Women who Sanction and Encourage Domestic Violence

In the past few years, we have opened our home to several different women (and their children) who have needed ‘refuge’ from their abusive partners. And I’m not talking about the ‘He said my butt looked big in this dress and hurt my feelings...’ kind of abuse. I’m talking about : punches in the face, knocking out teeth, hitting with a steel chair, breaking of bones, abuse of children, bruising, choking, threats to kill/maim/punish, smashing of furniture and property etc.The kind of abuse that has been ongoing for years. All of these women had little or no faith/confidence in the police and legal system to protect them. “He’ll kill me if I go to the police…” Some of them did not want to report their abusers because “I love him…I don’t want him to go to prison…He’s very sorry…He’s going to change…He’s the father of my children…etc” I have reported their abuse to the police and had these women conceal their bruises and deny everything when the police come knocking.

Of these women, only ONE went on to separate from and then divorce her husband, effectively ‘getting out’ of the abusive situation. She has gone on to make a ‘new’ life for herself and her child, having little or no contact with her former partner. The other women went back to their relationships.Are they living happily ever after? In spite of all their attempts to pretend otherwise – their partners are still violent and heavily influenced by alcohol and possible drug abuse. One of the women we have never heard from again and sometimes I wonder if she’s even still alive.

But this is not a post about how awful men can be to the women they “love.” Or how sick and twisted a problem like domestic violence is. How prevalent it is.  No. That would be beating a dead horse. This post is about the women who sanction, encourage and enable domestic violence and abuse. The mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, grandmothers of the abusers and their victims. Because let’s face it, the majority of these men have been raised primarily by WOMEN. Yes, they all go on to make their own choices in adulthood, but what are we doing and saying as mothers/sisters/in-laws/friends etc that adds fuel to that fire of violent stupidity that says “It’s okay for a man to hit his partner.”

Here’s some examples of comments I have heard uttered in complete seriousness when confronted with this issue. All of these made by women.

* “He’s like that because he doesn’t have a son yet. When she finally has a boy then her husband will settle down and treat her better.”
* “I’ve told her so many times that she needs to make sure his food is ready for him when he comes home. He gets angry because he’s worked hard all day and she doesn’t make his dinner.”
* “She nags him all the time. If she just learned how to keep her mouth shut then none of that stuff would happen.”
*”It’s her job. She spends too much time at work and the family suffers. He doesn’t like her job, that’s why he hits her.”
*”Every couple has problems. It’s none of our business how a man treats his wife. We can’t interfere in his family.”
*”My son was never like that before he married her. She makes him so mad.”
* “She’s too weak, that’s why he treats her like that. She doesn’t fight back and stand up for herself. I told him he should have married a stronger woman.”
* “Oh that bruise is nothing.That’s not abuse. I don’t know why you’re complaining. You should see what my husband does to me. And you don’t see me running to the police.”

So to all the mothers, sisters, in-laws, aunts and grandmothers out there – what are you doing and saying about domestic violence? What are you teaching the men in your circle of influence about how to treat the women they love? What messages are you giving to the girls/women in your circle of influence about how they should treat the men they love and how they should expect to be treated?

Domestic violence. It’s not a man problem. It’s everyone’s problem.

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20 comments

  1. Hi! Wow. I usually read your blog for fun.. but this one sent me straight into work mode. I've done lots of work in the arena of family violence…The average woman leaves 7 times before she leaves for good. When she leaves, thats when she and the kids are at highest risk of being hurt or even killed…. there's plenty of stats on that.I think women sanction or condone because they're not necessarily taught that it's not ok. Society – I've seen everything from media to church sermons present women as the "lesser" of the genders – it's hard to measure directly how that carries over, but I think some of the situations you present are good examples — but for those of us who are aware, and know that this is simply not acceptable, it can be a really frustrating situation (to say the least). It's a very complex situation, and I know of women who I never would've expected to be in that situation, and there they were. And I found myself wanting to do the same thing… to blame the victim. Without taking the trauma and everything that has gone on into consideration (always harder to do when it's someone you care about). All you can really do is show by example and encourage people to be safe. Because, to borrow a cheezy line, love shouldn't hurt. It just shouldn't.

  2. Having worked for women's refuge some years ago I know that it is so hard for a woman to get up the courage to leave – particularly if the one she loves, the one abusing her – has a position of power such as police, lawyer, doctor, gang member etc. Even women who haven't had their options taken from them by the abuser (jobs, family to support them, friends, ability to take their children with them etc) struggle to break free. To finally see through the broken promises and the hope that things will get better to leave and to have other women telling they are wrong for choosing to leave is heartbreaking. They don't see the impact it has of the children caught up in it – the fears, insecurities, injuries – and how it changes their lives from one of hope to not seeing a positive future. To blame the victims simply perpetuates the damage that as a community we all feel and show how really, in some areas, we have not progressed much out of the medieval times.

  3. Great post, Lani. It makes me so glad the man I married has never raised a hand to me, and never would. He goes and plays video games or does work around the house to blow off steam, and I'll take that any day…

  4. totally agreed with you lani its goes both way. Man who abused women, don't have respect for their mother. Women for not having the courage to stand up for what's right. & the family for not having a good support system.

  5. Well put! It's definitely everyone's problem because domestic violence is not just limited to spousal abuse. It often extends to child abuse and eventually leads to violent crime in the wider population. Unfortunately, a Culture of Violence pervades in some societies,so that the violence becomes 'normal' and non-violence is the 'exception'. This muddies the perception of the victims and those around them. Anyway, I truly look forward to the day when non-violence is considered normal in every culture, especially the Samoan one.

  6. I witnessed this personally when I was in a relationship years ago. The man I was with was an extremely handsome, talented, charismatic afakasi that everyone who met him fell head-over-heels for. At first I thought he was perfect for me, until the abuse started. Verbal, physical, emotional abuse combined with being totally controlled and continually manipulated. Not to mention he was unfaithful as well. Empty promises filled with false hope. And the saddest part, was that his entire family knew of his behavior, but were too busy "kissing the ground he walked on" to see him for the monster he really was. He had been so spoiled and coddled growing up that he had this ingrained sense of 'entitlement', that he believed since he was 'better than everyone else' that he should always get his way. Even if getting his way involved crushing my spirit and taking a hit to the jaw. Oh yes, his family all knew, but because they were so enamored with him they preferred to make excuses for his behavior instead of correcting it. Anyone who blames the victim of abuse is sadly mislead into believing it is somehow the victim's fault. Trust me, I know from experience that it is not. An abuser knows how to manipulate the victim, how to really 'sink their claws' into their heart and mind, and how to convince them that it's the victim's fault that they are treating them this way and that way. I lived in constant fear of 'not being perfect' in every way, because I knew that if he didn't like even one thing, that I would pay. I was trapped, scared for my life, for almost five years. I spent the last two years of that relationship trying to find any way possible to leave. I had to move, change jobs, get a new cell phone (which I had to hide from him knowing about) and try to put the broken pieces of my life together again.When family members of the abuser sanction and encourage the destructive behaviors, they too take part in the powerful manipulation that controls the victim. I heard so many excuses for him, and always followed by false hope to continue to string me along. "Oh, your kids will be so beautiful. We are all waiting for you two to have some kids already." And so on, and so forth.By God's grace, I was finally able to leave. And thankfully, after several years of soul-searching and healing, God has blessed me with a loving man (my husband) and we are expecting our third child. In my marriage I never have to worry about being abused or manipulated. After what I endured in my past relationship, I now have absolutely NO tolerance for any mistreatment. If (God forbid!!) that day ever were to come when abuse were to become part of my marriage, my kids and I would be out the door in a heartbeat. "Once bitten, twice shy." I will never go through it again. And I will ensure that my kids will never go through it either.My heart goes out to anyone who has been, or still is a victim. There is a way out, you just have to trust God enough to bring you out of that darkness. Because that kind of life is not part of His plan for anyone. I am forever thankful for everyone who stood by my side and was bold enough to reach out to me when I was too ashamed to let anyone know I was being abused. Every little effort put forth had helped to release me from his clutches.The day when there will be no more abusers, victims, or ENABLERS will be a truly wonderful day!

  7. I know all too well what you are saying. I had to put up with this sort of nonsense for a year and a half. He never put his hands on me but he was verbally and mentally abusive. He would scream and curse at me with the slightest provocation. Any little thing and it would be "shut the fuck up bitch" at the top of his lungs so that the entire world could hear. He even screamed at me and cursed me out once in front of a church (imagine a 6'5" Samoan man screaming and cursing at the top of his lungs at his 5'7" girlfriend – you can imagine the shocked looks). The bottom line is this – when we first got together he charmed me and made me think he was different and when he knew he had me he showed me his true colors, by then it was too late. He had already proposed and asked me to move in with him and I was already head over heels (co-dependently) in love with him. He broke me down and made me feel worthless, like I couldn't live or survive without him. He blamed me for everything, it was my fault that he lost his temper. It was always my fault that he screamed at me and cursed me out, it was always my fault that he would break things and destroy the house. Everything was my fault. I kept thinking about what I did wrong and what I could change, and maybe if I did this he wouldn't get so mad, and I learned to change my tone of voice or the way I answered the phone when he called or the way I talked/acted around his friends/family and before I knew it I was walking on eggshells whenever I was around him and to be completely honest I was afraid of him. I had nightmares. I had nightmares of being abused, of having to defend myself against him and I can't begin to imagine being able to fend off a grown man who is 6'5" and weighs 230 pounds. Abuse always starts this way – with verbal or emotional/mental abusive and then increases to physical abuse. Men who abuse women don't stop until they end up killing their wives/girlfriends. That is what women don't understand until it's too late. I used to cry and wonder why it didn't work out, but looking back I thank God that it didn't work out.

  8. I don't have much to add that's of much worth except that I feel extremely blessed not to have experienced the kind of abuse and pain that you write about. Some of the comments above me are so heart wrenching and I cant begin to imagine the kind of inner strength these women have to survive their abusive relationships. I have nothing but respect for them. This is such a powerful post Lani and I'm so glad you shared it with us.

  9. Thank you for your post. Unfortunately I think we've all encountered this in our lives as women, if not personally then with family or friends. I see these attitudes fostered in our society and too often in our individual cultures. I worked in domestic violence court and TRO court and have witnessed the majority of accusers change their stories on the witness stand. The result is the abuser getting off and continuing to abuse. As a mother raising a young Samoan boy, I always say that , on top of other things, my goal is to raise a young man whose wife and mother-in-law will one day thank my husband and I for how we raised him. I feel that way toward my in-laws. I think one of the most important role models is a father and how he treats his wife. As women, how we allow men to treat us and how we raise our boys will shape the lives of future families. God bless these women who are in awful predicaments with strength and support to say 'no more' and to lead better lives.

  10. awesome awesome awesome. i've noticed that, too — men who are abusive have had that upbringing, and the majority of them get it from the woman that raised him. women very close to me who have abusive husbands also seem to have really cruel (and my i add, cracked!) mothers-in-law. i don't know how these women grew up thinking this way of life is ok, but it sickens me. but i just hate the thought of these women living in this situation and having sons who grow up thinking this is normal and daughters thinking that this is how they are supposed to be treated by their loved ones. it has to end somewhere.

  11. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience in this area Sita – yes its a departure from my usual blog writing! But recent events have really had my brain on hyperdrive with this topic and frustration levels spiralling high, particularly with the way the women in our extended family/friend circle have been addressing this issue. And yes, sometimes, cheezy is absolutely right – love shouldnt hurt.

  12. I appreciate getting your thoughts on this Sitamoia, particularly from the perspective of someone who has worked in a women's refuge. No, i dont think that we as a society have progressed very far at all when it comes to this issue.

  13. Thanks Paige – Im so grateful that my Dad always treated my mother with respect and Im really thankful that my husband and I dont have violence in our relationship. He grew up with it in his background though, so I know its possible for a man to 'break the cycle'. I respect him even more for being able to 'be different' from some of his peers and family.

  14. I agree, also want to point out that fathers as well as mothers play a huge role. Sons that grew up in a home where they see and know that their mothers are loved, honored, and respected by their fathers are more likely to treat their wives with the same.

  15. Thank you, beauty! My mother adored my husband until the day she died and always bragged about how wonderful her son-in-law was. I'd love my son's future mother-in-law to do the same for him one day! 🙂

  16. I have been in abusive relationships and also witnessed friends in abusive relationships. It comes down to our self worth and self esteem. I finally left him because I could no longer handle pretending that everything was okay. Tired of living in fear and constantly being on edge and worrying. I left my job and moved to a different city. I am such a proud person that i never told family or friends what was happening to me. I realised only I could help myself, but it took a long time to mentally and physically get the courage to leave. I had given him lots of chances to change. As I did not respect or love myself I accepted his treatment of me. I have reached out to friends in abusive relationships numerous times telling them they deserve better, but they choose to stay. I ask why and they all say "because I love him and he loves me". I say action speaks louder then words. Do not put a man as first priority in life. I use to judge others that stayed with violent men, now after having that experience, it has made me evaluate my own perception, terms and conditions of what love is.

  17. Very moving post Lani! I certainly agree – its not simply a male issue but everyone's. Thank you for shining a light on the women you've encountered who have said those horrific words in defence – it justgoes to show you – its not just men who can cause damage. J

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