HOW DOES ONE RECOGNISE ABUSE?
A woman who is so to say on the street because she has a violent husband ... a woman hiding in a shelter for battered women along with a few neglected children ... this is the image many people have of domestic violence.
In many prosperous families scenes are enacted behind closed doors that are just as frightening, but that have different characteristics. In the upper tiers of society a unique stigma is attached to family violence (“things like that don’t happen to our kind of people”). The extent of the violence is more easily concealed behind high walls and a front of expensive cars and “success”.
Since September 2008 the financial pressure caused by the recession has taken its toll – family violence occurs three times as often when a couple is in financial difficulties and this is no less likely to occur in wealthier households.
Dr Suzan Weitzman (the author of This Doesn't Happen to People Like Us)
established the Weitzman Centre in the USA to assist women who are the victims of “high class violence”.
She observed certain patterns among women in this category: often there are no “honeymoon periods” (as with “low-class family violence”) where the abuser tries to improve matters with gifts and promises. Violence in such homes is constant and the intensity is high. For the abused party (often the woman) the only solution is to disclose the violence, but her biggest fear is that no one would believe her (“You have such a successful husband and a wonderful lifestyle!”) And then she would be aware that her husband would have vast financial resources at his disposal if it came to a divorce. Weitzman refers to cases where wealthy men in the USA have appointed such a strong legal team that they had a good chance of getting sole custody of the children. (In the USA 70% of the abusers in divorce cases get full custody even when there have been previous charges of family violence against them.)
But when does behaviour qualify as violent?
By definition family violence occurs when one person in an intimate relationship tries to dominate and control the other person. The perpetrator of the violence might not necessarily physically injure the other person, but he/she might very well “punish” the other person by withholding attention or love or by giving the other person the “silent treatment”. In the Domestic Violence Act 116 van 1998, family violence is defined as
"Physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional, verbal and psychological abuse, economic abuse, intimidation, harassment and stalking, damage to property, entry into the complainant’s residence without consent (where the parties do not share the same residence), or any other controlling or abusive behaviour towards a complainant, where such conduct harms, or may cause imminent harm to, the safety, health or wellbeing of the complainant.” This could include one party in an intimate relationship monitoring the other party’s movements during the day, monitoring his/her messages or e-mails or isolating him/her from other people.
Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe announced that 90% of South African women experience emotional or physical abuse at some stage.
Experience in all parts of the world has shown that enforced rehabilitation and education programmes for abusers do not work. Abusers often use such programmes as a form of manipulation instead of changing their behaviour. Joint counselling sessions can also be dangerous because they can aggravate the control exercised by one person over the other.
If you are being abused, you may well ask: If the picture is so dark, what recourse is open to a woman trapped in this kind of relationship?
Your self-esteem may be so low that you cannot believe you would be able to function on your own, away from the abuser. Or that you could take constructive steps to improve the situation. You may have given up hope and have simply been carrying on from day to day in the hope that something miraculous will happen.
The abuser does everything in his power to lead you to believe that you are causing the abuse and that you are completely worthless. And especially that you would not be able to manage without him. In many cases he will have isolated you from other people and from resources. He has also persuaded you that the relationship between you can only work on his terms.
Your first step would be both to cultivate inner resources and to create resources around you. “Inner resources” refers to your inner strength. You need to see through his strategy, namely that he is using clever means of manipulation in order to retain control over you, especially by making you feel bad about yourself and feel guilty. In other words he is using lies to retain his power over you (“No other man will ever be interested in you”, “You will never be able to manage without me”, “I treat you this way because you are so fat”, and resorting to threats to make you feel emotionally or physically insecure.)
A man whose position at work places him in control of other people often thinks that when he gets home he should/may/can treat his wife in the same way. That as her husband he has this right. No person has the right to treat other people with contempt. You need to realise that this amounts to abuse (refer to the definition above). Even if he gives you a beautiful home and everything your heart desires, even if he does an enormous amount for you, nothing can make up for his behaviour. Often the “enormous amount” he does for you is another way of keeping you dependent on him so that he knows he has more control over you. When you understand that all this is a strategy to control you, you can start taking the first tiny steps towards setting boundaries. Possibly the first minute changes will take place only in your head ...
You may need to go for therapy at this stage (without him) so that you can prepare yourself to set boundaries in practice and assess the associated risks – remember that he will probably be angry if you suddenly stop dancing to his tune. You will have to find ways of protecting yourself and your children against his possible reaction.
In therapy you could work out for yourself what steps (small steps at a time) you could take to access other resources. There are often more resources available than one realises ...
TAKE PART IN A DISCUSSION ON FAMILY VIOLENCE:
*Have you ever been in a situation where you were being abused? How did you get out of it?
*Did you grow up in a home where abuse was a daily occurrence? What are the most important lessons you learned from that?
Go to contact to send a message.
Click here to read a review of Susan Weitzman’s book Not to People like Us: Hidden Abuse in Upscale Marriages and a review of As it is in Heaven, a film with family violence as a subtheme.
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