Messages from the other side sometimes can be misinterpreted by mere mortals. In my book, Just Behind the Door, my mom is quoted as saying to me, once I decided to leave my husband, “You had the courage to do what I should have done. It is time to move on. Don’t think of it as a failure but just remember the lessons learned.” I had ASSUMED that when she said ‘courage’ she meant that she was afraid she could not support us on her own and decided to stay with my dad for 64 tumultuous years. She and my one sisters experienced ongoing physical abuse from him. Strangely, my other sister and I never experienced this abuse. When I became a teenager, I gained the strength to stand between dad and mom when his temper escalated, in an effort to stop him hurting her. Once I had to push her into my bedroom and move the bureau up against the door to keep him away from her. He ended up putting his fist through the door. Although I was too young to have a driver’s license, I drove the car to my sister’s house and called the police. I had seen the frequent abuse of my mother but a deeper “aha” on the topic hit me like a lightening bolt when I was reading a 3 page spread on domestic violence recently. THIS IS WHAT MY MOM WAS REFERRING TO WHEN SHE MENTIONED THE WORD COURAGE TO ME. It wasn’t about supporting us, it was about his threats to her and her children. She was deeply afraid and intimidated by him.
Although I had never been hurt by my dad or a spouse, after reading the article I started thinking about the topic in greater depth. When I looked at the 15 point danger assessment scale, developed by Dr. Jacquelyn C. Cambell, what my mother said, became so much clearer to me. I know that my dad exhibited at least 8 of the 15 indicators of violence that could have resulted in my mom’s death: ever increasing amount of violence, choking her, guns in the house, alcohol abuse, threatening to kill himself, insane jealously, controlling her activities, violence toward my sister. The statement that nearly made my blood run cold from the article was a statement that is frequently made, I understand, by someone who kills their spouse, “If I can’t have you, no one can.” My dad made this EXACT statement to me about my mom when, in my early 40’s I was, yet again, intervening in their latest episode. Sometimes we might think, just don’t upset him or argue with him. According to this article even that type of behavior can be a trigger since the abuser then thinks he is losing control of his partner. He may see this as a form of rejection. The article said that a score of 10 or more is concerning and to seek help. However, it went on to mentioned another landmark study that said women who had a score of 4 or higher were at great risk and added that the average score for women who were murdered from physical abuse was “just under 8.”
I have 6 family members who have experienced domestic abuse. One of these women, a wonderful niece was killed in November,1984 by her second husband of 6 months. This seems like a huge number (1 being too many for me) in one family. However, researching the topic further, I discovered that 3-4 MILLION women are abused every year and 1500-1600 are KILLED by their abuser. Many of these women left children who will forever remember the sounds, sights and feelings of terror that they experienced. Their fear and grief may last forever.
If you know anyone who may be in an abusive relationship please go to the website: wwwdangerassessment.org. The 15 question checklist can help battered women assess the possible risk of being killed. Please pass this blog on to any and all who might benefit from it. It is up to each of us to change the world – one person at a time – through our love.