31 for 41: About Domestic Violence

Dear Donovan,

Their stories are still with me.

A college student I meet in court does not want to testify after her boyfriend attacked her.  He also held her dog over the balcony of their apartment and threatened to drop him, all after she discovered he was cheating on her.

A mom in my support group contemplates spending money for her small children to participate in a school program they are excited about, and wants to know what I think she should do.  I cannot tell her what to do, because she is quite sure her husband will beat her if she goes against his command and spends that money on the kids.

Another mom sits in shock while nursing her newborn.  I held the baby while a judge just granted her an emergency protective order, but the judge says she has to give the newborn to the father for a two-day visitation over the weekend.  Following the “protective” order will mean giving a newborn to an unstable man who just assaulted her the night before.  It will also mean trying to get her newborn to take a bottle and drink formula, things she did not want to do yet.  She doesn’t even know if the baby will respond well to formula.   She decides the court cannot help her, and starts devising a way for her and her newborn to go into hiding.

A business owner sits beside me on a bench in a courtroom.  Her ex-boyfriend continues to harrass her, but she does not want him to be convicted of anything.  She just wants to move on with her life in peace.  Within months of that day in court, the ex-boyfriend who already took her peace takes her life as well.

You have family members who have suffered abuse at the hands of someone who was supposed to love them the most.  You have friends who grew up watching their dad hurt their mom.  In the future, you will constantly rub shoulders with both men and women who have firsthand experience with domestic violence.  You have the opportunity to be a man who sends a clear message that partner abuse is never okay.

When people are experiencing domestic violence, they need to hear that message.  They may already doubt their own reality and sanity at times, due to the nature of the abuse.  They may may entertain the idea that they do deserve it, since the abuser blames the victim and does not take responsiblity for the abuse.  They may fear that no one will believe them if they try to get help, especially when the abuser has such a great “public face.”  With all of this internal turmoil they face, there is so much power in hearing words of truth from a compassionate man.

You can explain to a woman who never had positive males in her life that real men do not use their strength to hurt women.  You can tell a downtrodden friend who wants to be a good dad that no woman should ever use her children as pawns to control a man.  You can remind adults who were abused as children that they have every right to define and maintain healthy boundaries.  You can ask a person to consider why he or she was still abused even after doing everything perfectly and just as the partner asked.  You can state with conviction that there is no mistake your mom or grandmothers could ever make that would justify their husbands being vile and violent.  And you can say you have seen the opposite instead… godly men who love their wives as Christ loves the church.

Another thing you can do is to direct people to the Power and Control Wheel.  Without you even saying a word, this tool can help people see that domestic violence is about power and control.  It is not an anger management problem, a drug problem, or a stressed about money problem.  While those problems may also be present, domestic violence is a behavior set with the specific purpose of gaining and maintaining power over a partner.  This also helps explain why this type of abuse often escalates over time.

I once sat in court as a man was arraigned for the brutal murder of the mother of his child.  When the judge informed him of the possible maximum sentence for the crime, he asked, “But what if I was justified?”  That is the culmination of a behavior pattern over time in which a person convinces himself that he is justified in hurting someone else and is allowed by others to excuse away bad behavior.

This is why your mother will always stand up against such allowances.  This is why you were never allowed to blame your choices on other people.  Apart from the laws of physics that dicate that you may hit the floor when you collide with one of your six-foot-something friends on the basketball court, no one makes you say or do anything.  Even when others are being unfair or unreasonable, even when others hurt you, you always have the choice to respond with dignity and without violence.  We need more men to sound that message to our young men and women.

When I accompanied women in court, I worked hard to gain a reputation for being firm without being hateful.  Still, a defense attorney once accused me of being a man-hater.  I don’t even think he believed it.  Since he didn’t know me well yet, I think he thought he could intimidate me, and through that, disturb my client since there was a lot of evidence against his client.

The irony of that accusation is that I always felt like I cared a whole lot more for those men I saw in court than did a lot of their attorneys.  Their attorneys took their money and often helped them avoid conviction through agreements and legal technicalities.  I stand by my conviction that if a person is allowed to continually get away with violence, he is destroying his own life, destroying the love that could have been his to receive from a partner and from his children, and is heaping judgment upon himself.

I wanted these men to be stopped, and to be held accountable so that instead of continuing down a path of destruction, they might have a chance at restoration.  I wanted them to have a chance to be proud of the men they were, instead of hating themselves for having become just like their own fathers or step-fathers, as is so often the case.  So that attorney and I will have to disagree on the definition of “man-hater.”  I hate no man, but I will not be a silent partner to a poisonous pattern that hurts all involved.

I could write a book on this subject.  It would include entire chapters on how the Bible does not condone domestic violence.  It would point out that while not every high school student will go to a four-year university, every high school student will be in relationships, and therefore, could benefit from quality education about how to recognize warning signs of an abusive partner.  It would question a system that allows judges to make crucial decisions in domestic violence court based on being experts in the law instead of experts on the complex dynamics of domestic violence.  It would warn about the dangers of a culture that allows everyone to blame their behavior on others.  It would convince others of the cost of domestic violence to our children’s education and mental health.

I may not ever be able to write that book, but I am trying to raise you and the twins to be men of character who would never purposefully injure your wives or children.  Speak the truth in love whenever someone excuses or justifies domestic violence.  When an abused person needs help, direct them to professionals who can provide safety planning support.  Be aware that the abused person’s worst fear may be that the abuser actually does what he or she once threatened to do.   And when you are provided with the opportunity, tell that abused woman that she is God’s creation, and was never intended to be anyone’s scapegoat or punching bag.

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.  I Corinthians 13: 4-7

I love you forever,

Your people-loving mama

National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233, available 24/7. TTY: 1-800-787-3224

*At the date of this post, there have been 35 known domestic violence homicides in North Carolina in 2020.

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