I never imagined I would be writing about domestic violence because it affected our family, but the day has come. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and it seemed the perfect opportunity to turn a bad experience upside down and help others.
Our daughter met her first boyfriend in college and we were all surprised that the relationship would end with violence that left her with a black eye, bruises around her neck from being choked, and bite marks on her arm; all from a man who claimed to love her. Looking back on the times our family spent with him, the warning signs were there. He would buy her special clothes to wear, raise his voice with authority when he felt he wasn’t being heard, and even kicked a hole in a closed door when she wanted to be away from him. His manipulative ways came clearly into focus after the incident when we learned that his parents (whom he told us were both dead) were actually both alive and well. These are all traits that we now know illustrate the “total control” sought by batterers and reminds me of tactics used on prisoners of war who are fearful and helpless due to the daily psychological trauma.
It is ironic that our daughter’s boyfriend saw himself as the victim. He had a laundry list of reasons why he was pushed to physically control her, and in denial that he was responsible for her injuries. When she escaped from his grip around her neck and cried that she was calling 911 for help, he hid her phone and made the call himself proclaiming HE was the victim and discrediting her as “crazy.” I now understand how women in this situation can blame themselves for the abuse — after all, “he is such a nice guy” to everyone else. The truth is, they are master manipulators.
What I learned from this experience is that our community has wonderful people who help the victims take back control of their lives; and with 1 out of every 4 women destined to suffer domestic violence, I want everyone to know about the life-changing resources available. Our sheriff’s office has specially trained detectives and advocates who are the first line of defense. They take the lead in a collaborative effort that includes the State Attorney’s Office, Centerstone, HOPE Family Services, and Child Protective Services, if children are involved.
HOPE Family Services is a non-profit organization that promotes safety, strength, and well being for those affected by domestic abuse. They have a 24-hour helpline and a confidentially located safe shelter for victims to get away, think clearly, and make decisions about the life changes needed to escape mental or physical controlling behavior. They also provide legal assistance to those who may need an injunction filed and remove barriers such as the need for housing, food, clothing, child care, and job assistance that may prevent someone from seeking a change. The help they provide is the bridge to real change for a victim who feels they have no other option than to tolerate the psychological and physical torture.
When the State Attorney’s Office decided to drop the changes in our daughter’s case because her ex-boyfriend had two scratches on his body from the altercation and both said the other one had started the fight, it only amplified the PTSD that our daughter experienced. She felt as if the state had shrugged off the trauma that she relives daily, as a “tit for tat lovers quarrel.” It was so much more than that. The sad truth is that statistics show he will harm again, and the abuse will intensify until the batterer gets help and learns that no one is ever entitled to place hands on another person as a matter of power and control. Thankfully our daughter did not go back to the relationship, but many women do.
If you suspect someone is a victim of domestic violence, seize the opportunity to let them know there is help and they deserve to live in peace. Statistics show that there are thousands suffering in silence in our community right now, and contrary to one of my favorite Beatles’ songs, “love is not all that you need” and will not change an abusive relationship.
Misty Servia represents District 4 (south county) on the Manatee County Commission.