Suffering in Silence: The Pain Of Domestic Violence

What the hell?! This is a story, a novel, right?

      “The son wishes to remember what the father wishes to forget.”
                  Yiddish Proverb
I recall a time many years ago about a man living downstairs in my building who would come home and physically beat his wife.  Although this was a time in which one “minds one’s business,” my father, after hearing the fighting day after day, one day asked him why did he hit his wife.  The man’s response was that “if I didn’t beat her, she would feel that I did not love her.”
I remember the nights of placing my hands over my ears to muffle out her screams as I attempted to sleep.  I remember my parents acting as they had heard nothing.  I remember the gossiping of the ladies as they talked about the beating Harriet got that night.
I remember the silence of the men folk who shunned the person doing the battering.  I would ask my father why did the men not come together and talk to him.  He would tell me to hush; it was not their business.  Yet I could feel his anger and shame.
These distant memories of a time long ago are reawakened by a book I’m re-reading. The novel Mama, published by Terry McMillan in 1987, tells the story of Mildred, mother of five, black and dealing with the jealous rampages of her husband, Crook.
I had barely begin reading and was in the midst of chapter one when Crook, in a drunken state as he is beating his spouse Mildred with a belt, states:
      “Didn’t I tell you, you was getting too grown?”  Whap. (The sound of the belt). “Don’t you know your place yet, girl?” Whap. “Don’t you know nothing about respect?”  Whap. “Girl, you gon’ learn.  I’m a man, not a toy.”  Whap. “You understand me.”  Whap.  “Make me look      like a fool.”  Whap. (p.8)
I am shocked.  I want to put the book down and yet I choose to continue.  I must continue. As I read on, I see that Crook has thrown the belt onto the floor and collapsed next to Mildred on the bed, going to sleep.  Now, I am really just amazed.  This man has just given his spouse a stiff ass whipping and he is brazen enough to lie next to her and go to sleep?  What the hell?  This is a story, a novel, right?
Reading on I see that Mildred gets up and heads for the kitchen.  I say to myself, there is going to be hell to pay; the devil is going to get his due.

She yanks the black skillet out and slung the grease into the sink.  Before he knew  what was happening, Mildred raised the heavy pan into the air and charged into him,    hitting him on the forehead with a loud throng.  Blood ran down over his eye and he      grabbed her and pushed back into the bedroom.  The kids heard them bumping into the wall for seemed like forever and then they heard nothing at all. (p.9)

The kids?!  They did this with the children being present or within distance to hear? Everything?  What the hell?  This is a story, a novel, right?

Freda hushed the girls and made them huddle under a flimsy flannel blanket on the  bottom bunk bed.  “Shut up, before they hear us and we’ll be next” she whispered      loudly.  She tried to comfort the two youngest, Angel and Doll, by wrapping them inside her skinny arms, but it was no use. They couldn’t stop crying.  None of them understood any of this, but when they heard the mattress squeaking, they knew what was happening.(p.9)

Let me see if I understand this.  The drunken husband, Crook beats his wife.  Mildred in turn hits him on the forehead with a skillet causing blood to run.  Both are now in the bedroom engaging in sexual intercourse.  The children are in the next room traumatized and listening to their parents engaging in sexual intercourse. What the hell?! This is a story, a novel, right? And what about the impact on the children?

Money ran from his room into Freda’s.  When Money couldn’t stand it any more, he   tiptoed back to his room.  He flipped over his mattress, because the fighting always made   him lose control of his bladder.  He would say his prayers extra hard and swear that when he got older and got married he would never beat his wife; he wouldn’t care whatshe did.  He would leave first.(p.9)

Wow.  The boy is so traumatized that he loses control and wets the bed?  Then he prays extra hard.  The behavior continues to repeat itself.  There is no change.  Is God listening?  What the hell?! This is a story, a novel, right?
Damn.  What about the other children?  Freda, and her little sisters.  Angel & Doll, they are babies.

The girls slid into their respective bunks and lay there, not moving to scratch or even    twitch.  They tried to inch into their separate dreams but the sound of creaking grew louder and louder, then faster and faster. “Why they try to kill each other, then do the nasty?” Bootsey asked Freda. “Mama don’t like doing it,” Freda explained.  “She only doing it so Daddy won’t hit her no more.”

      Sounds like she like it to me.  It’s taking forever,” said Bootsey.  Angel and Doll didn’t     know what they were talking about. “Just go to sleep,” Freda said.  And pretty soon the     noises stopped and their eyelids drooped and they fell asleep.”(p.10)
So what do the children learn from this experience?  After fighting with your husband, you force yourself to have sex with him.  You do this so you can avoid being beaten again. What the hell?! This is a story, a novel, right?
Yes.  This is a story.  A true story, which is occurring everyday within the African-American community.  Below are a number of statistics that speak to Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) in the African American Community. This information is made available through the Institute on Domestic Violence in the African-American Community (IDVAAC).
·      In a nationally representative survey conducted in 1996, 29% of African American women and 12% of African American men reported at least one instance of violence from an intimate partner.
·      African Americans account for a disproportionate number of intimate partner homicides.  In 2005, African Americans accounted for almost 1/3 of the intimate partner homicides in this country.
·      Black women comprise 8% of the U.S. population but in 2005 accounted for 22% of the intimate partner homicide victims and 29% of all female victims of intimate partner homicide.
·      Intimate partner homicides among African Americans have declined sharply in the last 30 years.  Partner homicides involving a black man or black woman decreased from a high of 1529 in 1976 to 475 in 2005, for a total decline of 69%.
·      Intimate partner deaths have decreased most dramatically among black men. From 1976-1985, black men were more likely than black women to be a victim of domestic homicide; by 2005, black women were 2.4 times more likely than a black male to be murdered by their partners.  Over this period, intimate partner homicides declined by 83% for black men vs.55% for black women.


Intimate partner violence among African Americans is related to economic factors, and happens more frequently among couples that:
·      Have lower incomes.
·      Where the male partner is underemployed or unemployed.
·      In couples where the male is not seeking work.
·      In couples that reside in very poor neighborhoods, regardless of the couple’s income.

Relational Risk Factors

·      Alcohol problems (drinking, binge drinking, dependency) are more frequently related to intimate partner violence for African Americans than for whites or Hispanics.
·      As with other abusive men, African American men who batter are higher in jealousy and the need for power and control in the relationship.
·      As with women of other races, among African American women killed by their partner, the lethal violence was more likely to occur if there had been incidents in which the partner had used or threatened to use a weapon on her and/or the partner has tried to choke or strangle her.
·      Among African American women killed by their partner, almost half were killed while in the process of leaving the relationship, highlighting the need to take extra precautions at that time.
·      Among African American women who killed their partner, almost 80% had a history of abuse.


Black women who are battered differed in the following ways than black women without the history of abuse in that they often:
·      have more physical ailments,
·      have mental health issues,
·      are less likely to practice self sex
·      are more likely to abuse substances during pregnancy
Black women who are battered are at greater risk
·      for attempting suicide
·      of history of being abused as a child
·      for being depressed
·      suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder


Domestic violence re-occurs.
·      In a large sample of battered black women, in about half the cases in which abuse happened, the violence did not happen again.
·      However, over 1/3 of women reporting abuse had at least one other incident of severe domestic violence in the same year
·      And one in six experienced another less severe act of domestic violence
Women attempt to leave abusive relationships.
·      Seventy to eighty percent of abused black women left or attempted to leave the relationship.
Women in abusive relationship need the support of friends and family.
·      Battered black women who reported that they could rely on others for emotional and practical support were less like to be re-abused, showed less psychological distress and were less likely to attempt suicide.


Teen Dating Violence
Black youth are over represented as victims of teen dating violence.  In a 2003 national study of high school students
·      Almost 14% of African American youth (vs. 7% of white youth) reported that a boyfriend or girlfriend had “hit, slapped or physically hurt them on purpose” in the last year
·      Boys (13.7%) and girls (14%) were almost equally likely to report being a victim of dating violence
Concluding Remarks
With some many new and current publications by African-American writers, it is unclear for me as to why I chose to return to the past to read Mama again. I feel truly blessed that I did pick up the book and continue to be captivated by the pain and suffering that occurred during my childhood as well as the reality that the same pain and suffering continues today.
During my parents’ day, the mindset was keep to your own business. That was the norm back then.  Shame on them.  There can be no justification or excuse for intimate partner violence.  Furthermore, there is no justification or excuse for YOU to do nothing if you observe or know that this unacceptable behavior is occurring to a friend, coworker or family member.
It is great news, a true blessing that the number of partner homicides in the African-American community has dramatically decreased 69% (1529 in 1976 to 475 in 2005). However, one death from partner homicide is one too many.  One child traumatized, and having to go throughout life without a parent due to the homicide by the other parent is simply more than our community can bear or tolerate.
Take action.  Speak up.  Follow the framework as developed by Dr. Micheal Kane.  Do the RITE Thing!

                  The RITE Thing

R = Recognize- The person is in danger.
I   = Intervention- Provide assistance. Identify   resources.
T  = Transform- Take action.  Ensure safety.
E  = Empowerment- Look towards the tomorrow.    Plan and work towards the future
For more information regarding domestic violence victim services and treatment services for batterers that may be available within your local community contact:
·      The local domestic violence hotline
·      The local community crisis clinic
·      The local United Way agency
·      The local state office responsible for the welfare of children, youth and families.
·      The local police or law enforcement agency
It was in my parent’s generation and those preceding them that they were taught to mind their own business.   Today is not that day.  We can and we must do different.
A wise person learns from his/her mistakes, make corrections and finds the right path; the foolish one will continue without direction, never finding the road even when it is in front of his/her face.  (Ten Flashes of Light for the Journey of Life, Micheal Kane).


To end the suffering
We must no longer be silent.
If we do not speak,
It is a certainty that no one will listen.
Words will never arise from silence
—Dr. Micheal Kane
Empower.  Empower her.  Empower him.
                  Empower Self.
The journey continues…..

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