The terrible events in Canadensis, PA – the fatal shooting of one state trooper and the wounding of another – and the Ray Rice scandal brought back a lot of memories.
You see, a shooting like the one in Canadensis – although not of state troopers but of his neighbors – was an unspoken ambition of my ex-husband. Unspoken to anyone but me.
I had grown up in the Pocono Mountains, and that’s where I returned – as Cam does in Dirty Politics, and for the same reason. It had been home to me, a refuge. Much of the events in both Dirty Politics and The Last Resort were inspired by real events in my life.
That refuge would be tarnished.
Like many victims of domestic violence, I was young – just twenty – and I had already been a victim of another act of violence. When I met the man who would become my ex-husband, he promised that no one else would ever hurt me.
No one but him, that is.
To look at him, no one would have pegged him as an abuser. He was handsome, with thick, dark hair
and blue eyes. His best friend was on the local police force – which many would be shocked to find is disturbingly common. It’s difficult for the victim of domestic violence to go to the local police when one of them is your spouse’s best friend. A claim of battering would all too likely have been met by disbelief.
If it came down to it, my ex’s plan was to walk down the street shooting. This despite the fact that he claimed to truly like one of the neighbors – an elderly black woman who had always been kind to him. (Closet racism was alive and well then as now.) If cornered he would go out in a blaze of glory. Death by cop.
In those days, domestic violence was just rising to the national awareness thanks to movies like ‘The Burning Bed’ and The Facts of Life actress Nancy McKeon’s A Cry for Help. Or the Julia Roberts movie Sleeping with the Enemy – which showed that socioeconomic status wasn’t an indicator of domestic violence. It’s not just poor or middle class women who deal with it – as Ray Rice’s new wife proves.
Having survived domestic violence, I had high hopes, but over time – and certainly over the last few years – I’ve grown cynical. That was the reason why I had written both The Last Resort and Dirty Politics. I wanted to raise awareness, but even more, I wanted to bring a sense of hope to women who had been through domestic violence. I wanted them to know that they hadn’t been forgotten, and that they still had a chance to find happily ever after with the right person. I didn’t want to write the usual ‘victim’ story – and so I wrote The Last Resort – as an entertaining way to help people understand that domestic violence is…complicated.
One of my least favorite questions about that time – and one of the reasons I don’t talk about it much – is this one… “How did someone like you….?” The assumption being that an intelligent woman wouldn’t have found herself in that situation. As if all abusers came with a big red “A” tattooed on their forehead, rather than many being charming, if subtly controlling.
I’ve learned not to talk about it for another reason – the inevitable comment that follows any domestic violence discussion. “Why do they go back?”
The answer to that question is as myriad as the women who wore Ray Rice jerseys to football games.
First, of course, is an entire culture that caters to the idea that women need to be protected rather than learning to protect themselves, and that bad boys will be reformed by the ‘right’ woman. That only happens in fiction. It’s one of the reasons I dislike both Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey, for perpetuating that myth.
The reality is that bad boys don’t reform, that if he lies to you once, he’ll lie whenever it’s convenient. As far as going back? What choice do victims have, really?
In most cases, their spouses controlled the money. As bad as the situation is, going to a shelter can seem worse over time. The victim has no income. They’re not just poor, they’re destitute. They uprooted their children. They not only lost their home, but they may have left their pets behind. A pet the ex can threaten.
And where can they go? Home to their parents, where their spouse can find them?
That spouse can also claim visitation rights.
Most shelters help victims fill out protection from abuse orders, but any cop will tell you that those orders are only worth the paper they’re written on. The only purpose for filing them is to have a record of the claim. If they’re lucky, that order is used to keep the abuser away. If they’re unlucky, it identifies the victim’s killer. How many times have you seen that in the news? The victim left, but they still weren’t safe. In one case locally, the victim got remarried to a police officer. Her ex broke into the house and shot them both.
The abuse may be bad, but living is a persuasive argument.
Even the abuser’s situation is complicated. Even police officers abuse their spouses. It’s a question of money and power.
In cases like Ray Rice’s, there’s the whole football culture. Growing up, I remember that there was a status to being a star player. I also remember the warnings. Only cheerleaders had the status to date the quarter or running backs. And even the cheerleaders were taking their chances. So is it any surprise when you take a talented and handsome young man, give him a lot of money, and women throwing themselves at his feet, that he thinks he’s on top of the world? Look at Justin Bieber.
So the dialogue about domestic violence begins again – after the law that funded it has been gutted. Abused spouses are flooding hot lines, the NFL is pouring money into help centers, and hopefully into shelters and training programs.
More importantly, though, we need to end the culture of blame for both victim and abuser, to get them the help they need – the spouses to redevelop their self-esteem, and for the abusers to learn better ways to express their anger.
Then, and only then, will domestic violence come to an end. At least the NFL is stepping up, but we need Congress as well, and that’s not going to happen.
20% of all proceeds from the sale of The Last Resort will go to domestic violence shelters.
Amazon – http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0052UX3V6
Kobo – http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/the-last-resort-19
Amazon – http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005318DNW
Kobo – http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/dirty-politics-2
Three women a day are murdered in this country by an intimate partner, and gun ownership by an abuser increases a woman’s chances of being murdered.