March 27, 2012

Males and Relationship Violence

About a month ago, my niece was killed by her husband in a murder-suicide. Yes, my family and I are still in shock and working through it. This post is a gesture dedicated to this tragic couple. It's offered with the hope we can all learn something about what went wrong. It's also offered with the hope more people will learn about the issues and then teach young males about abusive and controlling relationships. The quote by Fredrick Douglass, It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men, was never more true than with this issue.

The very short story is my niece was full of life, creative, attractive, and engaged in the world. Her husband was unemployed, overweight, friendless, isolated, and depressed. In truth, he was a lost man-boy who was leaking self-esteem at a breathtaking rate. Toward the end, the only thing he had going for him was the control he had over his vibrant but vulnerable wife.

We kind of got the feeling that things between them were out of sorts. On the times in the last few years we were able to get together, their behavior was odd. He was dressed inappropriately, was sarcastic and demeaning towards our niece. In front of us all, he would speak badly of her, her parents, and many of the rest of the family. She would occasionally bite back, but was pretty quickly shut down. It was increasingly uncomfortable to be with them, but they put on a happy face, and we couldn't tell how tragically deep the problem was.

At our last meeting with them, he announced for health reasons, it was necessary for her to give up coaching her BMX racing team. This was way off because it had been her joy and passion for many years. We mentioned all the kids who would miss her involvement, but didn't say anything about her decision. He also said that because of the stress she was under, it was necessary for him to step in and manage her finances. She seemed uncomfortable with the idea, but didn't challenge him, and was apparently willing to let it all go. From that time on, it got harder to reach her by phone, and we realized he would often, and increasingly, answer her emails. I think the family rationalized all couples have challenging times, and didn't act to intervene. We were prepared to hear about tough times, but we never thought the family would get THAT call from the police.

Since their passing, we've all learned so much of what we were experiencing with them were common symptoms of an abusive and controlling relationship. As is the case in deep and wet grief, everyone in their circle of family and friends is sharing a small mountain of woulda, coulda, shoulda's. Had we only known what we know now, they both might still be alive. So let me share with you just a little of what you, young males, and everyone else really should know:
  • Relationship violence can be defined as a pattern of behavior used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.
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  • Abuse in relationship can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats of actions that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure or wound someone.
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  • These forms of violence can happen to anyone, at any age, of any race, sexual orientation, religion or gender. It can happen to people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels, and couples who are married, living together, or those who are dating.
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  • Teens are seriously at risk for dating violence. Research shows that physical or sexual abuse is a part of 1 in 3 high school relationships (http://goo.gl/0JGWD).
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  • While there is no question some men are abused by their intimate partners, battering and other forms of relationship abuse is largely a male on female issue. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 95 percent of the victims of domestic violence are women. The National Crime Victimization Survey consistently finds that no matter who initiates the violence, women are 7 to 10 times more likely to be injured than are men. This is why our young males need to learn about both destructive and healthy relationship dynamics early on.
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  • There is a predictable and addictive cycle of abuse in "power and control" relationships that revolves around anticipating violence; coping with actual acts of violence; or recovering from the violence. Once set in motion, the cycle can usually only be broken with awareness and professional help.
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  • This PDF describes a 2002 study of females killed with a firearm. Almost two-thirds were killed by their intimate partners.
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  • If a friend, date or intimate partner has a history of behaving in the following ways, it may indicate you are in, or headed for an abusive relationship:
Calls you names, insults you, or continually criticizes you.
Does not trust you and acts jealous or possessive.
Tries to isolate you from family or friends.
Monitors where you go, who you call, and who you spend time with.
Does not want you to work.
Controls finances or refuses to share money.
Punishes you by withholding affection.
Expects you to ask permission.
Threatens to hurt you, the children, your family or your pets.
Humiliates you in any way. 

I guess what's really important for me to say is if you or someone you know is caught up in a relationship with these dynamics, PLEASE do something. At the minimum, check out your feelings with a caring "advocate" who will answer the phone at the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800.799.SAFE (7233). They are available 24/7, and will talk with any person affected by relationship violence, including abuser, victim, friends, family, co-workers, classmates, etc., regardless of your age, sexual orientation, or even the language you speak (170 languages available).

The American Bar Association has a great website describing a broad swath of data on domestic violence statistics covering various ages, ethnic groups, and much more. None of it is pretty. I found their section on teens to be especially enlightening.

You can easily learn more about this issue by searching for "Power and Control Wheel" on the web, and you'll come across lots of good information. One solid organization (of many) working in this field is DAIP, Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs. They have very good "Power and Control Wheel" and "Equality Wheel" diagrams. These are great learning/teaching tools for quickly describing both the behaviors in abusive relationships as well as what a healthy, power sharing/supportive relationship can look like. You may want to consider engaging an organization like DAIP to train a group of young people about these issues. However, printing out the wheels and having a conversation with a young guy or guys you know would be doing a lot.

I know I'm rambling on here. Because of my still raw feelings, I'm guilty of over-trying to keep others from woulda, coulda, shoulda's. It's my prayer that you, or someone you know, will never experience what my family has been through.

When confronted in some way with abuse, power, and controlling in relationship, please, please do something. And then let's help the next few generations of men be the best possible relationship partners possible.



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8 comments:

  1. Gary K.8:01 PM

    I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your family's
    painful story. I have just forwarded your message to my best friend from college. His description of his sister's marriage has all of the earmarks that you point out. Blessings and peace to you an your
    family.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Polly R.8:03 PM

    Earl, I am so sorry for the loss you and your familiy have suffered.
    I would like to say that it is unimaginable, but I think you have
    shown we are all close to experiencing this kind of tragedy whether or
    not we can imagine it happening in our lives. I know that words from
    others have little meaning right now, but I wanted you to know that
    you and you family are in my thoughts. I also wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your willingness to share your family's story in the hopes of opening eyes to how pervasive family violence is, and encouraging all of us to keep our eyes open for threats that exist
    even close to home.
    All my best to you and yours,

    ReplyDelete
  3. Mustafa M.10:25 AM

    I just read the article below and I'm not sure if it is you who suffered the tragic loss. If so, I want you to know that you and your family are in my prayers.

    I grew up in a home where my mother was emotionally and physically abused by my father on a regular basis for over 15 years. His drug of choice was alcohol and whenever he drank heavily he would turn his unprovoked jealous rage towards my mother and sometimes become physically abusive towards us, his children.

    My father would sometimes go on drinking binges and stay gone for days and weeks at a time.
    We learned to appreciate his absences more than his presence because that was the only time there was peace in our home. Fortunately, my mother and all of my siblings are doing relatively well, even though we all bear the scars of growing up in a home with an abusive alcoholic father.

    I share this story because I want you and others to know that domestic violence affects entire families, and the most vulnerable victims are always the innocent children.

    Thanks for sharing your painful story and hopefully it will give women the strength and courage to walk away before it's too late.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Nick E.3:23 PM

    I just read "Males and Relationship Violence". I'm deeply sorry for your loss – things like these are so difficult to understand. Know that I'm trying to help lost young men as much as I can, and have a particular interest in gender issues and violence. I went and saw a lecture by Jackson Katz, an awesome feminist, at UBC a few months ago and it really opened my eyes, and if by some chance you haven't heard of him, he's pretty cool!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Brad Davies7:54 AM

    Wow!! Very serious topic here!

    I was an abusive male for many years. I tried everything to stop it, but I did not have the power or knowledge. I believed my issue was unique. Finally in an alcohol counseling session for my wife at the time (I was 38 years old), I brought up that "I sometimes hit my
    wife." The therapist was not shocked (as I expected) - just calmly stated that there was a place I could go to get help for that.

    I was amazed. I didn't realize that others had such a problem. The relief I felt was incredible. I got into a place the same day and
    after many years of VERY HARD work I have changed how I think and am abuse and control free.

    Please encourage men that have this issue to contact the same number, to talk to someone. I remember how hopeless things felt, how helpless I felt, how impossible to go on. Many times I felt that I could not go on, and I always thought my wife was cheating on me. I did the isolation, the following, all the crazy stuff, tried hitting the wall instead of her. Nothing worked for me! I knew that I was going to kill her - it was
    just a matter of time! There is no easy way out, but just the knowledge that there was a place for me to go with others to work on this gave me the hope and
    peace I needed. There was never an abusive incident after that alcohol session on November 13, 1985. It saved her life and probably mine!

    I did everything after that I could to change my life and the way I thought, and I have!

    If you would wish to speak about this subject I am always willing. Over the years I have spoken many times on TV, radio, at churches,
    college classes.

    bradavies@usjet.net

    ReplyDelete
  6. Warren I.8:18 AM

    I hardly have words to express what I feel. Thank you for sharing through the pain and the 'raw' moistened eyes you surely had as you crafted this piece, to add more than an ounce, yes, a bucketful of prevention towards ending intimate partner violence.

    My one ounce to add is for gals and guys, to learn what kind of relationship a potential partner has had with their parent(s) or caregivers. It can be a powerful clue as to what behavior you can expect from them in an intimate relationship. As a counselor, I regularly come across relationships where the “power and control” relationship style you talk about has been inherited with tragic and somewhat predictable results.

    With everyone doing our part to help people understand and then act to learn their way out of abusive relationships, we just might make a difference. My part was to write what I call a 'fight song' encouraging people to stand up for themselves and to “break the chain” of learned family violence. You can hear it on this YouTube clip http://goo.gl/KOGzl by Morgan Cryar.

    With hope for lighter blessed days ahead.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Tim Wernette12:11 PM

    I honor and appreciate you for this. As you state, it is indeed easier to build strong children than to repair broken men. I'm a gender equity educator, and one of the most powerful experiences for me is participating in a high school program in Kingman, Arizona, each year which addresses relationship violence. At the most recent program, a woman whose sister was murdered by her husband (who then committed suicide) spoke. It was another sad and too common story.

    I would encourage everyone who reads this post to contact your local school district and encourage them to address this important issue. We're all victims of relationship violence, including those males who perpetuate violence.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Warren I.7:41 PM

    I hardly have words to express what I feel. Thank you for sharing through the pain and the 'raw' moistened eyes you surely had as you crafted this piece, to add more than an ounce, yes, a bucketful of prevention towards ending intimate partner violence.

    My one ounce to add is for gals and guys, to learn what kind of relationship a potential partner has had with their parent(s) or caregivers. It can be a powerful clue as to what behavior you can expect from them in an intimate relationship. As a counselor, I regularly come across relationships where the “power and control” relationship style you talk about has been inherited with tragic and somewhat predictable results.

    With everyone doing our part to help people understand and then act to learn their way out of abusive relationships, we just might make a difference. My part was to write what I call a 'fight song' encouraging people to stand up for themselves and to “break the chain” of learned family violence. You can hear it on this YouTube clip http://goo.gl/KOGzl by Morgan Cryar.

    With hope for lighter blessed days ahead.

    ReplyDelete

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