Blain Nelson's Abuse Pages
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Someone You Know

....A man and woman are at home, after a long day.

"They're at it again,"she said.

"Yeah, I know." The noise next door was louder; things were crashing.

"Do you think it's serious?"

"I dunno. I hope not."

She stood there, staring at him, waiting. "Should we do anything?"

"How should I know? Look, do we have to go through this again?"

"Well, I just thought, you know..."

He was angry. "Hey, you've got ears. You can hear it, if you want to do something about it, you're free to, but I'm not gonna. Hell, next time the kid needs a spanking, they'll have the cops over here."

Her voice stepped up a notch. "That's not even the same thing -- and you know it. Why won't you call?"

"Why won't you? Look, you call if you want, but I don't want to deal with this. Go ahead and call."

"What if we just call over there? God, it's getting worse. What the hell was that?" She bangs the apartment wall with her hand. "Stop it, stop it. Just stop it."

He walked to the phone. "I'm calling, are you happy?"

Next door, the furor continued.

The police arrived to the apartment beside them in a few minutes, he thought they got there pretty quick.

It was quiet by then.

A few minutes later, an ambulance arrived, and Mrs. neighbor in the apartment on the right was taken out, walking shakily, bleeding, her shirtsleeves bloodstained from wiping her face.

The woman stood in the window and told him what was going on.

"They're taking her out now." A pause. Suddenly scared. "I wonder where he is?"

"He wasn't too smart about it this time, huh?"

She turned. She hadn't seen him come up to the window. "What? What do you mean?"

"Well, you know, he wasn't too smart. He really messed her up. Not like most of the other times."

"So you figure it's smart to hit her where it won't show so much?"

"It worked this far, didn't it?"

"God, I can't take this. What the hell is wrong with people like that?"

"I dunno."

She stared out the window still. "They're getting her in the ambulance. God, she's not walking too good. The cops are still in the house; must be talking to him."

"What the hell is wrong with us -- this happened too much, way too much; and we waited til she was almost dead. She could have been dead." He sank into the chair by the door. For a while he just sat while she stood and waited .

She left the window, and sat at the table. "Wish we'd called earlier. I don't mean just you, I mean I could have called, too. I just kept hoping it would stop, and we wouldn't have to deal with it. Last time was almost two months ago now." She stared down at the tabletop. "So does he have to get arrested now, or what? If she wants to come back home does he stay, or can she kick him out?"

"I dunno. I dunno. Wish it hadn't come to this."

Versions of this conversation are going on in homes in every part of the world. There are no proper names here, partly because giving the characters names would make it easier to imagine they are not someone you know. Any of these characters could be someone you know very well, or even you.

Every nine seconds a woman is battered in this country. Every day, four women are murdered by someone they know.

You, personally, see abused women all the time. You see abusers all the time. You see children who are affected by brutality every day. There are hundreds of different people you see every single day, and far too many are affected by domestic violence. Think about it next time you're in a group of strangers in line at a fast food place. Think about it the next time you're in a group of people you know at Thanksgiving.

A woman is talking in a phone booth on the corner because she is scared he has found a way to listen into her phone. He said he would find a way to watch her, and he has found ways for things before.

Hi, mom, it's me.

I'm fine.

Well, that's kind of why I'm calling, I've left him. He hurt me again last night. Pretty bad.

I know I sound funny, ma. My face is all swelled up.

Yeah, I went to the doctor. The ambulance came to the house.

The cops called them, I guess. I'm not sure who called the cops, maybe neighbors.

Yeah, I guess, ma. I guess they could all hear it. I don't even care. I don't care about any of it, any of anything.

Yeah, okay, I'm fine.

No, I don't know where he is. He can't come near me, the cops said so.

Yeah, I guess that does mean we won't be working it out, ma. Jesus, what do you want from me?

I'm not yelling at you, but what the hell are you talking about? Why don't you come look at me and ask if I still want to see him? Oh, I forgot, I'm not supposed to let on, nobody's supposed to know, right, ma?

Look, I'm sorry, but don't come over, don't come to see me, I'm fine, I don't need any help.

Yeah, I know, look, I really am sorry, but I can't go on like this, it's got to stop.

Look, I've got an appointment with a counselor tomorrow. If you want to come over, ok, but don't go out of your way.

Yeah, right, I'll talk to you later, love you. Bye.

Though the first published article on wife abuse, written by Leroy Schultz, was printed in 1960, it wasn't until fourteen years later, in 1974, that the first battered women's shelter was opened, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Sixteen years after that, in 1990, there were 1500 shelters for battered women.

While that represents a significant change in available resources, it does not necessarily represent a change in the attitude of the average citizen. That is what we have needed so badly, and what we still need today.

Today there are public service announcements on the radio, advertisements on TV, and many people in the public spotlight speaking out about the epidemic of domestic violence in our society.

The O.J. Simpson murder trial focused the public's attention on domestic violence for most of a year. While the circus atmosphere of the trial was paraded through our lives every day, so were the images of Nichole's face; swollen, red, obviously severely beaten. She became a rallying point for a group with few heroes. Battered women across America and around the world had their lives opened up for the evening news in the form of Nichole.

The general public response to the battering was one of disgust. It was one more reinforcement, one more smile of reassurance that these abused women need so badly.


Her baby is crying,
a once pink blanket,
soft and dirty,
wrapped around her.
The only thing baby knows
is the dirty blanket.
The mother, crouched in a doorway,
hides from the world.
She cries for something better,
to be normal,
to be average,
to be whole.
Her hands are cracked,
her face is sore,
her body aches,
her mind is numb.
Her baby is crying.

Monica Barroso is a public defender in Fortaleza, Brazil. She works exclusively with victims of domestic violence in a country with a patriarchal edge to life. In her world, the men are in charge.

Do women have the support of their families to leave abusive men? "No." She smiled. "Not usually. The families of these people look down on them. They say, 'If it is bad with him, it will be worse without him.' At the same time, there are people who say 'She is a bad person. He beat her last night, and she is still there. She does not deserve to be helped. She would not let me help her, why should I try?'"

"I talk with the women, but also with the men. I cannot keep all these women in safe houses, away from the men. I must try to teach them to live together, to work together, so that they can understand each other, and not hurt the other." She lit a cigarette, and took a deep breath. "I use their babies to touch their hearts. I try to change the way they think about their partner."

"Often when they come to me they have different meanings for the same word. Love, for instance, means different things to a man and woman. She will say 'He does not love me, he was out all night drinking, and he did not come home.' He will say 'Of course I love you, I bring home money every week to feed my family. Doesn't that prove I love you?' They are speaking about two different things with the same words, so it can be very hard to have any real communication."

She put the cigarette out. "But look, things are better now, too. I am prosecuting a doctor who allegedly raped a girl in his office. When she left she was barely alive. There are three different ways the charges could be brought: through the medical profession, the University, and the justice system. The University has acquitted him, and the medical profession is ignoring the charges. But I feel I have a chance to win in the legal system. Before, it would be ignored completely. Things are getting better."

People in Brazil, like people here, see the enormity of the domestic violence issue, and are afraid and intimidated. Ms. Barroso had a simple answer.

"I do this work because I see the need. When it is gone, I will retire. Many people ask me 'How can you work to change this; why do you try, you cannot help all these women.' I like to tell them this story about two men."

It was Saturday, the man's day off, so he went to the beach to relax and read his newspaper. He sat on the sand; it felt good in the sun. Then he noticed another man down by the water, who was dancing and laughing. The first man was very curious, and went down to see what was happening.

When he got there he saw the dancing man picking up fish from the beach and tossing them into the sea. There were many fish, up and down the water's edge, gasping for air. 'What are you doing?' he asked.

'I'm saving the fish' said the man. 'They have been stranded here, and they need help.'

The first man looked at him, puzzled. 'But you can't help them all, you must be tired from working all week. How can you hope to save them all?'

The dancing man looked at him and laughed, and said 'I cannot save them all.' He bent to pick up another fish. 'But for this one, it was worth it.' And the man threw the fish into the sea, and went dancing and laughing down the beach, throwing fish in the water as he went.

It has been estimated that 43% of battered women never tell anyone. The numbers are uncertain, but it appears more are beginning to. The stigma surrounding domestic violence is slowly beginning to fade. More women and men are talking about their experiences with spouse abuse.

One of them is Susie Luchsinger. She is the sister of Reba McEntire, a prominent country singer. Susie is a Christian country singer, very much in the public eye herself, and her story is chilling and poignant.

Perhaps I should have taken some time away from Paul, but I didn't want to put our kids through that. I am a Christian; I believe in marriage.
Finally, after thirteen years of marriage, Susie told someone else about the abuse.
I told my friend Marci Scott what was going on. Her husband, Jim, wrapped his arms around Paul and said, 'I'm here to walk you through this.' Soon after, we attended a week-long Christian counseling program in which Paul and I learned to communicate more openly.

It is important not to judge peoples' decisions: Susie lived with horrifying abuse, but only she could decide when she was ready to talk about it. Often the first intervention is when police become involved. Sometimes it will be a relative, friend or neighbor who will be the first to ask the abused to talk about the abuse. It is important to realize that no person is God. No one has the perfect answer to stopping violence, but addressing the subject directly is a first step.

One of the biggest breakthroughs in recent times is that the men causing the violence are talking, coming forward so that we can try to understand and help them. Paul Luchsinger is now a recovering abuser:

I could have killed her. I haven't hit Susie in over a year, but I still have to learn to control my verbal abuse. I'm slowly learning to see things in a new light. I pray every day that I will never strike my wife again, and that my fury will stay under control. I like to think of myself as a teapot: if I ignore my feelings, I explode. But if I accept them and express them, I produce something warm and beneficial: love.

What Paul brings up here is an issue central to the abuse problem: control. His need for control over his wife helped him to justify his abuse of her for almost seventeen years. What he is learning is that control is a much harder thing to accomplish when it applies to yourself. Two of his other words strike very strongly at the matter, as well: acceptance and expression. Letting go of feelings of frustration and anger, and talking about those feelings can take people a long way toward healing.

What do we discover from all this? What can we take from this shocking problem and build upon, and learn? People certainly do barbaric things to each other, but behind the brutality and suffering are individuals, like you and me. One person at a time, one choice at a time, people can change.

Buddah said: "It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or demons, heaven or hell."

While we are learning, we must look out for each other. We cannot escape the responsibility of caring for others. Hiding from caring would mean hiding from the world, and ultimately from ourselves.

What we see when we truly open our eyes is that in doing one good thing for another, we do hundreds of good things for ourselves. Then the measure can be of the goodness, and the accomplishment, not the person, or the pain.

Brent Bradley 12-28-95