Posts Tagged ‘abuse’

Why Do Abused Women Stay?

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

By Gretchen Gibbs

Ray Rice and Janay

Ray Rice and Janay Palmer

Ray Rice is still in the news, a court having reinstated him in the NFL. His wife, Janay Palmer, made the front page of The New York Times the other day, saying in support of her husband that anybody can make a mistake.

From the beginning of the elevator incident, commentators have cringed at Janay’s positive statements about Ray. We all think we wouldn’t stay with an abuser, but maybe we don’t know ourselves so well. Working with domestic abuse victims, I have seen a number who would never have imagined themselves staying, but who have.

Other prominent athletes who have abused their wives keep being outed. Driving home from New Jersey a few weeks ago, I heard an interview with Kristin Barnes, wife of a former NFL star, Ricky Williams. She related her experiences of abuse, and one of the questions the interviewer asked her was why she thought Janay Palmer stood by Ray Rice.

Kristen Barnes said that she also had stayed with her husband in spite of his abuse because of the other things that she loved about him. She said that if the woman chooses to stay, then she wants her partner to have a successful career. She feels that Janay does not want Ray Rice to lose his employment, because of both the financial and psychological consequences.

I began thinking more about why Janay supports her husband, and came up with some other possible answers.

— She is impressed by his fame and accomplishments, and wants to align herself with him. Not necessarily out of greed, but probably coming from a lack of self-esteem, she wants a man who can be the dominant member of the partnership. A little abuse may be a price she’s willing to pay. Successful athletes in general don’t have problems finding women.

— The Cycle of Violence. Domestic violence programs teach about the cycle of violence, that after the abuser really hurts the woman, he tends to feel guilty and showers her with love, gifts and promises that there will never be another incident. (Abusers can be women, and victims men, and there can be violence in same sex relationships; for the sake of convenience and because it fits with the Rice case, I’m identifying the man as the abuser.) Gradually, however, the honeymoon ends, and some minor “transgression” of the partner will trigger anger and escalating abuse. Many victims are persuaded by the perpetrators’ assurances that they’ll change, and the perpetrators may believe them as well. The fact that the couple went to counseling may have intensified Janay’s belief that Ray will never abuse her again.

— Janay actually played some role in her abuse. The only predictor of who is abused in a domestic relationship is past abuse. We tend to repeat our interactions with others according to what we are comfortable with, even if it’s not pleasant. Freud called it the repetition compulsion, and even though he was wrong about many things, he was right about the patterns that people get caught up in with their relationships. We all know women who only date married men, or men all of whose women are dominating like their mothers. Janay may know that she provoked Ray. Certainly she yelled something at him in the elevator right before he hit her. Was it the one thing he told her never to say? Had she provoked him in other ways? If she knows she provoked him, she may think it excuses him, even though of course it doesn’t.

— She feels sorry for him. In spite of being controlled and abused, many victims of domestic violence feel that they are the stronger member of the couple. The victim may know about her partner’s own past experiences of abuse and trauma, and believe that she can help him overcome it.

— She fears for her life. Janay need only look at what has happened to other high profile abusers and their victims. We all know about OJ, but the case of Oscar Pistorius, the South African runner with the artificial legs, is also chilling.

Pistorius shot his girlfriend to death, saying he thought she was a burglar, but neighbors had heard screaming arguments and others described earlier incidents of violence. Pistorius, like OJ, got off on the murder charge. He’s expected to serve 10 months of a five-year sentence for culpable homicide and reckless endangerment.

There are other possible explanations for why Janay stays, and there’s no way of knowing what she really feels. It’s just important for us to avoid that first reflex judgment that the only choice for any victim of domestic violence is to leave the relationship.

Gretchen Gibbs is a psychologist, teacher and writer.

Our Capacity for Abuse Appears Endless

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Boy Scouts of America logo

By Bob Gaydos

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my feelings about the Catholic Church and its continuing inability/unwillingness to come fully and honestly to terms with its scandal of priests sexually abusing young boys.

If only that were the extent of it.

Last week, lawyers in Portland, Ore., won a landmark decision which resulted in a judge granting them access to the Boy Scouts Of America’s confidential “ineligible volunteer list.” It immediately became known as the “perversion list’ and when the lawyers posted it on the Internet, more than 200,000 hits in the first few hours caused it to crash. (It’s up and running today.)

The 14,500 files, organized by state, detail decades of abuse cases — proven and alleged — dating from the organization’s founding to today, most of which never became public knowledge. For the Scouts, like the church, the preferred method of dealing with sexual predators, was to fire them, ban them from Scouting, and otherwise ignore them. Out of sight, out of mind, except for the list, which did at least serve to warn some future potential employers who bothered to check references.

And the victims? Well, criminal charges or civil suits would only hurt the image of the Scouts, wouldn’t it? How could the organization continue to berate homosexuals and forbid non-god-fearing youngsters from membership if people knew some Scout leaders were sexually abusing young boys? In many cases, police authorities were apparently complicit in cover-ups, such is the misplaced reverence with which BSA was viewed. It’s beyond appalling.

If only that were the extent of it.

Tuesday’s New York Times carried a story about a top executive at the British Broadcasting Corporation resigning over his decision to kill a story detailing decades of abuse of young girls (about 200 reportedly, aged 12 and 13) by Jimmy Savile, a popular British TV personality and disc jockey, now deceased. The furor over killing the program prompted another BBC program to do a full report on it.

Again, protecting the predators’ reputation — in addition to being a popular entertainer, Savile also was a well-known philanthropist — was deemed to be more important than protecting other potential young victims. A wink and a nod and lots of rumors were the norm, just like with the priests and Scout leaders. Like the Scouts case, the Savile case has just gotten started in Britain, so more lurid details are bound to be revealed.

If only that were the extent of it.

The same edition of the Times carried a story about Russian politicians turning suddenly anti-American after years of softening their political rhetoric. The source of the comments was an extraordinary parliamentary hearing: “On Problems in the Observation of Human Rights by the United States of America.” Apparently tired of being criticized by Americans for all sorts of abuses, Russian legislators let loose with a a volley of attacks, pointing to water-boarding of prisoners, Ku Klux Klan lynchings and, the pertinent one here, abuse of adopted Russian children.

Witnesses said such abuse is common because Americans view Russian children as inferior. A telling comment from a jury verdict in the case of a 7-year-old adopted orphan, who died of brain trauma, made the Russians’ point: “The boy was born in Russia, the boy was an orphan who was brought up in an orphanage, he had bad genetics, because, in fact, all Russian orphans are genetically underdeveloped, have an inclination to drug addiction, stealing, self-harm. It turns out the boy beat himself to death on an iron stove.”

If only that were the extent of it.

Several months ago, a German newspaper reported that “bestiality brothels” were spreading across Germany. You read that right. Apparently, posting bestiality on the Internet is illegal in Germany, but actually having sex with animals is not, including in brothels set up for just that purpose. Some referred to it as a “life style” choice. Given that the dogs and other brothel animals are not consenting partners, don’t get paid and are discarded after being defiled, one assumes their life styles were not considered. This is one of the sickest kinds of abuse imaginable, yet Germany is only now working on changing the law to make it illegal.

And no, that’s not the extent of it. Husbands beat wives. Parents shake infants. Boys torture cats. Grown men abuse dogs. Women are sold as sex slaves, or simply treated as non-entities. We used to throw people to the lions.

There are many more examples, but you get the idea and I am weary of the effort. On these specific cases, I can offer only some specific, preferable responses: Report all suspected cases of sexual abuse of children to police; eliminate the statute of limitations for such charges (the victims’ pain lasts a lifetime); file criminal charges against those who cover up such abuse; pursue charges against all cases where still possible; place concern for victims, current and potential, above any desire to protect the reputation of the abuser or his employer; do a proper screening of foreign adoptions and make the general information available publicly; pass a law making bestiality illegal for god’s sake.

Still, I am left, ultimately, feeling unsatisfied and wondering if this need to abuse other, more vulnerable, living things is part of the human condition. Is evil in our wiring? Our rearing? Can we overcome it? How? All I have now are the questions. Perhaps some day we will have the will and wisdom to search for the answers.

bob@zestoforange.com