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SOME COMMON THREADS RUN THROUGH DOMESTIC ABUSE

Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love, get married and live happily ever after. This is the fairy tale most females buy into while vaguely trying to outline their future. The reality is that some of these relationships will turn abusive. The reality is that some of these relationships will wind up with one, or both, dead.

Families and friends will grieve, news reports will give brief details of the tragedy and there will be a permanent empty place at the table. Time passes as days and weeks fade into months and years. If the tragedy is talked about at all, it is in whispers.

Folks who hear about a domestic dispute ending in death will shake their heads in disbelief before moving on to the next newsworthy item. Just to the south of Hernando County, a man killed his estranged wife, her friend and his two young children before taking his own life Dec. 14. What a terrible, terrible holiday season the families of their loved ones endured.

How could a person who professes to love someone so much kill that person? What did the victims do, or not do, to bring about their own deaths? The answer to this last question is nothing. For years, victims of domestic violence were studied ad nauseam until it became apparent it was the abuser who should be looked at more closely.

A pattern of abusers

Several years ago, a group of people in Duluth, Minn., working with victims of domestic violence began to truly listen to what was being said regarding a person's experience with domestic violence. While the details for each person were unique, it soon became apparent that there also was a similarity among the stories being recited. Common themes like intimidation, manipulation, threats (known as emotional and psychological abuse) are evident before the pushing, shoving, slapping, punching (physical abuse) emerges. Based on what they were told, these people in Minnesota were able to formulate what eventually became known as the "Power and Control Model.'' It is a theoretical concept that abuse happens because an individual is attempting to control another. The abusive person will exert whatever power is necessary to control the other. The standard and acceptable definition for domestic violence is that "domestic violence is any attempt to impose your will on an intimate partner ... it could be boyfriend to girlfriend, husband to wife/wife to husband, parent to child, adult child to elderly parent, or even among siblings." There has to be a familial relationship for the abuse to be considered domestic violence.

The abusive person rarely exhibits this behavior outside of the family unit. Friends and co-workers may say things like, "I can't believe it ... he was always so nice and so helpful and they seemed like such a great family. Something must have happened to make him 'snap.' '' What people do not understand is that violence in the home is one of the best-kept secrets in our country.

Recognizing signs

While working with abusive men in a counseling agency in upstate New York a few years ago, I had the opportunity to create a program for the partners/ex-partners of these men. All of the women were court-mandated into the program I facilitated after they became involved with child protective services because they had been abused. The system had decided that "good" mothers don't allow themselves to be beaten. Most of the women in the program had had their children removed from the home and put into foster care. The women attended the class as a prerequisite to regaining custody of their children.

Within the context of sharing information about violence I asked one group several years ago to help construct some identifiable behaviors of an abusive person. The group participants and I worked hard on coming up with some common beliefs their partners shared. At the end of the session we had constructed a brief outline of beliefs that is at the core of an abuser's belief system.

What this group came up with is basically that if a controlling person has racist, sexist, or homophobic beliefs, is judgmental and critical or others who are different, then that person is likely to be abusive. As one lady stated, "If a person can have those beliefs about others, there probably will come a point when that person is judgmental and critical of me." The judgmental and critical words a person uses may be subtle and we have to listen very carefully.

Throughout the years when I went over this brief list with a person who had been abused, the person would invariably nod in agreement and say, "Yes, that sounds just like my partner. How did you know?"

There is help for anyone not familiar with the belief system of an abuser who finds herself involved with an abusive person. Anyone in need of information or services in Florida can call 1-800-500-1119 and this toll-free number will ring into the closest domestic violence agency, from the Panhandle to Miami.

For anyone not involved in an abusive situation at this time I encourage you to think carefully about the belief system of a potential partner and decide if you want to gamble with becoming another statistic. Or do you want to use what you know now?

If I knew then what I know now, I would have made different choices.

Mary Ann Peavler, BA, MS, is certified as an advanced level domestic violence advocate, and has more than two decades of experience and expertise in addressing the issue. She lives in Spring Hill and can be reached at mpeavler@tampabay.rr.com. Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.

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