Letters to the Editor 10-02-2002

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 1, 2002

The cycle of domestic abuse can be broken

Dear Editor:

In response to the excellent editorial of Oct. 1, 2002, and in honor of National Domestic Abuse Awareness Month, I would like to add a message of hope.

The message is directed to all the individuals in our community and elsewhere who think there is no hope of breaking the cycle of violence in which they find themselves. Not only is there hope, there is a whole new life waiting once they remove themselves from the abuser.

Many people who've never experienced such a lifestyle find it extremely difficult to understand why someone who is subjected to physical and/or emotional abuse doesn't simply walk away from the relationship.

Abuse follows a well-defined cycle, with power and control at the center of all behavior of the abuser. It occurs over a period of time, beginning in a subtle manner and escalating to the actual physical abuse.

To attract victims, the abuser is charming and attentive. Once hooked into the relationship, the victim begins to experience intimidation, coercion and threats.

Controlling the victim is paramount to the abuser and the abuser will use a variety of means to achieve it, including emotional abuse (putting her down, making her feel bad about herself, calling her names, making her think she's crazy, playing mind games, humiliating her and making her feel guilty), and economic abuse (preventing her from getting or keeping a job, making her ask for money, giving her an allowance, taking her money, not letting her know about or have access to family income).

Ultimately, the abuser may use isolation techniques by controlling what she does, who she sees and talks to, what she reads, where she goes, and limiting her outside involvement. These actions may be guised as jealously to justify the actions.

Or the abuser may treat her like a servant, make all the big decisions, act like the "master of the castle" and be the one to define men's and women's roles.

The abuser may even use the children in the home to intimidate the victim. He makes her feel guilty about the children, uses the children to relay messages, uses visitation to harass her and threatens to take the children away.

Once abuse occurs, the abuser makes light of the incident and doesn't take her concerns about it seriously. He may say the abuse didn't happen or shift responsibility of the abusive behavior to the victim, saying she caused it.

Then the remorse follows. The abuser says he is sorry for the incident, promising it will never happen again. Thus the honeymoon phase begins, to be followed by a repeat of all the steps leading up to another abusive incident.

The cycle continues with each honeymoon phase lasting for shorter and shorter periods of time until it ends completely and the victim finds herself in a constant state of anxiety of when the next blow will be dealt.

It is a difficult and complex psychological lifestyle. It crosses all cultures and ages. Many victims see no hope of escape.

With Opportunity House, there is hope. The program provides a 24-hour crisis line (334-493-2320), safe shelter, counseling and advocacy, information and referral, self-help groups, supportive services, legal information, children's services, follow-up services and transportation.

If you find yourself or someone you know caught in the trap of abuse, reach for the telephone right now and call for help. The first step is the hardest, but it is the right step toward a future of hope and nonviolence.

Renee LeMaire