Generally, the more questions you answer with a “yes” the more dangerous your relationship is. Please do not use this as a replacement for seeking help. Any abusive relationship, regardless of its severity, should be taken seriously.