You exist

I thought about you the other day. I searched for your name on Facebook and Instagram but it said you didn’t exist. I know you do. You’ve probably changed your name by now. You always dreamed of being a mom. We would talk about what it would be like to have kids, get married, to live in a big house with kids and cats. You never were one for dogs. 
 
I remember the phone call you made to me that night, crying. You’d gotten in to another fight and he ended up punching you in the face. Despite this, he said he was sorry and that he didn’t mean it, that he loved you.  As time went on you calmed down, saying that it was fine and that these things happen in relationships, but your voice just didn’t match your words. I knew you were scared and confused and that you called me for a reason. This wasn’t the first time he’d hurt you, just the first time you told me about it. I lived in a different city from you now, so I missed all of the signs and I told myself that the distance between us was probably just your new relationship. I remembered the feeling I got when you first introduced us….. It made sense now. 
 
I drove 6 hours to your house and when I got there, you were happy to see me but insisted that it was “all a big misunderstanding” and that you were sorry I traveled so far for nothing. It took hours to convince you that what happened wasn’t wasn’t your fault and everything he told you was bullshit. Abusers lie to protect themselves. The gaslighting doesn’t just happen over night, it happens over time and it’s crazy making. You really believed that you’d said something that warranted a punch to the face. I wanted to shake you, but I just hugged you instead. I could hardly recognize you and hated him for making you feel this way. I could see now how isolated you were from all of your friends, that I wasn’t the only one who’d lost touch. We cried a lot that weekend and by the second day I felt like you were in a much better place. You told me that you were going to leave and we started planning. 
 
He showed up at the house unexpectedly and I saw the doubt and conflict awaken within you. Keeping him just outside of the door, embarrassed to have me hear his pleading while still trying to hold your ground. You begged me not to say anything to him, to let him know you were there. I guess I can tell you now that the reason he left was because I made eye contact with him from the window. He recognized me immediately. I was livid. He left and I knew in the exchange, hearing your voice soften at his pleas and all the crocodile tears in his eyes, all gains between us were lost. You would take him back. 
 
Days turned into weeks and I couldn’t get a hold of you. You’d send me a message here and there to let me know you were okay and taking time to yourself. When you stopped returning my emails, I called only to find your line was disconnected. I heard through a friend of a friend that you got back together with him. News was that you had moved to another city and that you were engaged. You were happy, they said. 
 

It’s been years now since we’ve spoken. All of our mutual friends have long since moved on. I have forgotten all of their names but yours. It seems almost pointless to speak about this now, you won’t even read it. I guess I just wanted to write into existence what happened.

I’m sorry that you had to leave without saying goodbye. I hope you are happy and safe and if you’re not, I hope you pick up the phone and ask for help.

 
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please call: 
U.S.A. 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
U.K.0808 2000 247
Canada:Click for a regional list of contact numbers. 
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How Should A Survivor Behave? New Vid Blog!

Some recent discussions have brought to light about what it means to be a survivor.  How should survivors behave?  What is the role of the advocate in helping survivors heal?  What things should we take into account when speaking to other survivors?  Leave comments and questions when you have them.

Watch Me Burn: Domestic Violence Made Personal

Just gonna stand there and watch me burn
Well that’s all right because I like the way it hurts
Just gonna stand there and hear me cry
Well that’s all right because I love the way you lie
I love the way you lie

Videos have always been a very powerful medium for me. I have read hundreds of books on trauma.  I’ve attended countless conferences and worked in the field of abuse for almost 10 years. But nothing says “this is your life” like seeing an abusive relationship played out on camera. Eminem and Rihanna collaborated in a music video called “Love the Way You Lie.”  It is an amazingly accurate portrayal of the cycle of violence that exists in abusive relationships.  It mirrored so closely to my own past experiences that I needed to walk away from it the first time I watched it.

A paradox is a situation which defies intuition and presents a seeming contradiction. To me, love and domestic violence is one such paradox. I can count the intimate relationships I have been in that have been abusive. Relationships where I fell in love with partners who continually abused me. Growing up in a family that was emotionally, physically and sexually abusive, it’s not surprising that I would find myself living what I learned to be “normal”. Somehow though, contrary to my actions, I always knew that “normal” shouldn’t include suffering.

I fell fast for a man who, from the first day I met him, treated me like I was disposable. He had an extremely violent past with jail time to prove it. Everyone viewed him in his circle as unpredictable and dangerous. One day he was the most loving, funny, charismatic and romantic man I’d ever dated.  Like the flick of a switch he could be a womanizing, drug using, alcoholic, male chauvinist.

I can’t tell you what it really is, I can only tell you what it feels like
And right now it’s a steel knife in my windpipe
I can’t breathe but I still fight while I can fight
As long as the wrong feels right it’s like I’m in flight
High off her love, drunk from my hate, it’s like I’m huffin’ paint
And I love it the more I suffer, I suffocate
And right before I’m about to drown, she resuscitates me, she f**kin’ hates me
And I love it, “wait, where you goin’?”
“I’m leavin’ you,” “no you ain’t come back”
We’re runnin’ right back, here we go again
So insane, cause when it’s goin’ good it’s goin’ great
I’m superman with the wind in his back, she’s Lois Lane
But when it’s bad it’s awful, I feel so ashamed I snap
Whose that dude? I don’t even know his name
I laid hands on her
I never stoop so low again
I guess I don’t know my own strength

I was attracted to the “bad boy.” The guy who would both protect me but inadvertently would become more and more obsessive over me. The label of “abusive” and “obsessive” did not exist in my reality however, not until later. This is because on some level I believed all the things he said to me about who I was and how I affected the relationship negatively. Each violent outburst was a direct consequence of something that I had done to invoke it. That’s the cycle of domestic violence.  Ever escalating. Manipulative. Demoralizing.

You ever love somebody so much you can barely breathe
When you’re with ’em
You meet and neither one of you even knows what hit ’em
Got that warm fuzzy feeling
Yeah, them those chills you used to get ’em
Now you’re getting fucking sick of looking at ’em
You swore you’d never hit ’em; never do nothing to hurt ’em
Now you’re in each other’s face spewing venom in your words when you spit them
You push pull each other’s hair, scratch claw hit ’em
Throw ’em down pin ’em
So lost in the moments when you’re in them
It’s the rage that took over it controls you both
So they say you’re best to go your separate ways
Guess if they don’t know you ’cause today that was yesterday
Yesterday is over, it’s a different day
Sound like broken records playing over but you promised her
Next time you show restraint
You don’t get another chance
Life is no Nintendo game
But you lied again
Now you get to watch her leave out the window
I guess that’s why they call it window pane

There was a moment in the relationship that, to me, was the beginning of the end. We had gone out for a night of drinking and dancing with friends. At the end of the evening, I playfully threw a pretzel at him as he walked away from me. Before I knew what was happening, he turned and lunged at my face with his fist. I knew in that moment that if he would be that violent in front of others, there was no line he wouldn’t cross behind closed doors. The violence had in that moment become unmanageable and I knew I had to get out.

There are people who would ask why I didn’t leave at the first sign of violence. Why it took him becoming violent in public for me to decide I had enough. Pointing out that violence whether in private or public is unacceptable. It’s true.  It seems so black and white, but it’s not. For me, abusive behavior was intertwined with love. The first man in my life, my father, was a violent man. His behaviors laid for me an understanding that love and violence were normal. My mother herself was abused. I saw this day after day in my home. That all was forgiven and forgotten until the next time that it was forgiven and forgotten.

Now I know we said things, did things that we didn’t mean
And we fall back into the same patterns, same routine
But your temper’s just as bad as mine is
You’re the same as me
But when it comes to love you’re just as blinded
Baby, please come back
It wasn’t you, baby it was me
Maybe our relationship isn’t as crazy as it seems
Maybe that’s what happens when a tornado meets a volcano
All I know is I love you too much to walk away though
Come inside, pick up your bags off the sidewalk
Don’t you hear sincerity in my voice when I talk
I told you this is my fault
Look me in the eyeball
Next time I’m pissed, I’ll aim my fist at the drywall
Next time. There won’t be no next time

I apologize even though I know its lies

I had been in relationships that were non-violent but could never function properly in them. I didn’t love myself, didn’t believe I deserved to be loved and couldn’t receive that which I know now to be real love.  I did everything I could to get out of those relationships, to hurt before getting hurt myself. Though I didn’t know it at the time, it’s these relationships that reminded me that there was something better out there.

Abuse doesn’t just start the first day you meet someone.  It is a gradual, ever changing pattern of events that are rationalized and forgiven until the next time and the next and the next. Until one day, you find yourself so entrenched in the pattern, so emotionally dejected, that by the time you realize you are in a domestic violence situation, you feel powerless to leave. Hopeless.

I wish I could tell you that after that experience,  I never again found myself in another abusive relationship.  Years later, I would find myself in another pattern of emotional abuse. I recognized it, I excused it. It repeated itself. This time though I reached out to friends and when I did, I was able to get the help I needed to start a path to healing myself and open up to healthier relationships.

It saddens me to think that I wasn’t strong enough to see through the piles of teddy bears and chocolate the second time around. That I didn’t love myself enough to demand respect. That I rationalized again and again for behaviors that were completely unacceptable. Despite these feelings, I know now that I was not responsible for their behaviors and that none of what happened was my fault. Because I reached out for help I didn’t stay as long the last time, recognizing more readily what was happening to me. I left and made a promise to myself that I would never again be in a relationship with anyone who would treat me that way.

If you are in an abusive relationship it is important to know that you are not alone and that the abuse is not your fault. There is a better life waiting for you. One free of suffering.

No one deserves to be abused. Get the help you need and deserve. You are not alone.

National Domestic Violence Hotline 1−800−799−SAFE(7233) or TTY 1−800−787−3224

Home Schooling and Child Abuse. Is There A Link?

I was up late last night trolling the internet for abuse in the news. I noticed a disturbing number of articles in the last few days involving child abuse cases with home schooled children. It peaked my curiosity and so I started looking around for more information on the topic of home schooling and links made previously to reported cases of child trauma. What I came up with was both interesting and thought-provoking. Highlighted were arguments of parental entitlement to regulate their children’s learning as well as a noticeable lack of community concern for the hidden lives of some such children, until after the abuse has already occurred. It made me think about my own education growing up, abuse and parental entitlement of children.

According to Brian D. Ray, Ph.D., author of Facts on Home schooling, there were an estimated 1,700,000 to 2,100,000 children (grades K-12) home educated during 2002-2003 in the United States. Home schooling appears to still be the fastest-growing form of education in this country.

Like many statistics, these numbers are based on those children that are actually reported to the government, which got me thinking about all of those children that go unreported and possible abuse cases that are easily missed.  In reality, it’s hard to know how widespread abuse might be with children who are home schooled because the government doesn’t have a competent system in place to keep track of them.

A Dark Side to Home Schooling
Parents Kept Social Workers Out Until Police Called In

I am not a product of home schooling. Like many, I grew up in a system that was federally regulated. If I didn’t show up to school for the day, you can be sure that our house got a call from the principles office to see what was going on and why I was not there. I was accounted for. This is not the case for children who are home schooled. There are no attendance lists, no phone calls home and no uniform monitoring of their safety. A perfect environment for abuse to flourish undetected.

Now, I can hear the naysayers commenting already. They may argue that home schooling and child abuse are two separate issues. While there are children who are abused by home schooling parents, children are not abused because they are home schooled. Agreed. However, where there are no rules or regulations, there is a greater risk for abuse of children to go undetected.

NJ Dad Accused of Raping 5 Daughters

How do we as a nation protect parents’ rights to raise their own children while the safety of these same children in the home? In reality, home schooling will never be taken off the table and admittedly; there are countless children who are home schooled who flourish in such environments. However, I believe that we need stricter guidelines for home schooling practices.

Children who are schooled outside of the home have a better chance of someone, whether a friend, teacher or community member recognizing signs of abuse and reporting it to the authorities.  A child beaten and abused at home, does not have the same advantage.

Like it or not, child abusers who home school are less likely to be caught than parents who send their children to regular school. Home schooling can be an isolating environment, where violence can go unnoticed from the public eye. A bruise or fearful demeanor seen by a teacher, who are mandated to report, can easily be hidden when a child is kept at home. Access for children to resources that would educate them on abuse, it’s prevalence and assist them in finding help would remain out of reach. Day to day monitoring of children and their overall welfare is put in the sole hands of caregivers who if they so choose to abuse, have full access to children, without ever being questioned. One case I read established that a girl who was home schooled by her parents, was later found murdered a full year after her murder because authorities didn’t even know she’d been missing. If this same child had been missing a year from a regulated system, her disappearance and murder may have been  avoided by early detected. The system is not perfect by any means, but there are advantages to regulated schools that a home schooled environment lacks when it comes to keeping our children safer.

Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz Charged with Murder of Their Daughter

There is no lock tight panacea to this issue, however we as a community should have a greater voice in how our education is regulated. A proposal for regulation could be to mandate and include home schooled children’s physical exams for review and that children be visited by social service representatives throughout the year to evaluate their physical and mental wellness. I also think that parents who are homeschooling should have more stringent guidelines if they choose to be their children’s sole educator.

Home schooling is currently regulated by individual states and many of these have a limited mandate for parent credentials. This in itself is perplexing to me, as I cannot think of another such important profession that would allow students to be taught without the proper training to do so. The question as to why this is acceptable for our nation’s children remains unanswered.

Additionally, I believe that parents choosing to home school their children should have required training in the areas of  child behavior, discipline, safety and development and resources in their community that they may not otherwise know of. Perhaps, a step in the right direction in an effort to protect parental as well as children’s rights. What’s your take on the issue?

Addendum:

We have received quite a bit of feedback on this blog, much of which we couldn’t post because it involved inappropriate personal attacks and insults.  This blog was not intended to enter the debate of home schooling vs. standard schooling.  It seems this debate is very polarized and involves some extreme reactions that lead many commenters to ignore the issue of this blog entirely for their own agenda.  We are now aware that there is a big debate in the UK on this very subject, but please understand our blog has absolutely nothing to do with that debate.

We ask that you approach with an open mind and if you are too intimately attached to the issue of home schooling please address your comments to the appropriate forum.

So here’s the take home message.  We are not against home schooling.  It’s quite popular in this country and very successful on a number of counts.  However, with no regulations, no safeguards (however flawed) an abuser can, and will, take their children out of regular school and be under very little scrutiny doing it.  We know because our organization works with the victims every day.  So we applaud those home school parents who take their role seriously and make sure their kids are integrated into society.  But to say that there should be no regulation, no safeguards, no checks what so ever is an environment that those who choose to abuse can thrive in.  Like it or not, we parent our children, but we don’t own them.  A child has every right to be protected by their communities, from their communities, by their parents, and from their parents.

A number of comments questioned why we would want to change the existing system to ‘save a few kids’.  In our organization, every child counts, and we are committed to saving every one.  The statistics tell us that 1 out of every 4 girls, and 1 in every 10 boys,  are sexually abused before the age of 16.  So that’s more than just ‘a few kids’.

Thank you for all the productive comments and lively discussion.

Chris & Ophelia de Serres

WSO

Hit The Bitch?

Chris’ opinion:

I appreciate and understand the value of shocking an audience.  Our society thrives on keeping us ignorant, passive, and docile.  It doesn’t like change, and a lot of that attitude has rubbed off on many of us.  So every so often we need to be outraged into action.  But not all shock is beneficial, even if intentions are good.

Take for example this Danish campaign’s, Children Exposed To Violence At Home,  latest offering that seeks to educate us on the issue of gender violence.  They created a video game called Hit The Bitch. It depicts a young woman making several comments to the computer screen.  Your task is to use a floating hand to smack her in the face.  On the top of the screen are two meters.  One is for Pussy, which sits at 100%.  The other is Gangsta, which sits at 0%.  The more you smack the woman, the more your Pussy meter decreases and your Gangsta meter increases.  It works to men’s perceived insecurities because we all want to be gangsta’s right?

As the woman’s face becomes more visibly bloodied and bruised, and your Gangsta meter reaches 100%, it is then replaced by 100% Idiot.  Then we hear a short public service announcement of the dangers of violence.  This is the message of this game.

I don’t question the intent of the game.  I just wonder how helpful something like this really is.  As a man, I can’t help but be offended by the depiction of men.  You are only given the option to smack the woman.  There are no options to avoid confrontation, only to hit.

The only benefit to this game is for those who finish it.

If for some reason I begin the game and find it too offensive to continue, I am left with no public service message.  Just the idea that men can only deal with conflict by committing violence.  Or that refusing to hit a woman equates to being a complete pussy.  It’s an incredibly misguided and false depiction of men and how we behave when confronted.

So the men who need to learn a lesson finish the game presumably and are treated with the designation of 100% idiot (which is questionably constructive in it’s own right) and are treated to the violence awareness message.  The men who don’t finish the game come away feeling marginalized and alienated.  This is a great shame because it’s the men who would refuse to finish a game like this that would be most likely to want to help in a cause like this.

The end result simply leaves our greatest potential allies disempowered by reinforcing false stereotypes.  Shock value can be useful given care.  When applied haphazardly it can be potentially devastating.  The message itself being entirely lost in the process of shock.  Make no mistake.  It is lost, or at the least overshadowed and easily misinterpreted.  Just for the sake of delivery.

Hit The Bitch?

Sorry.   That’s just no game to me.


Ophelia’s opinion:

As a survivor of intimate partner violence, I am extremely sensitive to this particular issue. As an advocate, I come into contact every day with victims who are still in abusive relationships. I have seen many different campaigns to end domestic violence. There are different schools of thought in the trauma community surrounding campaigns that should and should not be used to promote awareness. A virtual line of sorts, that must be tread carefully to ensure that public awareness will not in contrast affect victims and survivors of violence more negatively. Oftentimes, people who have no personal experience with the issue are the same people creating these campaigns.

After learning of the game, Hit The Bitch, I became interested in seeing what kind of reception it received amongst the public. I’ve spent some time searching on the internet for blogs discussing the game and comments left by people familiar with it. The vast majority of comments endorsed abuse and violence against women. Obviously, the message meant to deter violence has potentially encouraged it.

As a female survivor, I can tell you that I felt the impact of those face-slaps. It is a very raw and triggering reminder that abuse is a very serious issue and one that, to this day, isn’t be adequately addressed. The woman in this video is not a pixilated computer character but rather video footage of an actual woman. Her bruises, facial expressions and responses are very real. Watching her being abused was a flashback into a very personal and demoralizing act of violence. It brought back the feelings of helplessness, isolation and fear that accompany domestic violence.

It sets a dangerous precedent when you put those experiences in a gaming format, which is designed for fun and enjoyment. The often subliminal, unspoken conflict here is that if something is put in a game then it must be okay and acceptable. It could equally be fine to laugh and make light of this virtual woman because it’s just a game right? So one wonders if this game educates our communities or simply reinforces negative stereotypes.

The lesson of this game is presented as almost an afterthought. An acceptable “in” for gamers to act out abusive behaviors some may already believe are acceptable. Violence in the gaming world can translate to the real world. It grooms young adults to what is an acceptable standard in our society. Lacking a strong and convincing conclusion makes it easy to disregard what can be learned from engaging in violent activity, whether real or on a computer.

If Hit the Bitch is viewed by the majority as acceptable, I wonder what is next in the gaming world. A virtual rape scene or child abuse scenario where the player actively molests the victims?

Those “advocating” against violence must be very cautious to pursue campaigns that eliminate confusing messages and pay careful attention to unintended consequences. Undoubtedly, supporters of this campaign may unknowingly cause more harm than good.

My Sister Maggie

I had a dream last night. It was about my sister, Maggie. It’s been almost 9 years since my sister passed away but every now and then she comes to me in my dreams. Last night, she met up with me in a room filled with people and asked me to sing with her. I am a singer, though sadly, my sister never heard me sing.

In my dream, we sang together, a beautiful melody. She smiled and laughed with me, her face filled with happiness. I could feel her arms embracing me; I could hear her angelic voice harmonizing with mine. A dream so real, I could almost taste it. I was aglow until I awoke and realized she was gone and there would be no more singing.
To awake to the reality left me feeling empty and filled with sadness.

I wrote a song about my sister called “Maggie’s song.” It was my way of coming to terms with the immense loss of losing my sister. A sister I loved so much and knew so little about. Ours was a complicated relationship. Maggie and I shared the same father but different mothers. It was our father who abused both Maggie and myself as children and into adulthood. Though she seldom ever spoke about her experience, she did share it with me before she died. Her disclosure affirmed to me that I was not alone.

She lived a complicated life, filled with complex relationships and a continued cycle of violence. In many ways, she and I were very much alike and in many ways, very different. Those who have seen Chris and myself speak will know Maggie’s story, as I speak about her often. She has become a constant in my advocacy and holds an important place in my message to other survivors of abuse.

For many survivors of abuse there are questions that remain unanswered. Many of us are unable to speak with our abusers because they are out of our lives by design or by circumstance. For those whose abusers are still alive, there is often no conversation to be had, due to a complicated list of reasons. That list can be endless and so we go through life making sense as best we can of what happened to us and why.

When it comes to my sister Maggie, there is no answer good enough. I was tasked with going through Maggie’s things after she died. What I saw was a life of addiction and isolation. The newspaper read that she went to sleep one night and never woke up. That’s what the autopsy says and so that is what people admit. Though, most of you know that the nature of abuse is not as black and white. Far too many victims of abuse, including myself, will find themselves searching for reprieve through addiction. After years of this, Maggie lost the fight and with it her voice.

Many people have asked me why I continue to talk about an experience that brings up such upsetting emotions. My answer is always the same. I tell Maggie’s story because her life had meaning, more than I think she even realized. Through her story, others will know that they are not alone and that there can be life after abuse.

We must fight for each other and ourselves and never stop believing that change is possible. We must do the work and break free of our addictions, tell our stories and allow healing to take place. I believe that this is what Maggie would have wanted. I believe that she is up there looking down on me, joyous in knowing that people will learn from her life and that she will never be forgotten.