Over the years, I have had many women contact me seeking help out of violent and abusive relationships. I am by no means a professional counselor or trained in how to counsel abuse victims, but I do what I can to help them find resources in their local area to assist in preparing their exit plan or to find shelter. Recently, a friend became involved with a man who has a long, documented history of domestic violence and abuse. When I voiced my concerns about this man, she shared it with him and like all abusers do, he began grooming her to become his next victim. After three decades of friendship, the abuser has won, and the friend has now joined him in his harassment and stalking of me and my friends, as well as filing false police reports. It is sad for me to watch as this friend is pulled further into his web, but there is nothing I can do to stop it. But what I can do is provide information to others who may be in abusive relationships or know someone that is and encourage them to get out while they still can.
According to statistics from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, every nine seconds, a woman in America is assaulted or beaten. A mind-boggling one in three women (and one in four men) has been a victim of physical brutality by an intimate partner. It starts with grooming. Grooming is a tactic of overcoming the survivor’s defenses by slowly desensitizing his or her natural reaction to abusive behaviors.
Grooming works by mixing positive behaviors with elements of abuse. At the beginning, all behaviors are positive. Slowly, abusive elements are added in amounts that surprise the survivor to an extent, but do not push alarm to a high level. Overtime, the inappropriate comes to feel normal.
Abusers are master manipulators. A broad definition of manipulation is anyway of trying to get something other than asking directly. The manipulator compliments someone, then asks for something. Telling their partner that certain things turn them off but they don’t want to be a dick about it. Perhaps they dislike the way their hair looks or don’t like that they tan. Subtle comments are made but the intention is to manipulate them into changing their appearance to suit the batterer.
The manipulator calls the target selfish. [ Most targets have as a self-image of selflessness, which is an unobtainable idea, so they are very vulnerable to this word, even if there already exists a huge imbalance in the relationship in the manipulator’s favor.]
The manipulator wears the target down in steps. [First an agreement is negotiated which is suitable to both parties. In this process it has become clear there is something the target won’t agree to. A short time later, the manipulating party contacts the target with a ‘problem’ and asks for a change in the agreement to accommodate the difficulty. Because the target wants to be reasonable, and because good people always have a desire to keep agreements and plans working, and the change seems small, the target agrees. A short time later there is another difficulty reported to the target, and another step is allowed. Eventually, the target ends up agreeing to what they would not have agreed to all at once. Perhaps the manipulator never intended to fulfill the original agreement but wanted to make the target feel committed and let down their guard.]
Batterers alienate their partner from friends and family. They will even harass these people. Batterers also try to isolate their victims, leaving them without help or support. .
Harassment is 1) a pattern of unwanted contact that robs the survivor of privacy, and the ability to relax and feel safe, or 2) a pattern of interfering in the survivors relationships with others.
Before an abuser starts physically assaulting his victim, he typically demonstrates his abusive tactics through certain behaviors. The following are five major warning signs and some common examples:
Abusers can be very charming. In the beginning, they may seem to be Prince Charming or a Knight in Shining Armor. He can be very engaging, thoughtful, considerate and charismatic. He may use that charm to gain very personal information about her. He will use that information later to his advantage.
For example; he will ask if she has ever been abused by anyone. If she says, “yes”, he will act outraged that anyone could treat a woman that way. Then when he becomes abusive, he will tell her no one will believe her because she said that before and it must be her fault or two people would not have hit her.
Another example; he may find out she experimented with drugs in her past. He will then threaten that if she tells anyone about the abuse he will report her as a drug abuser and she will lose her children. The threat to take away her children is one of the most common threats abusers use to maintain power and control over their victims.
Abusers isolate their victims geographically and socially. Geographic isolation includes moving the victim from her friends, family and support system (often hundreds of miles); moving frequently in the same area and/or relocating to a rural area.
Social isolation usually begins with wanting the woman to spend time with him and not her family, friends or co-workers. He will then slowly isolate her from any person who is a support to her. He dictates whom she can talk to; he tells her she cannot have contact with her friends or family.
Jealousy is a tool abusers use to control the victim. He constantly accuses her of having affairs. If she goes to the grocery store, he accuses her of having an affair with the grocery clerk. If she goes to the bank, he accuses her of having an affair with the bank teller. Abusers routinely call their victims whores or sluts.
The goal of emotional abuse is to destroy the victim’s self-esteem. He blames her for his violence, puts her down, calls her names and makes threats against her. Over time, she no longer believes she deserves to be treated with respect and she blames herself for his violence. For some survivors of domestic violence, the emotional abuse may be more difficult to heal from than the physical abuse.
Abusers are very controlled and very controlling people. In time, the abuser will control every aspect of the victim’s life: where she goes, how she wears her hair, what clothes she wears, whom she talks to. He will control the money and access to money. Abusers are also very controlled people. While they appear to go into a rage or be out of control we know they are very much in control of their behavior.
The following are the reasons we know his behaviors are not about anger and rage:
- He does not batter other individuals – the boss who does not give him time off or the gas station attendant that spills gas down the side of his car. He waits until there are no witnesses and abuses the person he says he loves.
- If you ask an abused woman, “can he stop when the phone rings or the police come to the door?” She will say “yes”. Most often when the police show up, he is looking calm, cool and collected and she is the one who may look hysterical. If he were truly “out of control” he would not be able to stop himself when it is to his advantage to do so.
- The abuser very often escalates from pushing and shoving to hitting in places where the bruises and marks will not show. If he were “out of control” or “in a rage” he would not be able to direct or limit where his kicks or punches land.