Why didn’t she just leave?

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

 

Picture a sere summer night in Phoenix, Arizona, circa 1982.1

I lay on a crinkly table in a cluttered ER, joking with the doc, bribing him with a promise of homemade shortbread if he could fix my face without leaving scars, looking anywhere but in his eyes, and I noticed a police officer nearby.

When I was all stitched and tidied up, I went to the cop and heard a quavering voice tell him that I wanted to press charges against my husband for assault.

The cop looked across the waiting room at him, sitting with his face buried behind his bloodied hands, his tiny mother, herself a victim, standing next to his chair, her arm around him while she stroked his head and kissed his fevered brow.

The cop looked back at me and said, “You don’t want to do that. You’ll just make him angry all over again, and it’ll be worse the next time.”

I did eventually leave my husband, taking my battered self and VW bus and just enough money for gas from Phoenix back to LA, where I lived in a friend’s basement until I recovered.

Flash forward a decade or so, to a visit to the east coast.

On the graceful terrace of a lovely home, a cocktail party was reaching into the night with storytelling. I was puttering in the kitchen, fixing myself a drink, when someone’s words wafted through the window, and they sounded something like this:

“Yeah, he beat the hell out of her. We couldn’t figure out why she didn’t just leave him.”

Forsaking my Southern social graces, I stormed outside and lambasted the speaker—in front of everyone—for telling a story that was not hers to tell, for telling it with such a damnably ignorant conclusion. Unseemly of me, I know, and she responded with her own tantrum, stormed off, and didn’t speak to me for some time.

But the question lingered in the summer breeze, flirting with the fireflies—why didn’t I just leave him? It took me years to be able to answer it, and now I know why.

Because I did, because I did leave him. And I stood at the payphone at the corner of our block in the winter night, shivering in the t-shirt I had on when he picked me up from the bed and threw me to the sidewalk outside our front door, and I discovered that the police wouldn’t do anything because I wasn’t injured (that time) and I could always stay at a motel or with friends.

But I had no money and I had no friends—because he didn’t want me to have them.

Why didn’t I leave him?

Because I did. And I was wooed back into the relationship with the promise that he had been in counseling for six months and was no longer a batterer and would live only for my forgiveness.

Why didn’t I leave him?

Because I did. And, with battered psyche in tow, I was shamed back to him with the blame for making him beat me, for ruining his life, for getting blood on his mother’s car upholstery.

Why didn’t I leave him?

Because I did, I finally did. I left him when a skinny, exhausted mama in the ER, with a passel of runny-nosed kids, that woman who just wouldn’t stop staring at me as I talked to the cop, when she came over and said, “I know what’s going on. You don’t deserve it. Come home with me. You can sleep on the sofa. …”

Instead of telling a woman in possession of nothing but a t-shirt to spend the night in a motel and call back when she’s really in trouble; instead of joking with a patient about injuries consistent with assault; instead of telling the complainant to be silent or she’ll make it worse the next time; instead of looking the other way; instead of blaming the victim; instead of accepting women’s excuses for black eyes and split lips, their lies about walking into doorways or tripping on coffee tables, their pleas that they must stay for the children; instead of all that, do this —

Say: Did somebody hurt you? You don’t deserve to be hit or kicked or strangled or thrown or belittled or terrorized. It is not your fault. It’s a crime. If somebody hurt you, let me help you. There are safe places to go and people who understand. Please let me help you.

Love,
K-B

For more information:

If you are a victim of violence, visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline website or call 800-799-SAFE (7233).

Same-sex relationship violence counseling in San Diego

If you want to help, visit your local domestic violence prevention agency or Futures Without Violence.

Presidential Proclamation – National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, 2012

Intimate partner violence (IPV) statistics from the American Psychological Association

• More than one in three women and one in four men in the United States have experienced, rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
• On average, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends every day.
• One in five female high school students reports being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner.
• IPV is the leading cause of female homicides and injury-related deaths during pregnancy?

 


1 In 1982, there were few shelters for victims of intimate partner violence (IPV) and little training for police. Today, there are significantly more resources, but still many police officers—and family and friends of victims and abusers—fail to treat IPV as the crime it is, and still it is excruciatingly difficult to leave an abusive relationship.

Crossposted at Ms. Magazine BlogSan Diego Gay & Lesbian News and San Diego Free Press.

Comments (9)

MillieOctober 7th, 2012 at 6:54 am

In 1974, in another country, my friends laughed when I said he dislocated my wrist by twisting it behind my back. it had to be put in a cast. They asked if I’d fallen down the stairs or crashed the car. Because he was an intern in the local hospital it was impossible that he would have beaten me, doctors wouldn’t do that. When I spoke the the authorities I was told he would spend the rest of the night in jail and be angrier when he was released in the morning and it wasn’t worth pursuing. I knew if the results were this bad the first time, it would only get worse with subsequent beatings. I didn’t give him the chance, the divorce papers were ready in the afternnon. I made sure to always avoid him until we were scheduled to appear before a judge, and even then I never went anywhere alone.

jessica schulmanOctober 7th, 2012 at 9:40 am

K-B. You’re amazing. Thank you for sharing this. With your permission, I’d like to circulate it to my peers…I’m studying to become an MFT and taking a domestic violence course.
All my love,
Jessica Schulman

kbgressittOctober 7th, 2012 at 9:42 am

Hi, Jessica. You will be a fabulous MFT — what a wonderful pursuit! Ys, please do share this. That’s my intent. I miss you!
Love,
K-B

CarolOctober 7th, 2012 at 11:12 am

K-B…you are an amazing trail blazer on so many levels and your ‘soul’ purpose is to create change and avenues to help others (and heal personally). Thank you for ‘be’ing so courageous…and thank you for broadening my vocabulary.
L, C

kbgressittOctober 7th, 2012 at 11:41 am

Thank you, my dear trailblazing cousin!
Love,
K-B

Marcella CarriOctober 8th, 2012 at 9:36 am

She didn’t leave because nice girls don’t get beaten up by their husbands. Nice girls try harder to please. Nice girls would never call the police. What would the neighbors think?
You would never tell your parents because you don’t want anyone to know that you have failed at the very first grown up decision you ever made.
But one night the neighbors did see and called the police. They came and told an 8th month pregnant woman with a 3-year-old crying little girl that if she didn’t have her husband arrested she must like it. Her name wasn’t on the checking account.
Later a priest would tell her even though the church didn’t believe in divorce, God did not create her to be a whipping boy. She left.

Patty CampbellOctober 8th, 2012 at 11:58 am

My strong mother used to say, “If he hits you once, that’s his fault. If he hits you twice, that’s your fault.” [For not leaving right after the first time] So I did. Thank you, Mom.

Patty Campbell

kbgressittOctober 8th, 2012 at 12:54 pm

Hi, Patty. Although I appreciate your outcome, I believe your mother’s message is unintentionally dangerous to the millions of women did not leave after the first time because they did not understand the dynamics of domestic violence. Would we blame the victim of any other crime for a second occurrence — for wanting to believe that it would never happen again?

KimOctober 9th, 2012 at 6:27 am

Thanks K-B. This is an important message. I urge everyone to post this on their FaceBook page.

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