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Domestic Violence Month: Physical and sexual violence

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By Phil Lloyd-Sidle

 Several months ago in Trimble County a nightmare occurred in daylight.  Lora Cable was granted a no unlawful contact domestic violence order against her partner Timothy Riddle.  The next day, Valentine’s Day, he walked into her work at a doctor’s office and killed her.

Who possibly thinks the have the right to claim another life, and specifically the life of a partner?  How have we managed to create such a world in which some people — usually but not always men — believe they are entitled to take a life, just because?  This is the ultimate grasping of power and control: to silence another person because what?  Because they can?

A murder is extreme.  What is not rare — though in our minds still no less terrifying—are the daily assaults, physical and sexual, that wives and girlfriends have to endure at the hands of their intimate partners, the men who supposedly “love” them.   Some men, as well, are similarly mistreated and abused by their intimate partners.

No one deserves to be assaulted.  No one deserves abuse.  No one deserves to be the victim of physical and sexual violence or intimidated by threats to harm, “to f** you up,” (as we often hear), or to kill.  No woman deserves in her relationship with her partner to be beaten or pinned down, strangled, cornered, spat at, stalked, or live with the perpetual and chronic fear that something might happen to them.  No man deserves that either.

We all know relationships are not easy.  We all know that virtually all people in intimate relationships have disagreements, disputes, and heated arguments.  But when do they move from a disagreement between equals to an abuse of power of one person over another through intimidation and violence? 

As we wrote in last week’s article, at the core of abuse are the tactics and strategies that one person in an intimate relationship uses to get power and control over another.  Abusive relationships are about power and control.  Defensive violence is not about power and control.  It is about defending, surviving.  The kinds of violence we are talking about are those events and patterns where one person exercises violence to create fear and diminish the freedom of another to act or speak or choose for herself.

This week our focus is on two of the major strategies for getting and maintaining control over a partner: the use of physical violence and the use of sexual violence.  Both of these tactics have the obvious effects of not just hurting another, but creating a climate of fear and intimidation.  And once fear is achieved, control over another person is easier.  

Physical Violence

“He punched me in the face.”  “He only hits me where the bruises can’t be seen.” “He pushed me down and I hit my head.”  “He cornered me and wouldn’t let me out.”  “He put a gun on my pillow.”  “He put his hands on my neck.”  “Well, actually he strangled me, and I almost blacked out.”  “She tried to run me over.” “He broke a lamp in front of the kids, and punched a hole in the kitchen wall.”  “He held a gun to his head and said I’m going to kill you and then myself.”

Every day we talk with people (mostly women) who have suffered various levels of physical harm or threats of harm.  They might have bruises or not, broken bones or not.  But they hurt.

Usually the pattern of domestic violence begins with words -- put downs, name-calling, embarrassments, anger, blaming, making you think you’re going crazy, frequent criticism, and wearing down your self-esteem.   Let’s be clear.  This is itself abuse and a kind of violence – verbal, emotional, and psychological.  We will deal with this in our third article.

When things start to get physical, the chances are often that things will get worse, the violence will escalate.  Each act is undeserved.  As the violence increases, so does the risk of death.  

What is important to stress here, as well, is that each act of violence is a choice, conscious and intentional.  Many of the people we see, say things like, “He is such a good guy when he’s sober.”  Or, “Before he started using, he was great.”  We all know that substance abuse is dangerous, it can kill, and addiction is a monster.  Nonetheless, physical violence is a choice.  

Sexual Violence

In popular or media-driven conversations of domestic violence, “sexual violence” often goes unnamed.   Yet the facts are that sexual violence is a major if unspoken reality in abusive intimate partner relationships.  If talking about domestic violence is difficult, talking about sexual violence is even harder.  In all cases, for the victim of sexual assault by their partner, it is embarrassing to share with a trusted friend or family member what is going on.  Especially if the perpetrator of sexual violence is your husband.  One feels ashamed or scared to open up.  For some married women it might be their belief or what they were taught that it is the wife’s duty to submit to whatever the husband wants.  Legally, rape is a criminal act in marriage and out.

We do hear in the media stories of sexual violence on college campuses and in bars.  We hear about rape.  We are learning more about date-rape drugs (something every woman and man should learn about and protect against).   But we also live in a culture and society in which often it is the victim of rape who gets blamed, not believed, and who must go through a grueling and sometimes shaming process of seeking justice.  We know that over half of all rapes occur between current or former partners and over a third by an acquaintance.  And we know that of every 100 rapes, only 32 get reported, and only 2 will lead to a felony conviction.  1 in 5 women in the United States has experienced rape, while 1 in 2 has experienced  some kind of sexual violence in her lifetime.  1 in 5 men have experienced sexual violence in his lifetime.  

We believe that any sexual act if not consensual, is an abuse, regardless if you are married, living together, dating, partying, or strangers.  

Sexual abuse includes non-consensual sex, unwanted grabbing or touching, forcing you to do things that you are not comfortable with.   Further, consent to sexual activity means that you are:

* clear (silence is not consent),

* coherent (not handicapped by drugs or alcohol), 

* willing (not being forced or under pressure), and

* ongoing (as each step of physical intimacy progresses).

Legal Options

A victim of physical or sexual violence has two main courses of protective action.  One is criminal.  The other is civil.  A criminal charge can be filed with law enforcement or the county attorney.  

A civil action would be the filing for an Emergency Protective Order (EPO) for people who are married or living together or have a child in common.  Or if you are dating or not living together and the violence occurs, you can file for a Temporary Interpersonal Protective Order (TIPO).  These orders do the same thing: prohibit the abuser from being near you, calling you, texting, contacting you through a third party, stalking, or damaging property.  You can file at the courthouse or with law enforcement.  The EPO and TIPO are granted by a judge on call within hours, if they feel there is reason to temporarily protect you.  A hearing with the family court judge will occur within two weeks.  At the hearing you can receive (if the judge agrees with you) a longer-term protective order: Domestic Violence Order (DVO) or an Interpersonal Protective Order (IPO).  For any questions regarding legal protections, call The Center for Women and Families at 502-581-7222.

Safety

Safety is a huge issue and not easy to create, especially in volatile situations.  Every situation is unique.  Ideally you want take some time to think about what precautions you need to take in your residence, in public, at work, with the children, etc.  It might be good to talk this through with a trusted friend or family member.  If you would like to work on a plan, know that you can call the Center’s crisis/help line.  All calls are confidential.