Toni Smothers Approx. 2,460 words
Paisley, FL, 32767
Understanding the Battering Syndrome
“Stop! Please, no more,” she pleads, as she crawls away from him. Blood drips from her nostrils; a sickening reminder of his fist.
Her only thought is escape. She rolls under the table for protection. The table is lifted and smashed against the wall. His drunken, irrational anger lashes out. He kicks her hard - again and again, tearing into her ribs. She moans, partly from the immediate pain, but mostly from the shame his brutality evokes in her. Eventually she crumbles and is finally immune to the blows that follow.
Beaten and defeated – She wishes she were dead.
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The liberation of women has been a slow struggle and its influence on society is still relatively weak, with many merely giving lip service to it. The process of change is never rapid. We are a society in reluctant transition; mixed messages and archaic belief systems abound, leaving many in a confused sort of limbo. Is it any wonder that spousal abuse, behind closed doors, remains an adhesive custom of right?
Understanding the victimization of the battered woman is essential to change. The batterer physically and psychologically abuses her and then society further contributes to her shame by condemning her for not ending her abuse. The battered woman is deeply affected by this attitude of blame, which serves to compound her feelings of helplessness and self-loathing; emotions that contribute to her inaction.
The notion that the battered woman provokes her batterer beyond his tolerance is ingrained in her thinking as well. This self-accusation fuels the problem by robbing the man of responsibility for his actions. This myth has become internalized, nevertheless, and she assumes the guilt for her batterer’s behavior.
It is still commonly assumed that batterers and their victims are mostly undereducated, frustrated people living under deprived conditions. Contrary findings were reported in Professor Lenore Walker’s book entitled, The Battered Woman, where she states that physicians, service professionals and police all had a very high incidence of wife beating. As a group, batterers are indistinguishable from any other group of men in terms of capability, income or education – As are the battered women.
Studies on violence report that a physical assault occurs in close to one of every three marriages. A statistic like that certainly confirms a grossly underestimated problem. Real attitude adjustments and major investigation into tangible solutions seems urgent.
Laws and programs have been developed to enable the victim of abuse to escape her situation. Since options are now available, we naturally expect that the battered woman will automatically embrace these relatively unproven supports. We unwittingly discount her terror by expecting her to risk everything because society has finally taken some interest in her welfare. But we forget that the battered woman’s ability to trust has already been shattered. The man she chose to love, her own physical inferiority and quite likely her family history, all contribute to a weakened ability to trust effective intervention by strangers. Especially when those strangers expect her to accept their “quick fix” or be judged a fool for the paralysis she experiences while continuing in her abusive relationship. Such assumptions are disrespectful and demeaning. When we minimize her dilemma by claiming it to be a simple matter of free choice, we do not comprehend the battering syndrome.
The battering of women goes back to Biblical times. Wife beating was accepted as a husband’s right by the English and American courts even into the early nineteenth century. These attitudes seem to have tenacious roots. Gender stereotyping refuses to be banished entirely. Society’s underlying message that a woman belongs to a man destroys a woman’s self-esteem. Believing herself to be powerless against her man and her situation, she is immobilized.
Additionally, some batterers threaten harm to the woman’s family or friends. She holds no doubt that her batterer’s retaliation could include severe danger to her loved ones.
The women interviewed in Professor Walker’s study described their batterers and themselves as having dual personalities. They deceive friends and associates into believing that they live normal lives, while their actions within the home are out of control. Besides the physical brutality, the battered woman must endure possessiveness, jealousy and intrusiveness. Generally, she must account for all her time and despite his constant surveillance, the batterer is still suspicious of any relationship his wife has with other people.
The question remains, “How do women tolerate this lifestyle”? In Del Martin’s book entitled, Battered Wives, her findings concurred with most other current research: The battered woman remains in her abusive relationship due to the inter-relatedness of complex psychological and sociological factors.
If we can get her to risk taking a chance on a safe shelter, the duration of her stay and the financial support available is too limited. Long-term assistance is not as yet available. Fear of inadequacy and financial dependency will not be defeated without viable, extended alternatives. It seems obviously unreasonable to assume that the battered woman could change her failure expectancy without considerable counseling. Then we have the marriage counselors who still tend to encourage keeping the family together at any cost. And, incredibly, the batterer and the battered woman fear that they can not survive by themselves. All these factors perpetuate a continuance of their peculiar relationship and the only comfort to be found for them is in its familiarity.
Professor Walker refers to these kinds of feelings as “learned helplessness”. This theory is explained in three parts: Thinking about what will happen, expectations about what will happen and behavior toward what actually does happen. The problem lies in expectations and reactions; she sees them as totally independent of each other. This is where the motivational disturbance begins. The question is not whether the woman has control over the outcome. She believes that she does not have control, so she gives up any attempt to change the situation, believing it to be hopeless. Walker uses the example of the patient who loses the “will to live” and dies when he could have lived.
There are very specific stages of the battering relationship: First the tension builds, then the batterer explodes, and after he has vented his frustrations, there is a calm period; until the cycle repeats itself. The battered woman is adept at keeping the first phase of the cycle at a fairly constant level, avoiding the actual battering incident for a time. As she tiptoes over eggshells, the tension inevitably accelerates until even her submissive behavior can no longer maintain the equilibrium. Once the tension becomes unbearable, the acute battering incident will occur once again.
When the actual attack is over, the woman feels shock and denial. She finds ways of rationalizing away her batterer’s hostile intent. She minimizes her injuries, convincing herself that they could have been much worse. She hesitates to seek help immediately following the beating unless she is severely injured. By not telling anyone about her beating, she can pretend that it wasn’t really too bad. Besides, the battered woman knows that officers dislike playing mediator in domestic dispute calls. Many police respond with reluctance and often fail to take appropriate action against the batterer. This hesitant attitude only promotes the abuse cycle, subtly affirming to the assailant that his actions are not viewed as legally serious.
In Kansas City, a study on police effectiveness found that over 80% of all women murdered by their spouse had called police one to five times prior to being killed! Is it so difficult to understand why a woman might believe that no one, including the police, could protect her from her man’s fury?
Once the actual battering incident is over, the batterer’s loving and contrite behavior begins, which only serves to sabotage the woman’s emotions even further. Fearing that he has gone too far, the batterer becomes apologetic and he tries to make it up to her by acting charming and repentant. He begs her to forgive him, swearing that he will never do it again. Somehow, he manages to convince her that this time he positively means it. For example, if alcohol is a problem, he will swear off drinking to demonstrate his sincerity.
The batterer works on her guilt by telling her that he really does love her and that she must save their marriage by forgiving him. In addition, the battered woman wants to believe that she will never have to take another beating. Her batterer’s newfound reasonableness helps her to believe that he will change his ways and that the loving, contrite behavior will become permanent.
It is at this point that the outside sources of help are trying to persuade her to leave the relationship. But this is precisely the time when her relationship with her batterer is at its very best. She believes that he needs her and will usually drop charges or back down on separation. As Walker so perfectly put it, “she becomes an accomplice to her own battering”.
Inevitably, the calm romantic behavior is replaced with building tension and a new cycle of battering behavior begins. Her self-image is further damaged as she faces the awareness that she has traded her will being for a brief period of contrite affection from her batterer. Once again, she sees herself as a failure and her feelings of helplessness are reinforced.
The final atrocity is the fact that this syndrome is passed down from generation to generation. The children who are forced to watch their mothers being beaten suffer great psychological scars. Additional relationships are later created where violence against other family members is the norm. Children who are taught that it is reasonable to love and hurt someone at the same time carry these values into their adult lives. Unfortunately, this violent lifestyle is continued rather predictably.
It’s obvious that the battered woman suffers from far more than beatings. Our accusations and blame are inappropriate. We have to search for effective measures of assistance to ensure the destruction of a tragically, heretofore, unending cycle. The injustice of continued wife abuse must be terminated.
Shelters offer the battered woman a supportive environment free from abuse. The time a woman and her children are permitted to remain in their sanctuary should be lengthened to more realistically deal with the woman’s fear of the unknown and readjustment to a new, independent lifestyle. Hopefully, as we progress in our understanding of the battering syndrome, the council found within these shelters will become even more patient and effective.
Rainbow Retreat, in Phoenix, Arizona, was the first shelter to open its doors to abused women and their children in 1973. Since that time, many communities and virtually all major cities have followed with shelters and hot lines to assist these women. Shelters assure the rights of women to be physically protected by the society in which they live. Though shelters do not solve the problem of battering, they have become a constant reminder to the public of the need for change in attitude toward the victims of wife beating.
More specialized training of our police is essential in handling domestic violence and the needs of the battered woman. They must take the same legal action they would if the assailants and victims were not man and wife. If no arrest is made, officers should provide victims with information about available shelters and arrange transportation to protect the woman and her children. Since domestic assaults are more likely than other assaults to recur, these incidents should be recorded and kept readily available as a reference to alert officers to an abuser’s history of violent behavior. Police can no longer substitute mediation for law enforcement, even if that means arresting the batterer without the frightened victim’s initiation or consent.
Abuse victims should be treated no differently than victims of other crimes. Responsibility for criminal acts belongs to those who commit them. The prosecutors must begin to give battered women the same protection and high priority given other victims of violent crime, basing their decisions only on the merits of the cases. Again, more thorough training about the causes and criminal nature of spouse abuse and about steps to be taken for enforcing statutes that prohibit such conduct is needed, along with intensive counseling for the batterer once he is incarcerated. Prosecutors should not dismiss legitimate cases for any reason.
As an educational priority, all law enforcement personnel must have a perfectly clear understanding of the appropriate sanctions for violating civil protection orders and criminal laws pertaining to spouse abuse. Protective orders need to be obtained more expediently. Judges must decide between civil and criminal remedies on an individual case basis in accordance with the seriousness of the offense. Our states can pass precise legislation providing protective orders for abuse victims with effective means for enforcement. These measures will make it vividly clear to abusers that the courts and society in general will no longer tolerate the unquestionable crime of domestic violence in this country.
When consequences are strictly implemented by law enforcement, restraint is more likely to develop in the batterer. Respect for the abused woman’s fear and understanding what a giant leap of faith it will take for her to actively change her situation, may eventually bolster her confidence. We must enable the abused women to begin to trust again. If judgmental condemnation can be abolished and exchanged with insightful compassion, we will finally approach the sorely overdue elimination of this archaic and barbaric syndrome.