Domestic abuse accounts for 14 percent of all violent crime. In light of a high-profile run-in with domestic abuse in the news last week, The Daily Beast sought the stories of its readers relating to this important, often traumatizing topic.
Children who witness domestic violence in the home often believe that they are to blame, live in a constant state of fear, and are 15 times more likely to be victims of child abuse. In the following stories, readers remember witnessing violence in their childhood homes.
I heard my parents fight. I heard screaming and yelling, usually about money, or some imagined offense by my mother. Then eventually I started hearing slapping noises. And one night when I was at a sleepover, my dad lost it and almost shot my mother in front of my 3-year-old sister. She's what stopped him ... she hugged him and said, “I love you.’ My mom left him after that, but the abuse continued.
When I was about 8 years old I remember seeing my father try to strangle my mother with her purse straps as she left the house. It was a fight about money and she was taking the checkbook with her, which he didn't want her to do.
My parents were both well educated and taught at a well-known college. We were solidly middle class, my mother earning more than my father throughout their careers, which I always thought was part of the problem.
The violence was not generally predictable. Like many people who live with abusers, we tip-toed around the house trying not to “set him off.” He was verbally and physically abusive of all of us, though never sexually, thank goodness. As children my sister and I were called fat, lazy, and stupid on a fairly regular basis. We were actually both thin, well-behaved honors students. When my father lost his temper it could be over something as small as you forgetting to put your glass in the dishwasher. The last time he hit me I was home from college for the summer, getting ready to go to my summer internship. I was eating dry cereal (we were low on milk) and when he said, “Good morning,” I did not answer quickly or clearly enough because of my full mouth. He slapped me across the face.
Over the years he gave my mother fat lips and bruises. He generally hit with his open hand but sometimes used his fists or kicked us. He once broke a wooden spoon on me.
When I was 13, after a fight with my father (and another fat lip) my mother found her way to a battered women's shelter. When she came home, she sat us all down and told my father that if he ever laid a hand on one of us again she could and would have him arrested for assault and battery and attempted murder. After that day he never touched her in anger again (that we know of) but he continued to take it out on my sister and me. My mother must have suspected but she never called him on it, and we didn't tell her for fear of him and the possible repercussions.
Today they are still married (51 years) and they still have a contentious relationship. My sister and I have good relationships with them. I have never really discussed the abuse with my father, though I have with my mother. Her response was, "It wasn't that bad, was it?" I am sure that this is her way of dealing with her decision to stay with him. Against all odds, I am blessed to be married to a loving, supportive man who has never laid a finger on me or spoken to me in a verbally abusive way. I have had some therapy. I have two children who I am very careful never to touch in anger and I do my best to improvise a healthy parenting style. There are more of us out there than anyone knows.
When I was a young child, my mother was shot by my father during a domestic dispute. After hiding me to save my life from him she died in front of me.
My new caregivers, a woman and a man, psychologically abused and tortured me and used me as their servant for years.
Later, as a teenaged runaway, a couple I lived with argued often and the husband began to beat his wife. I stood between them with a kitchen knife to protect her and he told me I'd better kill him with the first thrust or else he would pull it out and kill us both.
As a young adult I became infatuated with a person who liked to waste their mind and body on narcotics and alcohol every day. They soon started to hit me and then to regularly beat me. After two years, I left and have not looked back. Now 11 years violence-free.
My mother was bound up and “hog tied” by my father, who said she was out of control. She had just had her third child, who was five months old at the time. My father sent us all away then he took control. I never saw her again, and he got away with killing her. I miss her so much. I was five and only found out the truth when I sought out city records in my early twenties. I confronted him and he denied responsibility, insists that she “suddenly died” while bound up and he was asleep. Even if it was an accident, who does that to his wife and mother of his children? I fight for women’s rights as a way to honor her memory, but it brings me no satisfaction, because even though he killed my mom, I still share events from my life with him. After all, he is my father.
3.6 million cases of child abuse are reported every year in the U.S. The number of children involved in these reports is 6 million. In the following two stories, readers reflect on their personal experiences of being abused as a child by a parent.
I grew up in an abusive home. I never realized how abusive my father was until I grew older. He would beat my mother for any reason. When my siblings and I got older he started doing the same to us.
I remember getting beaten for going to a funeral. My best friend's dad died, he gave me permission to go to the funeral. When I came back he beat me because according to him, someone said they saw me on the road. One time he beat me with a wire, he cut my cheek, a scar that though it has faded over the years I still have.
Growing up in an abusive home made me distrust men so I swore I would never get married. Also witnessing the abuse that my mother put up with I knew I'd never have kids. I know that the only reason my mother stayed in an abusive home was because she had us and she could not afford to take care of 7 children on her own.
I did end up meeting a man who is nothing like my father. He made it his mission to show me that not all men are monsters. That was ten years ago, we've now been married for six years and they have been very wonderful. However, I do know that I am never going to have children. My parents made that impossible for me.
I don't remember when it started. Eventually, my dad told me I was 2 or 3. My mom was mercurial. When I was younger (my earliest memories are from age 4), it was mostly fists-- to the head, to the back, to the stomach. It eventually escalated. Kitchen utensils, pipes, hockey sticks. As she delivered blows, she told me why I deserved them. My dad never intervened. Afterward, she'd tell me that I'd made her hit me, or sometimes, she'd pretend it never happened. It went on until I was 16, when she hit me in the face. My glasses fell to the ground and she stepped on them. She spit on me, screamed “faggot,” and I snapped. I hit her back. For better or for worse, my violence stopped hers ...
1 in 4 women aged 18 and older in the U.S. report intimate partner violence. In the following six stories, women share their personal experiences with an abusive partner. All of the women below left their partner after they experienced the abuse.
My ex-husband was 6'4" and 260 lbs. While we were married he frequently erupted in anger. He tackled me to the floor and put a knife to my neck. He said over and over he was going to kill me and dump my body in an abandoned mine near our home. He punched holes in the wall and smashed doors. He spit on me and shoved me against the wall. He called me every name in the book in front of our three young girls. His anger was never far away, coming to the surface when I bought a kitchen table or when I had a late library book. It was 11 years of hell. After we divorced I went to law school and became a prosecutor. I was able to stand up for myself and others against tyrants.
Like Nigella Lawson, I’m smart, pretty, educated, and accomplished—i.e., not the “profile” of a typical abused wife, but I spent 17 years married to an abuser. None of our friends and colleagues knew how it crushed my spirit. It happened so gradually that I didn’t even realize that my confidence, self-esteem, and joy were eroding; I felt withered inside. I made myself smaller in every way, and more and more isolated, so as not to threaten him or set him off. I hung in there for so long for the few good qualities he had, and the “crumbs” of affection he gave me. When I saw those news photos, I KNEW with every cell in my body what I was seeing, because it was so familiar ...
A couple of weeks after I got married, my husband & I had a disagreement about something small and he hit me with what I'd call an upper cut to the jaw, knocking me to the floor. We'd only been married a few weeks and I was as shocked as I was hurt. He'd never shown any indication of violent behavior before we were married. We were crazy about each other and had what I thought was a great relationship. Three weeks after the first incident he hit me again, but this time I was much more hurt. Devastated and bruised, I quit a wonderful job I had in San Francisco and packed up and left him the next day. Everyone—particularly my in-laws—were horrified and begged me to give him another chance. I refused, knowing that the abuse, which came out of nowhere, wasn't going to stop. After I left him, his best friend told me that he had thrown a large rock at the head of a previous girlfriend and would have killed her if he'd had better aim. This happened years ago, but I'll bet he married again, although I didn't. I no longer trusted my “take” on men.
I am an educated, confident, 27-year-old woman. I never anticipated I would be a victim of domestic violence and probably would have scoffed at the thought if I had been given a glimpse into my future. But victim I became; steadily my ex-fiancé conditioned me to the abuse. First, it was mental and emotional. Eventually, he would use physical intimidation to force me to abide by his will. Finally, he crossed the line into bona fide physical violence by strangling me and trying to drag me out of my apartment by my hair. Once he hit me, it became clear that I needed to get out. With help, I was able to do so. I have been out of the relationship for nine months and have never been happier. I’m able to be who I was before three years of manipulation and abuse took its toll, except now I’m grateful.
For four years I was in an emotionally and mentally abusive relationship. I realize that some may feel there is a big difference between physical and mental abuse, but I can attest that being consistently demoralized and devalued, told that you are not interesting enough or as attractive as others, and that your resulting emotional problems are petty, takes its toll on overall physical health and even the ability to function in day-to-day life. I went from being a strong and able female who was in control of her life to becoming the sort of woman I could never understand before: one who stayed in a relationship that was toxic, fully aware of the detriment and danger, yet unable or unwilling to leave. It was not until I broke a mirror with my fist that I found the courage to walk away.
I was verbally and emotionally abused by my ex throughout our 20-year relationship. Today a dozen years after the divorce I am still traumatized by the memories. I have bad dreams, cry when I see or hear someone yell at a domestic partner and cannot make a good relationship even with a good person. During my marriage, I did not think I was abused, but now I have severe depression and posttraumatic stress disorder and many “issues.” This all came from 20 years of stress. This is a serious matter and many people minimize it. I do not; I call 911 on neighbors who fight (especially those with small children) and also for abusive parents in stores, etc. The only way to stop this is for people to SPEAK UP and for the criminals to learn what they are doing is wrong.
Contrary to popular belief, more than 40 percent of domestic-violence victims are male. In the following two stories, these men share the experiences they had with domestically violent women.
At 100 lbs., she was half my size. Her pet names for me were “jerk,” “creep,” and “son of a bitch.” I can still feel her kicking me as I cringed on the floor in fetal position.
Please offer time to men who have been victimized by women who exploit the current zero-tolerance law-enforcement policies. My ex-wife disposed of me by coming home drunk one night (I was asleep), picking up the phone, and accusing me of assaulting her. I learned later that she had disposed of her previous husband in the same manner. Although the charges were thrown out of court, and it was revealed that she had “disposed” of her previous husband in exactly the same manner, it didn't prevent the local paper from printing the arrest record. My life, and the lives of my children, have never been the same.
Domestic violence often begins with emotional abuse, including verbal abuse.The two readers below rightfully note that domestic violence can be (and is oftentimes) verbal, too.
I'm not sure what is worse, the physical or emotional abuse that you can be subjected to. I have found that the emotional scars have affected me much longer than the physical. I was young and naive and so didn't know it was meant to be any different. I didn't see the slow process of becoming dependent on your abuser, because you feel like a disappointment, not worthy, inadequate or you have the ‘grin and bear it for the greater good’ attitude. It wasn’t until he head-butted me, in front of our 2-year-old daughter, breaking my nose that I decided enough was enough. That one blow was the physical manifestation of years of emotional toil that I needed to think clearly. We walked out and have never seen him since. That was 10 years ago and I can't say I've had a regret since.
I have been in a relationship where I was physically pushed around and threatened (and I ended it once things escalated). I have also been in relationships where the abuse was far more insidious—comments every day that undermined my self-esteem; complaints about what I looked like; criticism of pretty much everything I thought, said, or did. All while the rest of the world thought we were a loving, well-matched couple. I know which type of abuse was more hurtful (because in the latter case I thought the negative comments must have had some foundation in fact since they came from more than one boyfriend over the years) and I know, many years later, which has had the more lasting effect on my psyche. I am not attempting to diminish the very real distress caused by physical domestic abuse, but I think it is important to recognize that there is more than one way to pull someone apart and leave them diminished and crushed. Words harm too.
Thirteen percent of teenage girls who said they have been in a relationship report being physically hurt or hit. The following story puts this unsettling statistic into perspective.
I was in college and living with my boyfriend of three years. Everyone thought he was wonderful and funny, but he was also explosive when he drank. He would hit and kick me and threaten to kill me while I slept. He also was with other women because I wasn’t “pretty enough.” All of this wounded my self-esteem and made me desperate to stay with him. I was sure no one else would want me. I am smart and attractive. I look back on that part of my life with embarrassment and I can’t figure out how I let that happen.
Three out of four (74 percent) of people in the U.S. personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence. Here is one of the many examples of someone who knew of someone who was a victim of domestic violence.
When I was in the seventh grade, we had to do a report on a social issue and domestic violence was my topic. I met with a woman who was an advocate on domestic-violence issues who told me about all my area did for the victims. She then described some of the things they were running away from, a PG-13 version for her audience but it still affected me. She began to describe her own experience with her ex-husband, that left her son and her so emotionally scarred she slept with a gun in her nightstand even to that day. Her son was a year older than me and I had never comprehended people my age we’re also victims not just the women. I’ve since lost touch with the woman but her story and other stories similar have stayed with me into my mid 20s. Though I’ve never been a victim I am an ally.