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Stop Suffering in Silence: Philadelphia Empowers Victims of Domestic Violence

"Relational violence is at the root of so much of the violence that we see on our streets and in our world today.” - Jeannine L. Lisitski, Executive Director &…

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A frequent giver of plush rose bouquets, the charmer that makes you laugh, a well-dressed extrovert, the “knight in shining armor”... these were all of the character traits that had Chanda falling head over heels for Rodney*, who made it peculiarly easy to rapidly dive into intense love. It was even easier-  natural, even -to walk the aisle and say “I do”, to envision the rest of her life with someone who was so captivating.

It was harder when he went from prepossessing to possessive, of her body and her soul.

In the beginning of their eternal happily-ever-after, the marriage was going well. He had weekly romantic rituals with her that any neglected or bored wife would be envious of. He was steady. He was fun and everyone’s favorite person, including Chanda’s.

Something must have made him snap, or at least it seemed that way. Now that Chanda looks back on those years with Rodney, she can pinpoint the “red flags”. But, at the time, they all seemed to pass by undetected, or worse, flippantly regarded as excusable behavior.

Until, of course, the red flags uglily manifested themselves into a horrific pattern of abuse, one that quickly escalated to a mental and physical violence that couldn’t possibly be ignored.

Being the “life of the party” soon was redefined as Rodney revealing himself as a raging alcoholic and drug addict, forcing Chanda to go for rides with him while he drove under the influence, threatening worse if she tried to take matters into her own hands and steer the wheel. Being “the man of the house” devolved into Rodney locking doors and barring windows, essentially imprisoning Chanda in their apartment. Being “devoted” and “protective of his wife”, meant that Rodney was checking Chanda’s texts, keeping tabs on her every move, constantly calling, and any attempts at liberty were met with punches to the face.

At a certain point, and already years deep into the traumatic turmoil, Chanda’s very life depended on standing up for herself and for her children against her husband, the perpetrator.

Considering that every day in the United States, 3 women are murdered by a male partner (be they current or former), her nightmarish fears weren’t far from coming true.

Dialing 1-866-723-3014, the Philadelphia Domestic Violence Hotline operated by Women Against Abuse in partnership with Congreso de Latinos Unidos, Lutheran Settlement House, and Women in Transition was one of the first steps to freedom, but Chanda recognizes that she should have “focused and paid more attention” earlier on to the signs.

With statistics like “1 in every 4 women” and “1 in every 7 men” in the United States are in relationships where intimate partner abuse occurs, how realistic is it- really -to even attempt to squelch this nationwide epidemic? How and where would you even begin to stop something deeply entrenched in our society, though widely looked-over, undermined, and somehow, deemed justifiable? In order words, how does prevention play out in the real world?

Education is a good place to start.

The Face of an Abuser: Ambiguous, but not Inconceivable

Jeannine L. Lisitski, the Executive Director & President of Women Against Abuse, echoes concern over Chanda’s regret that she should have “picked up” on the mistreatment sooner, citing the organization’s involvement with creating policy and programs that seek to prevent domestic violence and to dismantle the system:

“We’re working and collaborating with the City’s government officials, other nonprofits, agencies, community providers, hospitals, and schools, to provide a cohesive and coordinated plan for Philadelphia to respond to relational violence. The response needs to come earlier, we need to intervene earlier. Relational violence is at the root of so much of the violence that we see on our streets and in our world today.”

And though Women Against Abuse is one of the groups that operates the Philadelphia Domestic Violence Hotline, Jeannine notes that most people call only when they are leaving or thinking of leaving their abusive partners, or in other words, when things have already gotten out of hand.

Victims stay with their perpetrators for a variety of reasons, but this dependence and power dynamic can be avoided. The foundation for relational violence consists of coercive control, fear, and a perceived loss of freedom.

The trick is to catch the manipulation from a harmful partner before they erode self-esteem and impose crippling self-doubt. This is because mental and verbal abuse often precedes, and “sets the tone”, for physical violence.

Victimizers will say things like “Don’t go see your family and friends, those people don’t care about you” or “Your family and friends hate me, so they can’t be trusted” as a way to isolate their significant others from the people who could be the most perceptive of a relationship gone toxic, explains Jeannine. Other online literature and psychological studies have confirmed that abusers have a need to feign perfection and are hypersensitive and paranoid of those who may call them out for who they truly are. They also need to assert themselves as the sole provider and caretaker of their partner (and, by extension, their children), and isolation limits the options that a partner has to escape or to seek security elsewhere.

It is important to note that harmful partners can be of any gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, race, educational level, class, or ethnicity. Nevertheless, statistics indicate that most perpetrators are men.Though it may seem counterintuitive, abusers will solidify the isolation and the extent of their deception by putting their partner on a “rollercoaster” of emotions, forcing that partner to “walk on eggshells”, and eventually making their partner not conscious of their own individual worth as a human being. It’s difficult to understand how someone could allow themselves to, essentially, be bullied by their spouse or their boyfriend, but Jeannine provides an example on how gaslighting techniques drive the process:

“So, a person can be preparing their medications that morning and put them in a weekly pill container, and then, say, they leave it for a second to use the restroom or to drink their coffee. But, when they come back to get it, they don’t see it where they left it, and they ask their partner if they have. Their partner will then say something like You’re so unorganized! You obviously didn’t prepare it! This is what happens in every aspect [of the relationship], and that’s why we’re in shambles!’ The catch is that the partner is the one who hid the pills, but the victim starts to think that it’s actually them, and it’s their fault. Pretty soon, as the gaslighting continues, they feel like they can’t control their own thoughts, memories, or behaviors.”

Other characteristics or common behaviors of abusers include:

  • Having erratic mood swings that force the victim to succumb into fear, and to constantly find ways to please their partner and meet their expectations (in order to avoid a barrage of slaps or insults).

  • Blaming their partners for their unhappiness.

  • Sulking and withdrawing for days (giving “the cold shoulder”), again, making the victim desperate to satisfy their partners.

  • Disregarding or not acknowledging the issues they have to work on.

  • Narcissism and unstable personalities.

  • Critical and judgemental.

  • Immature and poor communication skills.

  • Explosive tempers.

  • Traditional and conservative (i.e. on gender roles, on what it means to be a husband or what it means to be a wife, on disciplining children).

  • Using technology to inflict abuse.

  • Mistreating property.

  • Threats.

  • A family history of abuse.

Chanda, currently working as an advocate for Women Against Abuse and writing a book called Broken, but not Destroyed: A Woman Destined to be Free, also mentions that abusers are “hot and cold”, and when the times comes for them to be immensely repentant and to try to jump-start a honeymoon phase, they will likely say what you “want to hear” when they try to come back:

“Rodney used to promise to get clean and sober. He used to say things like, ‘I promise I’m never going to do it again’. Yeah right. There’s always another time. It’s never a one-time incident. If you let them back in, it’s just giving them more power, and it’s letting them drain you. The grand gestures and the promises will keep you hooked and hopeful, but pretty soon, the name-calling will start, the mean jokes will come, and their voice will be raised.”

The abuser’s uncanny ability to manipulate their partners in order to trap them into sexual, financial, or mental sabotage, often while simultaneously drowning them in deception and loneliness, is where successful coercive control can lead to physical attacks in the privacy and comfort of their home.

This is why Women Against Abuse suggests that wives and partners who co-habitate put away social security cards, keep copies of birth certificates and health records, and set aside an emergency bag at a relative or neighbor’s house.

Chanda had a special knock on the wall that separated her from her neighbor, Marie, who would know when to call 911 depending on the pattern of the taps.

Bottom Line: Love Shouldn’t Hurt

Chanda is grateful for organizations like Women Against Abuse, and is even more appreciative of the women who helped her overcome what she went through with Rodney. Marie, the aforementioned neighbor who had always kept an eye out for Chanda, was only one of them. During and after a surgery that Chanda needed, the female doctor that was attending Chanda was apprehensive to release her to her husband (who had shown up belligerent to the hospital, demanding to see his wife), and even kept Chanda for longer than necessary in the safety of her medical care and attention. And, when Chanda was able to get connected through Women Against Abuse to a halfway house and shelter after she left Rodney and got a subsequent restraining order, her daughter took a year off from college to help her mom as she was getting back on her feet.

Now, Chanda has taken her pain and transformed it into purpose.

“I love it when I can help somebody else. I want to be the voice to help another woman heal. There is hope. There is life after abuse, you just have to be strong, strong enough to reach out and follow through with a plan. I live my life for purpose: to go on, to live, and to let other women know their worth and that they don’t deserve to be abused.”

The following map is of domestic violence help centers in Philadelphia. If you feel any sort of fear for yourself or your children, please call 1-866-723-3014.

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