Written by TELL’s Executive Director, Royanne Doi
In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I wanted to share my story for family and friends who suspect that a loved one might be in a domestic violence/abusive relationship. This article is based on a true story with some names and details changed to protect the innocent and the guilty.
“I don’t think I can handle this on my own anymore.”
I got this late-night text from my niece in 2011. My heart dropped and I have never been so afraid in my entire life, and that includes the time I was mugged in Los Angeles. My niece had been out of touch with the family for over a year, slowly withdrawing and putting distance between her and her family. This was unusual for she was often in contact with her parents. But when asked, she said that everything was fine. We were all worried, but she was rich, single, and a lawyer at a prestigious law firm. She would tell us if anything was wrong, right?!
Myth #1: Only poor, uneducated women are affected by domestic violence/abusive relationships.
Myth Buster #1: Anyone in any country of any race, economic status, religion, sexual orientation, or gender can be in an abusive relationship with an intimate partner.
Once we heard that her fiancé was physically abusive, I consulted a DV specialist, and my aunty and I rushed over to help her. She had a black eye, and there were walls punched out and glass shattered on the floor in the fancy apartment she lived in. Together, we created a plan of escape, helped her move out and get to someplace safe.
Aunty asked her, “What did you say just before he hit you?”
I said, “Aunty, that is not the right question. There is nothing that she can say or do that would justify him choking or hitting her.”
Myth #2: The victim/survivor provoked the abuser.
Myth Buster #2: Domestic violence is not about anger management or losing control. Domestic violence/abusive relationships are about using anger, intimidation, and victim-blaming as key tactics within an intentional campaign to control the victim. Isolating people from their support networks is another tactic. Abusers can exert financial control or control over beloved pets, or time spent out of the home without ever touching the recipient of abuse.
Fortunately, my niece was able to get away from her abuser. Luckily, she had amazing resources, a supportive boss and workplace, and access to top-notch counseling with a domestic violence specialist. Later, she was able to send a wonderful video in a domestic violence awareness symposium that I conducted in New Jersey in front of hundreds of people. She encouraged people in abusive relationships to not be afraid to ask/get the help that they need, and for families and friends to learn about domestic violence in order to help victims become survivors.
A year after the Symposium, a woman I had never met walked up to me at work and asked me if she could hug me – because she thought the Symposium might have saved her daughter’s life.
“Of course, you can hug me. Please tell me more.” I said.
“Well, I am a DV survivor. But I had to wait for my abuser to die, before I could escape,” she
said, after hugging me warmly.
Myth #3: It’s easy to just run away. Why did she stay? Many people think it should be
easy to leave an abusive relationship.
Myth Buster #3: The fact is that breaking free of an abusive relationship is dangerous. “A survivor is at most risk of being seriously injured or killed in the first six months after she leaves than at any other time in the relationship. This makes sense when you consider that most [intimate partner] abuse is all about control.”1
“I thought my husband was abusing only me. After he died, I found out that he was also abusing my daughter. I took my daughter to a psychiatrist. But she was not responding well. At the Symposium, I heard you say that it doesn’t matter how famous the psychiatrist is … if the specialist is not trained in DV, their advice may not be right. In fact, it could be harmful. And that DV counseling is a specialized field. So I switched my daughter’s treatment to a DV specialist, and now she is smiling and skipping out of her therapist’s office.” I thanked her for sharing and asked her to keep in touch. Of all the work that I did as a global ethics officer, that Symposium remains one of my proudest efforts.
- “Family and Friends’ Guide to Domestic Violence: How to Listen, Talk and Take Action When Someone You Care About is Being Abused” by Elaine Weiss, Ed.D
Also, please call or chat with TELL’s Lifeline. You do not have to be not alone. We are here to listen. https://telljp.com/resources/domestic-violence-abuse/