My parents divorced when I was in the 4th grade. I can’t explain to you what it’s like to have to shift between two separate families, celebrate holidays at alternate houses, or to have to choose between my parents because I never did any of those things. The last time I saw my dad I was in 5th grade and I learned I would get to live with my mom permanently. My dad, whom I don’t know anymore, was physically and mentally abusive to both my mom and my brothers. I never saw it happen and I can’t say I really understood what was going on at the time. What I know now is that domestic violence isn’t as rare as I hoped it was.
Imagine a minute passing. It’s only 60 seconds, which could easily be counted out in your head or by watching a clock. However, 60 seconds is long enough for roughly 6 women to be assaulted in the United States. Every 9 seconds a woman is attacked. That seems like an astronomical amount, but what’s even scarier is that domestic violence doesn’t always end peacefully and happily, with children, mothers, and fathers safely separated. Some people are actually killed by their partners in domestic disputes. The Huffington Post compiled a list of shocking statistics to reveal to people just how prevalent this issue is. One shocking statistic they share is that, “The number of American trooped killed in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and 2012 was 6,488. The number of American women who were murdered by current or ex male partners during that time was 11,766.”
It’s important to note that women aren’t the only ones who are victims of partner violence. 1 in 4 women will be victims in their lifetime, but 1 in 7 men will become victims who will potentially struggle with complex issues as a result. Gender roles tell us that men can’t be hurt by women because they’re stronger and should be able to defend themselves. Those assumptions make finding help even more difficult for men sometimes due to embarrassment and self-blame.
Domestic violence really is a problem that doesn’t discriminate. It occurs to people of all economic classes and of all different backgrounds. The issue becomes especially complex when considering that minorities, women with disabilities, and LBGTQ individuals are much more likely to experience partner violence than others. This violence takes hold of men, women, and individuals in countries all over the world. Domestic violence is a global issue that takes root in every place possible.
Generally, abuse occurs through a cycle of violence which includes: tension building, explosion, and a honeymoon phase. Tension building is easily described as “walking on eggshells.” Those being abused feel the need to be especially cautious as the abuser becomes irritated easily and abruptly. The explosion stage characteristically happens when the blunt of the abuse occurs, which often results in physical injury. Lastly, the honeymoon phase occurs when the abuser makes seemingly sincere apologies, often presenting gifts and explanations. Eventually the honeymoon phase fades and tension begins to build back up. All the time, the abuser uses techniques of denial and blame to make the abuse seem insignificant while making the victim feel worthless, incapable, and responsible for said abuse. Sometimes victims feel so responsible that they never end up reaching out for help. Only 25% of physical assaults perpetrated against women are actually reported to the police.
In class we read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Purple Hibiscus that portrays a wealthy family living in Nigeria. The father is abusive to his wife and both his children. The story does an amazing job of depicting the cycle of abuse that makes escaping so difficult. The entirety of the novel describes the father, whom is the abuser, in different states of emotion. When he is happy the family feels safe but when he is angry they all fear for what will happen. The shift from happy situations to fearful ones is categorically what is called tension building. The family constantly worries about having the correct behavior and responses in church to receiving the best grades in class, anything could set the father off and this situation builds tension in the family. Kambili explains her anxiety in school that arises out of fear of her father in saying, “It was like balancing a sack of gravel on my head every day at school and not being allowed to steady it with my hand” (Adichie 52). Her relief at his approval is consequently explained, “That night, I fell asleep hugging close the image of Papa’s face lit up, the sound of Papa’s voice telling me how proud of me he was, how I had fulfilled God’s purpose for me” (53). In reality tension building occurs very similar to the example in the novel, family members are forced to live on edge, constantly wondering if they’re actions will or will not set off their abuser.
Tension building quickly and unpredictably flows in to the explosive stage. One explosion in the story is the point at which he beats his daughter so badly that she is in a coma in the hospital. Kambili explains the brutal beating as ”Kicking. Kicking. Kicking. Perhaps it was a belt now because the metal buckle seems too heavy. Because I could hear a swoosh in the air. More stings. More slaps. A salty wetness warmed my mouth. I closed my eyes and slipped away into quiet” (211). The honeymoon phase follows shortly after as he refuses to leave her bedside, prays for her recovery, and showers her with gifts, love, and affection. Her father prays at her bedside, “’My precious daughter. Nothing will happen to you. My precious daughter’” (212). The honeymoon phase typically comes from guilt, whether it’s guilt from hurting another individual or guilt from fear of getting caught in the act. Either way, the honeymoon phase is met to make an abused individual feel safe and loved, so that the abuse can continue. However, after a goal of secrecy is attained, the abuser continues back into the tension building phase and cycles through again.
This story also depicts the woman who is abused, the mother, as quiet, docile, and scared. She hardly speaks and fear follows her everywhere. This portrayal can be an accurate representation of the ‘abused woman’. Kambili portrays her, “I doubt that she can hear anything. Most times her answers are nods and shakes of the head, and I wonder if she really heard” (298). However, the mother in this situation is secretly trying to remedy the situation by slowly poisoning her husband, whom eventually dies. The entire situation really portrays the desperation people can feel while being abused. Fear is a huge motivator in the actions of abused individuals as they have no control over the course their life will take. It takes extreme courage to decide to fight back against an abuser, whether physically like in the story or even just emotionally for outside help.
The story accurately portrays the tragedy, confusion, and pain that accompany most stories of domestic violence. The ending of the novel shows the struggle many families go through when trying to adjust to a new life that doesn’t include a violent partner/father. The family in the novel experiences emotions in many stages, from sadness and anger to confusion and relief. Many families experience an inability to communicate their emotions to each other and often find themselves having few things to talk about. Confusion is especially prevalent in Kambili experience. She’s doesn’t understand why her mother would poison her father, as a huge part of abuse is fueled through the love people have for their abuser. She still experiences sadness at the death of her father because she loves him despite his actions. Yet, she is confused because despite her love for her father, she is relieved that he will never be able to harm her or her family again. The entire family was permanently changed as a result of the violence and needs time to figure out who they are without their father before being able to relate to one another again. This situation is a common occurrence, as family dynamics are significantly changed when family members are lost or no longer living together. Purple Hibiscus, however, shows a family that is successfully able to escape their abuser and piece their lives back together, though many abusive situations do not end so positively.
Many resources exist for those who need help in dealing with an abusive situation; they exist with the goal of helping more people to conquer their situations with minimal loss and trauma. The number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799- SAFE (7233) and there is a National Sexual Assault Online Hotline available by RAINN. I don’t know who is really going to read this post, but as I said earlier, domestic violence is much more common than I’d ever imagined. The most important thing I wish I could tell someone who is suffering is that the abuse is not your fault, you are loved, and people will help you.