Most of us don’t really understand what it’s like to live with an abuser. So many times, I see the attitude of ‘what you allow will continue’ paraded before these people, which is simply another form of victim blaming. And it’s wrong, because a life of abuse is far more complicated than that. We often think of abuse or violence as a simple act of physical aggression, but in truth, physical battery is only a small part of the overall cycle of abuse.
The Crux of Power
Abuse is about power, which can be attained in non-physical ways. There’s an excellent graphic that describes the cyclical build-up and ultimate display of that power here. Especially concerning abusers with Cluster B mental disorders, the non-physical abuse is the preferable order most of the time. Physical violence is a spice they add, according to whim and personal preference.
How can I speak about it so calmly when it’s such a monstrous act? Because I knew someone who was an abuser with a mental disorder of this class. Their partner and victim was my best friend. For many years, I did not understand why she stayed with him. I took the same attitude many do in this case–I tried to talk to her, offer her solutions, give her other options. None of it worked. But it was not because she didn’t want to leave. She couldn’t.
You see, she had this idea that she should be allowed to live a normal life, complete with her possessions, her finances, and her sense of personal dignity. However, the first thing everyone should understand about an abusive relationship is that self-determination represents power. Abusers work subtly and gradually, co-opting any and all power for themselves by a number of methods.
This includes finances, social activities, and even outlets for relief usually available to us. They isolate their partners in every sense to ensure total control. The process can take years, and by the time the victim realizes what has happened, it’s too late to do anything about it. If they want to escape, they must abandon everything meaningful to them. In some cases, they’re able to get away with a few dollars, some clothes, and perhaps a personal item or two.
The Things You Love
In cases where children and pets are involved, the chances of escaping with more than the clothes on your back are reduced. Love complicates things. But in every instance, women who walked out with only their pets or their human children will tell you that it was the only logical decision to make in a situation almost entirely devoid of rationality.
It requires a certain degree of desperation on their parts. It means abandoning any sense of pride, any hope of being financially self-sufficient, and any shred of proof that you were once a human being. This is because, in the United States, especially, money equals respect. If you don’t have it, you’re reviled, because welfare and social services are viewed as handouts.
When you reach the conclusion that your life–and those of the individuals who are also at the mercy of an abuser–is worth more than living not in debt, owning or renting a home, having material possessions, you leave. But in many cases, shelters and services available to individuals in this condition are not extended to non-human family members. Pets are often not allowed, even though they are perhaps more vulnerable to physical and emotional violence than even their beloved humans.
PAWS and Ahimsa House
Ahimsa House is, as we’ve discussed, an organization that seeks to connect victims with social services while also providing help for pets of those fleeing domestic abuse. But they are almost entirely dependent upon the goodwill of volunteers and donors to carry out their mission.
While the connection between animal abuse and domestic violence has been substantiated in recent years, public funding for organizations like Ahimsa House is still minimal. That may change soon, with bipartisan legislation currently working its way through Congress.
The Pet and Women Safety Act (PAWS) was introduced to the House on March 4, 2015. In specific terms, it extends legal protection for restitution to both women and pets who have suffered at the hands of abusers. It makes provision for programs at the state level that assist both women and their pets, and makes funding available to state-level programs for services.
This includes veterary care for pets that have been injured by abusers, a provision that will greatly ease the financial burden on organizations that offer succor to animals from abusive homes. Currently, they rely on vets who discount or donate their expertise and materials. But government moves in its own time, and the bill is still in process.
Where We Come Into the Picture
I’ve outlined what I want to do in previous entries, but for those of you who haven’t heard, here’s a synopsis. Because I’d like to donate to Ahimsa House, but lack financial resources, I’m turning my most valuable resource to the task–my writing.
Beginning on February 1, 2016, I will donate half the royalties received for each copy of No One Has Such a Dog, and No One Should to Ahimsa House, who has a chapter based in Atlanta. It’s not as much as I’d like to give, but I must also consider factors such as feeding myself. And while I would have preferred direct donation or the ability to offer my time as a volunteer, this is actually better in some ways.
First, it involves more people. By earmarking half the royalties for each copy, everyone who purchases a book is donating. While individually, it’s a small amount, if we all come together as a community and a broader culture, it can make a difference. Secondly, it spreads the word about the issues and organizations like Ahimsa House. Many turn away from the topic of domestic violence, because it makes them uncomfortable, and indicates issues connected to several deeply rooted cultural attitudes.
By sharing my endeavor, even if you can’t purchase a book, you are doing something fantastic. You are shedding light on a particularly dark and nasty corner of our cultural mindset. Abuse is wrong, and those who suffer it shouldn’t be made to bear the burden of responsibility when they’ve already endured so much.
Once again, I thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope you’ll get involved and share this troubling issue with friends, so we can come together. Only through knowledge, compassion, and a will to change will we succeed, but it can be done. It should be done.