Saturday, March 6, 2010

Girls in Domestic Violence--What's in their future?

The battered women's shelter is full of the squeals, pouts, dramas and dreams of girls of all ages from babies to teens. Like kids who grow up in homes where there's a significant addiction of some kind, they are at a higher risk for developing that addiction or falling in love with someone who has that addiction.

Of girls who live or have lived with DV or dating violence, probably only 3% will become abusers of their partners. Men, after all, are overwhelmingly the abusers in intimate partner relationships. So what addiction are we talking about here?


Violent men get a lot of satisfaction from controlling those smaller and weaker than themselves. They don't feel that good about themselves, but by physically and/or emotionally battering women or teen girls until they don't feel good about themselves, either, they obtain their drug--power.

And it can be absolute. If a woman begins to believe the abuser's mind games about how stupid, ugly, or useless she is, especially if he makes her pretty much a prisoner emotionally, he begins to feel superior--at least with her.

He certainly has physical power over her if he wants to use it. And he has emotional power if he threatens his partner with some significant loss--including her freedom or her life. Some confuse her to the point where she can no longer think clearly or believe in her own strengths. Add financial power if he won't "let" her work or takes her paycheck, and the circle is complete. He controls her world.

Teens, even strong teens,can be deceived by the initial charm, flattery, jealousy, and driven nature of their boyfriend's "love." They don't know how to feel or to react to someone who "loves" them so much they must text, call, or make the girl accountable and available at all times.

I worked with several teens in this situation as a school social worker. One, "Ariel", was referred to me by her teachers because she had changed from a happy, involved, bright student to one who frequently fell asleep at her desk, became a loner, rarely smiled, and no longer did her homework.

Eventually, "Ariel" shared with me her boyfriend's insistence on her constant attention, including calls at 3 a.m. Going out with her friends or family became rare because any time she spent away from him was spoiled by his constant calls or by making her feel bad afterward for "leaving him." He didn't hit her, but she felt afraid of him and couldn't explain why--until he began to show up every time she was alone in the house.

It took months for her to extricate herself emotionally as well as physically from this relationship. Months more to feel normal again. Almost a year to fall in love with a different kind of boy--at least, he appeared different.

At that point she graduated, so I don't know if this relationship was all she expected. I hope so.

And the beautiful girls I see in the shelter? They belong to courageous women whom I admire. Women who got away, who want a different life. Some will change their mind or for many reasons, return to the abuser or fall into a similar situation.

I can only hope that whatever they and their children learn or remember from their time at the shelter will eventually keep them safe, give them peace, and allow them to gain control over their own lives. It's a future every girl and woman deserves.

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