Why is this so hard to explain?

Over the past few days, I’ve been working on a speech related to domestic violence and my experience with it. I don’t know where I’ll give this speech yet. OK, so maybe I’m doing this in the reverse order — I should have a gig first before I prepare the speech, right?

Maybe. In any event, I’m having difficulty. Specifically, I’m finding it hard to explain that the term “domestic violence” is completely … well, wrong. It doesn’t address the full reality of these situations, and it insinuates that “domestic” makes it somehow different from crimes perpetrated by a stranger. Much like “stranger rape” and “date rape” or “marital rape” are ridiculous distinctions.

If an unknown man comes into your home and rapes you at knifepoint, how is that any different from your husband grabbing you around the throat and threatening to kill you if you don’t have sex with him?

I mean, is it even possible to say which one is “worse”? Each creates its own wake of trauma. With the latter, you have to wake up next to your rapist the next morning, maybe make his coffee and breakfast, tell him how handsome he is, or just keep your mouth shut to avoid further retribution.

If an unknown man walks up to you on the street and calls you a f*&king c*&t, you can walk away from him (with any luck). When your husband does that, day in and day out, even if he doesn’t physically hurt you, is that “violence”? Or does the word “violence” imply only physical violence? So if it’s not physical, it’s not domestic violence?

That’s obviously wrong.

Do you see my problem here?

By even using the term “domestic violence” in my speech, I feel like I’m undermining everything I’m about to say. I’m stuck with a term that doesn’t work. “Domestic abuse” is even worse. And God forbid anyone refer to me as a “battered woman.” UGH. Talk about putting the blame on the wrong person! As if I just stood there and took it? I fought back every single day, within myself. It’s how I generated the emotional and intellectual — yes, intellectual — strength to leave and not get myself killed in the process. (And many women don’t survive when they leave, for various reasons.)

Maybe I just need to say that no term can really encapsulate the experience we label as “domestic violence.” We must look beyond the terminology and its accompanying misconceptions, to see what it really means.


Nigella Lawson: domestic violence victim?

Nigella LawsonI’ve been a fan of Nigella Lawson’s for a few years now. If you’re not familiar with her, she’s made a name for herself via television cooking shows and cookbooks. She’s beautiful (she’s a former model and journalist) and has an earthy style that makes her someone to be envied, but also someone you can relate to. She cooks pretty simply, she doesn’t always measure, she accepts her mistakes and moves on — I like her style very much. I have one of her cookbooks and have enjoyed using it.

She comes from a very wealthy background, but also an abusive one. She’s written about her mother, who beat the children mercilessly. I haven’t seen anything about her father in that regard, but he was an important British politician.

Her sister died of cancer and her first husband died of cancer, leaving her with two young children (now 17 and 19, I believe). Shortly after her husband died, she got involved with Charles Saatchi, an art tycoon who is also extraordinarily wealthy. They married 10 years ago and live in a home worth around 12 million pounds — that’s more than $20 million.

She’s also described her current husband as “the exploder,” alluding to a very bad temper.  He has been quoted as saying he never eats her cooking and that it is “wasted” on him. Wow, what a horrible thing to say, considering who she is. I hate to say it, but that’s common among abusers, to bring down their partners publicly — especially where it would hurt them most, emotionally.

This week, photos surfaced of her husband with his hand on her throat, while the two had dinner at a restaurant — they were seated outside. Here is a link to the article with all the photos. Warning: the photos are disturbing.

Saatchi was cautioned by police, a warning that could lead to prosecution if he does anything like this again. He had tried to explain it away as a “playful tiff.”

I’m sorry, but she doesn’t look like she’s having any fun.

She reportedly left the family home with her 17-year-old son. I, for one, hope she never returns. No one should be treated that way, ever.

Can we always know what’s going on in a relationship? No.

Can we make a judgment based on a few photos? To that, I say yes. There is never an excuse for touching anyone like he is touching her. Especially your wife. In public or in private.

I suspect Nigella is a victim of domestic violence but, like many of us who have found ourselves in that situation, she doesn’t even quite realize it. Maybe this incident will help her in some way.

And I certainly hope she is not embarrassed by the photographs. HE is the one who should be embarrassed and ashamed. But if he’s like most abusers, he’ll continue to rationalize his behavior and make excuses.

We’ll never know what the whole story is unless she comes out and tells us. I do hope that she can take time to herself and make the best decision possible, whatever that is.

Is this abuse?

I thought it would be a good idea to post a link to the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s  list of questions, “Is this abuse?”

I remember very clearly when I realized I was being abused by my ex-husband.

It was after I had already moved out.

That’s right: I didn’t name it as “abuse” or “domestic violence” before then. I just knew I was afraid of him and I thought my life was in danger — and I wanted to protect our young daughter from him, too.

I was sitting in an ugly brown office in the LA Courthouse, waiting for a mandatory appointment with a counselor. I don’t know if the law has changed since then — this was 1990 — but when you sought divorce and had children, it was mandatory that you speak with a court-appointed counselor.

Before the counselor came into the room, I noticed a poster on the wall, titled something about “domestic violence.” It asked if you had experienced any of the following things in your relationship — similar to the ones on this list, which is provided on helpguide.org (that page also has several good resources with contact information).

I checked every one. Every single one.

Examples: Does your partner hurt you or threaten to kill you? (Yes.) Does your partner force you to have sex? (Yes.) Does your partner criticize you and put you down? (Yes.)

I literally felt sick to my stomach, and I had the sensation in my head that I might faint.

How could this happen to me?

Because it happens all the time. To people like me. To people who are different from me. There are no lines of demarcation when it comes to domestic violence: it can happen to anyone.

Is it happening to you? I hope not, but if it is, please call the hotline and seek help: 1-800-799-7233.

Making my voice heard

Last year, I was supposed to give a speech at my friend’s company’s annual convention, because their one philanthropic endeavor was focused solely on supporting shelters for women who leave violent relationships.

Unfortunately, my friend’s company went out of business. And of course, I couldn’t give the speech.

But I’m resurrecting it. I don’t know exactly where I’ll give this speech just yet, but I figure I’ll write it and worry about the logistics later.

When I was starting to work on it before, I asked some women in an online support group what topics they thought I should cover. Here are some of their ideas:

  • Why doesn’t she just leave?
  • The universality of the experience: domestic violence doesn’t discriminate along class, educational or racial lines
  • The myth that it’s not real abuse unless it’s physical
  • The myth that it’s not physical abuse unless someone is hitting you
  • The myth that there’s some threshold number of incidents before it becomes abuse
  • The myth that if someone you know is being abused, it will be obvious
  • The myth that you can’t rape or sexually coerce someone in you’re in a relationship with/married to
  • “Everyone knows what domestic violence is, so why discuss it?” Wrong!

I think all of those are really important topics for a domestic violence speech.

Something else that has ahold of me is the detrimental effects on our society: all the women whose lives were derailed before they even began (like mine), and they never were able to develop into the person they were meant to be, sharing the gifts they were meant to share, contributing the way they were meant to.

I’ll consider all of these topics and others, and I’ll also plan on reading a few excerpts from my book. If you have ideas on what you’d like to hear from a domestic violence survivor, or if you’re a survivor yourself, please feel free to comment here and let me know your thoughts.