October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month
It was a typical Thursday evening. I was tucked away in my room pouring over my work.
But my daily routine was interrupted when Emma gave me a call. Her voice was quivering and her sentences were fragmented. I was confused – not sure why she was calling me or what I was supposed to say.
Her living situation was less than ideal, but something unusual had happened that evening. I was trying to piece the story together, but her narrative was disjointed. All I knew was that the police had just been in her home to break up a fight.
I asked her if she wanted to stay at my place for the night, but she said no. At that moment, I could feel my palms starting to sweat as my mind raced through a million possibilities of what could have happened that evening – and, worse, what could still happen.
As I continued to ask her questions to clarify the foggy details of her story, I could sense that she was not fully present in the conversation at hand. Her mind was drifting off, troubled by anxious thoughts.
I told her that I would call someone to help, but she begged me not to – saying everything would be just fine. She tried to convince me that a harmless discussion had just gone a bit too far, leading two people to say and do things they didn’t mean. But both regretted what had happened, and so I had no need to worry.
The odd thing was that I knew exactly who had done what to whom. Something within me told me that my suspicions were not unfounded. But just as I was solidifying my thoughts, she told me that she needed to hang up. I asked her to stay on the line, but Emma was in a hurry.
She hung up, and so I called her number. She did not pick up, and over the next few hours I filled her phone with voicemail messages.
For the next few hours, I sat by my phone waiting for her to call back. Never had I stared at my phone so diligently.
Finally, the phone rang. This time, she sounded like she was at ease and that all was well. But I knew that it wasn’t.
It took her time – in fact years – to fully recognize that she was living in an abusive environment.
Today, Emma is seeking counseling, and she is slowly healing the wounds that marked that phase of her life. But scars have not disappeared, and I wish the pain could have been prevented.
Domestic Violence and Fear
Domestic violence is broadly defined as a pattern of coercive behavior, where the perpetrator controls its victim in an intimate relationship. These behaviors range from physical, to emotional, to economic abuse. A key characteristic of this relationship is fear, which forces the victim to comply with the perpetrator.
Emma was living in an abusive environment, but her fear forced her to remain quiet for too long. Trying to protect herself from further harm, she would minimize or downplay the seriousness of the situation when speaking with me.
The issue with her train of thought is that she eventually came to believe that she was helping herself by staying silent. But that only made matters worse by granting more time and space for the perpetrator to continue to hurt those around him.
By staying silent, Emma also made it difficult for those around her to help her. Rather than being open about her suffering, she concealed the urgency of the situation.
What’s more, today I know that I should have considered my suspicions more seriously at an earlier stage. This is something that I continue to regret, but that I am learning from. Had I posed more questions and displayed that she could trust me sooner, perhaps some of the abuses could have been prevented.
Seek Help Now
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, then seek help now. The damages caused by domestic violence can take years to heal, especially on an emotional level.
In cases of immediate danger, call 911 for help.
Once you are in a safe environment, seek support to from a mental health professional. There are therapists and counselors who are ready to help you get out of harm’s way and onto the path to healing. Domestic violence can deeply affect your mental health, and you need to take the time to heal to move beyond your past and find hope in the future.
2013. "Domestic Violence Resources." Domestic Violence - Government of Quebec. [online] Available at: <http://domesticviolence.gouv.qc.ca/need_resources.php> [Accessed 20 October 2013].
2008. McCue, ML. Domestic Violence, 2nd ed. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, p. 3.