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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

563 Walking away from something unhealthy is brave even if you stumble a little on your way out

Day 563 Thursday, September 30, 2021

“Never forget that walking away from something unhealthy is brave even if you stumble a little on your way out the door.”

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Domestic Violence affects millions of people, rich and poor, women and men, of all ethnicities, religions, cultures. Domestic violence is not just hitting and black eyes, but it’s also yelling, humiliation, stalking, manipulation, coercion, threats and isolation. It’s stealing a paycheck, keeping tabs online, preventing friends from visiting, non-stop texting, constant use of the silent treatment, or calling someone stupid so often they begin to believe it.

People who are in an abusive relationship may stay with their partner for a number of reasons:

• Their self-esteem is totally destroyed, and they are made to feel they will never be able to find another person to be with.

• The cycle of abuse, meaning the ‘honeymoon phase’ that follows physical and mental abuse, makes them believe their partner really is sorry and does love them.

• It’s dangerous to leave. Women are 70 times more likely to be killed in the weeks after leaving their abusive partner than at any other time in the relationship, according to the Domestic Violence Intervention program.

Here's an article from the Press Democrat from today September 29, 2021

Domestic violence, in public and hidden

The cops were called to my apartment when I was 18 years old. My boyfriend answered the door, offering pleasantries as well as confusion over why they were there. The collar of his T-shirt was stretched, and distinct scratches lined his chest. I hid a bloody tissue in my fist.

Someone in the parking lot next to us heard screaming, the cops said. Neither one of us could say what happened.

They talked to us separately, wanting to hear our sides of the story. I didn’t know what my boyfriend was saying, but I maintained confusion. Even when the cop asked about the bloody tissue.

“I had a bloody nose.”

Even when he asked about the scratches on my boyfriend’s chest.

“I don’t know.”

The cops finally left, even though they probably knew the truth. In those days, cops couldn’t press charges when neither party was willing. Since then, they can if there’s sufficient evidence.

After they left, my boyfriend told me how lucky I was that he didn’t press charges.

“They asked me about the scratches, and I didn’t tell them it was you,” he said.

I was supposed to feel relieved. I guess in a way, I was. The proof was there. All I had was a bloody tissue and a sore nose. When he hit me in the face, it was hard enough I saw stars. Hard enough to shut me up. I had a suspicion he cracked my nose. But the injury wasn’t apparent when the cops questioned us. Funny, because years later, my nose still has a strange hump to it.

“You could have been arrested,” my boyfriend told me.

His abuse took place over years. Choking. Slapping. Hitting. Kicking. The bruises covered my body. I wore long sleeves in summer. I whittled down to 97 pounds. I winced whenever my family hugged me and then tried to hide it.

But it went deeper than what his hands could do. He threatened me with words. He said I was nothing without him. He said he’d kill my family if I left him. He accused me of cheating on him or plotting against him. He’d corner me, scream an inch from my face, lunge at me without contact. It was a game he played, to see if I would strike first so that I could take the blame.

If someone is hit enough times, they will attempt to protect themselves when things get violent. When words feel dangerous. When they are constantly taunted and there’s no escape, they will strike to put an end to it. After all, that’s how their abuser does it. And each past assault, verbal or physical, packs the punch behind each present one.

In private, he was my tormenter. But in public, he was calm, poised, everyone’s friend. A teddy bear. A guy I was so lucky to have. No one knew what happened behind closed doors because he gave them no reason to suspect it. And any time I did fly off the handle, all he had to do was give a shrug, keep his reactions light.

See how crazy she is?

An abuse victim can see other victims a mile away. I sensed 22-year-old Gabby Petito was abused when I saw the police cam footage of their traffic stop. Gabby was crying and upset. Brian, her boyfriend, was incredibly calm. The cops separated the two, and then questioned them.

(Gabby Petito)

From a transcript of the traffic stop, Gabby shared all the ways she messed up, and Brian shared all the ways he tried to defuse the situation. She’s hysterical, he maintains a patient composure.

See officer? See how crazy she is?

Sound familiar? Because it did to me. The red flags were clear. His ultra-calm demeanor while she was hysterical. Her statement about her OCD, her mood, her stress. His statement about how she gets crazy and lashes out at him. He was even asked if he wanted to press charges.

You could have been arrested.

But it was more than that. It was the crumpled look on her face. A look that was torn about something she knew wasn’t right, but clinging to the allegiance she felt to him. She blamed herself the most for the call that summoned the cops. Her boyfriend did, too. According to him, this was a one-sided event. Even though he locked her out of her own van, making her believe he’d leave her behind. Even though he downplayed her aspirations as her “little website, blog and everything.”

She’s nothing without me.

“Sometimes you get evidence and they don’t own up to it, and they’re just lying to your face and it’s unsafe, and you know that something more is going to happen if you let them go home together. That’s a much easier decision to arrest,” National Park Service Ranger Melissa Hulls told the Salt Lake City Deseret News. Hulls had responded to the call when she heard the dispatch and felt Gabby would feel safer talking with a woman. “With this (case), I just don’t think (Gabby) understood how big a deal this was.”

Why was Gabby hysterical? What did Brian say in the moments before she lashed out? In the months before? In the years before? What bruises, mental and physical, was Gabby hiding from everyone who knew them? What kind of manipulation was she fighting against?

On Sept. 19, the FBI confirmed that “human remains ‘consistent’ with Ms. Petito’s body were found in Bridger-Teton National Forest.”

A young woman is dead, her promising life cut short. But maybe her death could save someone else’s. Maybe it will help someone to see the signs they didn’t recognize before. Maybe it’s someone you know who makes too many excuses for their partner. Maybe it’s you.

There is help, and you’re not alone. Crissi Langwell is a Sonoma County author and a former online content producer for The Press Democrat.

“When it comes to abuse, you believe there’s no way out. There is always help. There is always a way out.” ― Rev. Donna Mulvey

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