The issue of domestic violence is one that must be addressed in our society. At first sight, it may seem like a situation improbable to many, or even something that's not relevant, but the reality is that we are surrounded by domestic violence survivors. I interviewed two women, survivors of domestic violence, and will refer to them as Claire and Margaret; both requested anonymity.
Claire is a twenty three years old woman living in South San Francisco with a family of two. She attended Community College in San Francisco and met her husband there. She was nineteen, and he seemed to her like a kind and gentle person. However, once she got to know him better, she realized that he was aggressive and got mad easily; she didn't take it too seriously because it was a month before their wedding, and thought it was part of being nervous before saying the big "yes." He hit her once before the wedding, but she ignored it, after he apologized and brought her flowers the next day, claiming he was really frustrated at work and it was something that would never happen again. By that time she was pregnant and felt that leaving him would only put her in a worse predicament. They got married, and he was not aggressive for about a year. She claims he was kind to her during her pregnancy.
After she had the baby, it was clear that the money they were making together was not enough; she had not finished college, and he was working at an auto-mechanic shop. They both became frustrated with their situation, and he made a second strike. This time it left bruises, and, as a result, she began to isolate herself from her family. When her parents called, she would use the excuse that she had to take care of her son, because she would always have visible bruises. Her parents became suspicious, and went to visit her. As soon as her mother saw what was happening, she immediately called the police. Claire got a restraining order on her husband and stayed away from him for two months. Her husband called her a couple times, but she didn't report (as she had the power to do with the restraining order), so he kept calling her and sweet talked her into getting back with him. Finally, she went to live with him again. That time she was so badly bruised that she went to the hospital twice, due to the injuries he caused.
Claire told me, "It's addictive. Once you're in, there's really no escape." She became pregnant again, and like her previous pregnancy, he was very kind to her at the beginning, but after five months, he beat her again, and she had a miscarriage. He apologized endlessly, and she forgave him. She became pregnant once more, but this time, she ran away. She said the first time was not enough for her to realize that he was not the right man, but this second time she was sure she needed to leave him to save herself and her children. He harassed her many times, but she spoke up. He was arrested several times for harassing her, but she did not return to him. She told me her main reason for staying with him was her fear of having a fatherless child, but now she says that she's glad her children are not motherless.
Claire went back to college and is working as a secretary at a local company. Her goal is to be an educational counselor and help women defend themselves against violence. Her parents have supported her, and she says that she is eternally grateful to them for it. What she really wants is to save enough money to build a sort of sanctuary for domestic violence victims who do not have a place to go. What she made clear to me was that getting away from a scary person is not an easy step, but it is one that can be achieved. She urges all who have a family member who is in a situation similar to hers to be as supportive as they can be, but not to expect the victim to be quick to change. She said, "My parents' support was something I started to feel, and I started to realize the evil within my ex-husband […] I will never return to him." It is a long process, but one that many women should realize they have the power to rise above.
Now let's look at Margaret's story. She is a young woman in high school, and her story is quite different from Claire's; she doesn't have a supportive family.
Margaret met her boyfriend when she was a sophomore in high school and thought that he was the perfect guy for her. He was twenty three when she was sixteen. She moved into an apartment with him and started having unprotected sex. She was on birth control so it didn't seem like a big deal to her, but she had no idea that he had an STD (sexually transmitted disease). She was in love with him, and he seemed to be in love too. However, after living with him for about a year, she noticed that his temper got out of control whenever she wouldn't do something exactly as he desired. He began to beat her, and, one day chocked her into unconsciousness. She began to faint repeatedly and thought that maybe she was pregnant, so she went to the doctor to get a blood test. What her test revealed was that she was not pregnant, but had an STD. When she went home and confronted her boyfriend, he beat her until she was bleeding and unconscious. Later, he apologized saying that he was upset because he thought she had cheated on him.
She had nowhere to go and nobody to ask for help (so she thought), so she called the police after her boyfriend left, and got help from them. They gave her resources to use so that she could get out of the situation, and also medical help to deal with AIDS. She told me that getting out of an abusive relationship is probably the hardest thing she's ever had to do, given that it's a hard situation itself, and she was only seventeen when all this happened. She lived under foster care for a year because her parents refused to accept her back into the house after she left to live with her boyfriend. Her message is that no matter the situation, anything is better than letting someone hurt you.
Margaret says that she is not ready to tell everyone her story, but that she is planning on attending California State University, Fresno next fall. Although she is going through so many issues, she says her grades won't fail because of a man. She encourages all victims of violence to get an education and to run away from anything that hurts them. She says, "If I can do it having no support from a family, anyone can do it." She is definitely an inspiration to many women who feel like they cannot get out of an abusive relationship.
Both women are definitely an inspiration to all, as survivors of domestic violence who are continuing their lives, regardless of the challenges they faced. They both urge all women who are in a situation of domestic violence to seek an end to it. "Women have more power than they can imagine," Claire told me before leaving for school. "They just feel like a minute of kindness is worth a life of misery, but it's not." The truth is that both women were able to escape the horror of domestic violence, and both are an inspiration for all women in a similar situation.
The path to escaping domestic violence is not an easy one; it requires dedication, hope, and learning. Though it may be hard to figure out what led to the situation, it is important to remember that there are support groups out there to help smooth things out. For example, there is a hotline provided by the Shelter Home of Caldwell County in North Carolina (828)-758-0888 where victims can seek shelter if they are financially dependent on their abuser. In San Francisco, there is the Joyful Heart Foundation, which has many resources geared towards helping domestic violence survivors; the website for the Joyful Heart Foundation is www.joyfulheartfoundation.org
Standing up to domestic violence is perhaps one of the most admirable traits a human being can have; it requires saying goodbye to someone you loved and confided in, and also talking to people once more, since most domestic violence victims are threatened not to talk to friends or relatives. Standing up to domestic violence means saying no to violence, and stopping it with your own power. Though the process may be long and exhausting, getting away from domestic violence provides an escape from violence and pain; it gives the survivor a life again.