Domestic violence comes in many forms — the physical abuse in which exposed bruises and a bloodied exterior are often concealed, and the mental and verbal abuse in which the victim’s shredded spirit subsides from the difficulty of vindication.
For one Ottawa County woman, the mental control from the jaws of her now ex-husband diminished her independent personality and self-confidence, she said.
“Samantha” — whose name has been changed to protect her identity — said she could bear a slap at the hands of her ex-husband rather than enduring the name-calling echoes and verbal and mental manipulation she had succumbed during their 12-year marriage.
“He used the power of suggestion on me,” the 46-year-old woman said.
Samantha said she believed the first three years of her second marriage were great and “everything was perfect.” She had entered the marriage with three children of her own. During their 12-year union, the couple had two children together — now 11 and 8 years old — as well as experienced the death of Samantha’s 9-year-old daughter in a car accident, she said.
“To me, it was a Godsend,” she said of the marriage. “It was an answer to all my prayers.”
But looking back at the marriage, Samantha believes that she had been under her ex-husband’s control from the beginning — moving to his farm, becoming a farmer’s housewife and doing things he wanted her to do, she said.
Little by little, Samantha felt the subservient pressure from her husband. She said she continued digging in her heels at his barbaric words as she would not conform to being a submissive wife.
“Anytime he saw me gaining my independence or growing in some way, he would stifle it,” Samantha said. “It was so ridiculous, the forms of manipulation he used.”
Ultimately, the negative tongue-lashings repeatedly beat down Samantha’s mental spirit and her doting personality. Her confidence had disappeared and she analyzed every move she made, including the way she did the grocery shopping and laundry.
“I could not be myself. I was becoming what he wanted me to be,” Samantha said. “I know I lost my identity. I lost a grip on me and I was so tuned into living up to others’ expectations.”
Knowledge is power
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. An estimated 1.3 million women are physically assaulted each year. Eighty-five percent of domestic violence victims are women.
In Michigan, 102,737 victims were served in one day in September 2010, according to a census done by the National Network to End Domestic Violence.
But physical pain is only one part of the poisonous cycle. There are numerous damaging spokes that circle the “power and control wheel” — a graph that helps victims identify violent behavior. These behaviors include emotional abuse, intimidation, isolation, minimizing, denying and blaming, economic abuse, male privilege, coercion and threats, and using children against the victim.
“The scars of domestic and sexual violence are not just physical,” said Charisse Mitchell, executive director of the Center for Women in Transition. “The damage done by years of psychological and emotional abuse is deep, is real — and those wounds can take a long time to heal.”
The Center for Women in Transition — with offices in Grand Haven, Holland and Allegan — has held several events throughout October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month. At its latest event on Friday, Mitchell spoke at the Grand Haven Chamber of Commerce’s Early Bird Breakfast, held in Ferrysburg.
The center is a safe haven for women and children of domestic or sexual violence. They offer a myriad of services — including a 24-hour crisis line, emergency shelter, transitional housing, counseling and support services, and crisis intervention and prevention programs.
In 2010, 69 adults and 110 children found refuge at the center’s emergency shelter, according to Mitchell. The center answered 4,119 calls to its crisis line.
Breaking the cycle
Samantha discovered the Center for Women in Transition in 2007; and, for a few months, kept a pamphlet hidden from her ex-husband. He found the pamphlet and left it lying on the counter for Samantha to see.
“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, he found it,’” Samantha said, burying her head in hands.
She put the pamphlet back in the safe and the issue remained an “unspoken situation,” she said.
“I didn’t dare take any action,” Samantha said. “I was afraid. I was so afraid.”
Nearly two years later, Samantha walked through the center’s doors and felt comfort.
The center has helped Samantha with transitional housing, counseling, assistance with Christmas presents for her children and an education scholarship for classes at Muskegon Community College.
“The center has helped empower me as a woman and getting me away from the thinking that I should be subservient or secondary,” she said. “I’m somebody and I have a purpose on this Earth, and it’s not somebody else’s purpose.”
Budget disputes stir national outcry
In the midst of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the city of Topeka, Kan., is sorting out an initial repeal to a local law that makes domestic violence a crime.
Last week, the Topeka City Council voted 7-3 to repeal the prosecution of misdemeanor domestic violence cases, according to The Associated Press. The vote came after Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor announced in September that he would stop prosecuting misdemeanor domestic violence incidents because of a 10-percent cut to his budget, according to an ABC News story. By refusing to prosecute the crimes, Taylor hoped to force the city of Topeka to prosecute them instead.
“We were extremely concerned and disappointed in that decision,” Mitchell said. “If the city or the county or the local jurisdiction was trying to make a point (about budget cuts), domestic violence is the wrong tool to make that point. I don’t know what the budget in Topeka looks like, but I would imagine there could have been a better choice.”
Mitchell described domestic violence in Kansas as a “political football” being tossed around in the field of a budget battle.
“We find that very unfortunate,” she said. “… It’s a reminder to us that we need to continue with our education and continue with our advocacy.”
Domestic violence victims and advocates nationwide sparked immediate outrage on the Topeka repeal, prompting Taylor to reverse his decision and resume prosecuting domestic cases, according to The Associated Press.
“For days, for months, it put survivors at risk and gave perpetrators the message that they wouldn’t be held accountable,” said Kathy Hagenian, executive policy director at the Michigan Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence in Okemos. “The message it sends out to the victim’s safety and to the people accountable — that there was a monetary price on that and it could be used in budget negotiations.”
Hagenian called Kansas’ initial domestic violence repeal “unconscionable” and is pleased that Kansas officials are resolving the issue.
“If there is a positive side to this, it’s that there was an immediate public outcry,” she said.
Mitchell said she does not see a situation similar to the one in Topeka to reach Ottawa County; nor does Hagenian foresee one of that magnitude to manifest in Michigan.
“I can’t imagine any community in Michigan taking a step backward — even a temporary step backward — like in Topeka, Kan.,” Hagenian said. “This isn’t an issue to make budget negotiations — the stakes are too high.”
Shedding subservient control
Now that she is freed from the shackles of subservient control, Samantha said she is back to the woman she was more than 12 years ago — independent and in control of her own life. She is no longer consumed by her ex-husband, but is still very much aware of him, she said.
“I’m becoming what I intended to be and I won’t let anyone define that for me,” she said.
Samantha’s 29-year-old son — her oldest — said to her in June: “Welcome back. It’s good to have you back, Mom.”
Who to call for help:
If you have been domestically or sexually abused, here is a list of area agencies to call for help:
— Center for Women in Transition, with offices in Grand Haven, Holland and Allegan: The 24-hour crisis line is 616-392-1970 or 800-848-5991; www.aplaceforwomen.org.
— Every Woman’s Place in Muskegon: 24-hour crisis line: 231-722-3333; www.everywomansplace.org.
— Lakeshore Alliance Against Domestic Sexual Violence: 616-331-2748; www.laadsv.org.
— Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-4673. The organization also operations an online hotline at www.rainn.org.
— Michigan Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence has a listing of all domestic and sexual assault programs and services for victims in Michigan on its website, www.mcadsv.org; or by phone, 517-347-7000. It also lists the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 800-799-7233; and its website, www.ndvh.org.