Time For Strength | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Time For Strength

I was talking to a police officer recently about a domestic-abuse situation I'm worried about. It was the case of a local woman whose partner has beaten her for years. She finally got up the courage to leave, and he hunted her down where she was hiding and nearly killed her.

The officer's first response when I brought up her case was: Didn't she stay with him after he started abusing her?

I looked at him. This was a good cop, a long-time law-enforcement officer who I believe cares about issues like domestic abuse. He's not one of the bad ones who don't give a damn if the violence is between two people who supposedly love each other.

And even this police officer seemed to be blaming the victim for her tragedy, even if he didn't mean to.

"She did leave. That's when he hunted her down and tried to kill her," I responded.

He nodded then, getting the point.

One of the most frustrating aspects of trying to save women and children from domestic killers is the societal bias against the victim. "Why does she stay?" is one of the first questions you hear when you talk about a victim—whether the woman I'm worried about now or Heather Spencer, whose murder Ronni Mott chronicles in this issue, looking for clues of how we can save abused women in the future.

Why does she stay?

The easy reason is that she loves the damn fool. I stayed with a man for two years who was cheating on me, who destroyed a houseful of possessions when I confronted him over his lies and who even hurt me physically on occasion. (I have a scar.) And I am supposedly one of the strong ones.

But it's not that simple—and it's not just a question of individual women making bad decisions. We have to probe deeper. Why did I make that decision? Why do other women stay? Why did Heather Spencer go back after George Bell nearly beat her to death the first time?

The reasons are many, and addressing those reasons takes each of us.

She stays because women are raised to take care of men. She stays because our state has been very unkind to women—with too many people (still) believing that we are chattel who belong to men to do with as they please. She stays because we're raised to believe we have to please everybody in sight, even the men who hurt us. She stays because they destroy our self-esteem.

She stays because we don't know where to go. She stays because we don't believe we can afford to leave, or because we're taught that material possessions matter more than our safety. She stays for the children, even though they could get killed, too. She stays because people lie to us, telling us that he just needs a bit of anger management, or a three-month stay in a drug-rehab facility. She stays because our families (or friends) manipulate us into feeling sorry for our abusers. She stays because we are good, nurturing people who want to help heal the sick and believe in their goodness.

She stays because the law-enforcement community, and the judges, and the governor do not take domestic crimes seriously. She stays because he's only charged with a misdemeanor. She stays because the last time he was arrested, no one took it seriously. She stays because no one offered her help.

She stays because we know he will be furious if we try to leave. She stays because we know, or can sense, that the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is when we try to escape the abuse. She stays because we know he might kill her, or her children, if she leaves.

I've been in lots of roomfuls of strong women lately who are trying to work together to change this culture. It can be frustrating: When you live in a state where a popular governor can let four brutal killers of wives and girlfriends out of jail in quick succession without people storming the mansion, you're facing a very high hurdle.

Just this morning, I was at a meeting of women having this conversation. One of them asked how we fight this problem, considering the cultural barriers we're facing. I responded that every time I think a hill is too steep to try to climb, I think of the Civil Rights Movement. I think of the fire hoses, and the jail beatings, and all the white people in our state who swore they would never eat next to a black person, much less the other interactions most of us no longer twice about. I think of how far we've come in 40 years, even as we still have miles to travel.

Folks, we have to build this kind of movement in our state against family violence. We've got to get past the excuses that enable domestic abuse—whether the "why does she stay?" refrain, or the "but, women do it, too" response, or the "protect our men at all cost" chorus you get too often when you bring up the subject.

Let's set the record straight: Not all men abuse. However, the vast majority of domestic abuse is committed by males—often victims or witnesses of abuse as children—and it is an epidemic against women and children in our state. Acknowledging that fact is the first step toward doing something about it—and it is not bashing men, for God's sake. It is saying that many men need help before they turn into full-fledged abusers, and it is saying that men who become violent abusers need to be treated the same as any other violent criminal.

Think about it: Domestic violence is the one kind of violence where the victim is usually blamed first for what she does before the crime, and then what she does afterward. (OK, rape is another one.)

The movement against domestic violence needs strong men to stand up with us women to say, "Enough." It will take men working with us to get rid of the "boys will be boys" mentality that lets so many abusers go free until they commit the ultimate violent act. And it is that mentality that bizarrely justifies allowing brutal murderers of wives and girlfriends to leave prison on good behavior because they worked in the governor's mansion.

We all must get past asking the question "why does she stay?" and help create conditions that help her have the means and the courage to leave. And while we're at it, we need to ask, "why does he abuse?" and set about figuring out how to stop him before he ruins his life and that of his family.

Previous Comments

ID
152514
Comment

Nicely done, Donna. I have learned to change my views and not blame the victim. Even if it's a man. Speaking of cheating on your mate, though, is any one following the State of Mississippi v. Carla Hughes? That Keyon Pittman dude was or is a player like few others. There was a married woman on the witness stand this evening who said Keyon was flirting with her while her son was on his basketball team. She eventually accompanied him to Detroit where they finally hooked up. My old boss and law partner, Senator Johnnie Walls, is Carla's lawyer. He's a very talented lawyer and seems to keep with the latest player terms, such as "jump-off partner", "the man thang" and so on. I've been out the game too long and didn't have any knowledge of those terms. Y'all know I ain't the kind to make jokes about the downfall or catching-up of anybody, especially a world renowned player like William Jefferson Clinton, or lesser known players with comparable numbers or victims like Keyon "the go-get it" Pittman, but it looks like Keyon was slanging more stick than the European Union Croquet Team. I wonder if any more of his women will be called to the stand. Y'all may want to take a look. Fortunately now Keyon is married and out the game. We can all sleep better now.

Author
Walt
Date
2009-10-08T17:27:03-06:00
ID
152519
Comment

Keyon's married now? LOL, a wedding ring doesn't stop a true playa like him from getting his rocks off outside the marriage. Just ask David Letterman or Mark Sanford.

Author
Jeff Lucas
Date
2009-10-09T08:05:01-06:00
ID
152641
Comment

Carla Hughes convicted. So sad Avis and her unborn child is gone. Also sad Carla blew her life over a low-life like Keyon. Upon hearing the verdict, Keyon said "whew, thank God, I was about to wet and crap my pants. I thought I'd possibly be needing the witness protection program."

Author
Walt
Date
2009-10-13T16:34:10-06:00

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