As a lawyer, I spoke from time to time with small groups of other lawyers or lay people about the law. Several times such talks found me at a Philadelphia shelter for battered and abused women. I was deeply moved by the experience, memorializing it this way to protect the identities of the women involved:
Initially, I did not know what to expect. I assumed, if anything, that I would pity these women. That was not, however, the case. Instead, I was in awe.
The women, themselves, came in all colors, shapes and sizes. Those I met ranged in age from their early twenties to mid-sixties. Some were pretty and petite, others statuesque Amazons.
Some could barely make eye contact, were hesitant to speak. Others had acquired a hardened demeanor or false bravura to hide their pain. All were deeply concerned for the welfare and safety of their children.
We spoke about the fact that battered women constitute 25% of the women attempting suicide, and 23% of the women seeking prenatal care at any given time. We spoke about the fact that children raised in abusive households are fifteen times more likely than normal to become abusive adults (or, themselves, become involved with abusive partners).
We spoke about the spiritual issues faced by domestic abuse victims, and the practical difficulties of making a new life. We spoke about rebuilding self-esteem, and the lure of false hope that the abusive partner would “change.”
But above all, we spoke about the lives of these women.
They had been beaten, stabbed, burned, locked in, tied up, and chained down. They had been criticized for being attractive and criticized for being unattractive, instructed what to wear, then punished for wearing it. They had been struck by tire irons, and thrown out windows. They had suffered broken hearts, broken dishes, and broken bones.
Most had become increasingly isolated, deprived of external resources like jobs and bank accounts.
I learned this included emotional isolation from family members who frequently counseled these women to remain with abusive husbands and boyfriends, even when the nature of their abuse was revealed. “He’s a good provider. You won’t find better.” “You probably made him angry.” “After all, you’ve never been a good cook. No wonder he threw the chicken against the wall.” “You know you talk too much. You’d aggravate anyone.”
To maintain her sanity, one woman said she tried to make a game of the abuse, going in search of red lingerie to match the blood.
They knew their children were at risk, but risked losing their children by leaving. They feared at times for their children’s lives, but were willing to die in their children’s place.
— Excerpt from Like Rain on Parked Cars by Anna Waldherr
Originally posted 9/15/13
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