Nannette Ricaforte shows how domestic violence can use fear and hope as magnets.
I was a statistic. A faceless number and a bullet point that represented one-third of women who suffered domestic violence. I was one of the women living in the US who was assaulted every 9 seconds and part of the 1 in 5 teenage girls who have been in a relationship with a boyfriend who threatened violence or self-harm when presented with a break-up.
At the time I believed I was alone in my suffering and deserved it. I grew up in a family who was incapable of building confidence, expressing love, and reinforcing self-worth. My father told me I was stupid, wasn’t good enough, and wasn’t worthy because I continually screwed up.
His endless narrative became my truth and the foundation for my low self-esteem in my late teens. When I was 18-years-old my short-tempered boyfriend (who later became my husband) began shoving and hitting me. Not once did it cross my mind that I didn’t deserve that kind of treatment because it solidified the truth: I was a screw up, I wasn’t valued, and I was unworthy.
Earlier this month images of famed chef, Nigella Lawson, stirred the media and the public into a state of frenzy after images of an alleged public assault by her husband were published in the Sunday People. Overnight she became the poster child for domestic violence and battered wives everywhere. Nigella put a human face to domestic abuse statistics and shattered the myth that battered women were poor, uneducated, minority women.
Nigella’s husband, Charles Saatchi, described his inexcusable conduct as a “playful tiff” denying any culpability for his aggression by explaining, “the pictures are horrific but give a far more drastic and violent impression of what took place. Nigella’s tears were because we hate arguing, not because she had been hurt.”
A person (male or female) who’s been subjected to a chokehold and grabbed in the face during a tense situation would disprove Saatchi’s claims. Victims of abuse are aware that it comes in many forms: physical, emotional, verbal, and mental.
We may never know the ugly truth behind Charles and Nigella’s altercation but the graphic photos of her distress galvanized the public to ask the same question—Why do women stay in abusive relationships?
A combination of fear and hope kept me in the abusive marriage I was in. By 23-years-old I was a wife and mother of three young children juggling part-time school with a weekend job. Financially dependent on their father I had no place to go. His chameleonic behavior had me teetering between despair when he exhibited aggression and hope when he expressed remorse.
Fear of losing my children anchored me to an abusive man as he threatened to take them away should I leave him. Cultural factors also compounded the problem by a family who didn’t believe in divorce. Never mind that we physically fought every day, there was “no divorce in this family!”
I was stuck, isolated, and received no support from family or friends.
Leslie Morgan Steiner, author of Crazy Love, a memoir about surviving domestic violence has been vocal about her reasons for staying in an abusive relationship.
“The answer is as complicated as love itself. We victims tend to be hope junkies, open-hearted and optimistic. We believe that our loved ones are capable of change…often we cannot find the courage to leave an abusive relationship until our life (or our children’s safety) has been threatened.”
Steiner encourages all lawyers to provide pro bono assistance to help victims of domestic violence. Without the help of a legal aid attorney she wouldn’t have had the means to escape her abusive husband.
Non-profit organization, the D.C. Volunteer Lawyers Project, is comprised of 700 registered pro bono lawyers who “provides mentoring, training, court appearance scheduling and…has helped more than 2,000 family violence survivors.”
I found the strength to leave my ex-husband when he directed his abuse toward my oldest daughter. However, I didn’t choose Steiner’s legal route of escape but chose another path of wrongdoing born out of desperation.
Had there been an organization such as the DCVLP to assist me 16 years ago I would have saved myself (and my children) years of emotional trauma. I believe it is essential in a victim’s recovery to have a support group directing and educating every step of survival.
After years of therapy, counseling, and an abiding faith I’ve been able to take my past experiences of abuse and use them to fuel the fire in my fight against human trafficking. It’s become my life mission to fight for the voiceless and oppressed.
My three children have grown into wonderful adults I’m proud of and I’ve been blessed with a feisty 5-year-old granddaughter. I’m no longer a statistic and I bear the face of a survivor.