by Camela Thompson
Domestic violence has been plastered all over the news with a big focus on the NFL's disciplinary actions. Before the video of Ray Rice pummeling his future wife in an elevator was made available to the public, the outcry was at a dull roar. After the video, people were rabid. While I think the recent outrage has led to more public awareness - which is always a good thing - it's sad that it took a video to spur people into action. When people turned on the victim for her to decision to stay in the relationship, I was angry - not with her, although I feel afraid for the child - but with the people verbally bashing her. The hope that the NFL roast was a signifying landmark in a shift away from victim blaming was dampened.
A History Of Blame
I was reading a very well written article by Rebecca Onion, and it went into great depth about the "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" column in the Ladies' Home Journal. The advice being doled out by the experts was shocking. Throughout the 1950's - the heyday of the quintessential American housewife - there were were examples of women writing in because their husbands had hit them - even in front of their children. Overwhelmingly, the psychologist's advice was to stop doing things to anger the husband. The magazine's focus was about educating women in the skills necessary to keep their husband happy (cooking, cleaning, and sewing, of course!). The experts consulted advised focusing on these skill sets and drawing together lists in the morning of chores, prioritizing the husband's demands to avoid irritating him.
It wasn't a unique perspective for that time. Watch clips of The Honeymooners on Youtube as the live studio audience laughs along to Ralph threatening to punch his wife so hard she's sent into orbit because she neglects to provide him with a hot meal.
Alice: "You seem to have forgotten that I am a woman."
Ralph: "I forgot that you're woman? How could I? You're always yappin'!"
"Aline-et-Valcour T1-P112" by Anonymous - 1795 edition of Aline and Valcour by Marquis de Sade. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Aline-et-Valcour_T1-P112.jpeg#mediaviewer/File:Aline-et-Valcour_T1-P112.jpeg
I asked my grandmother if she knew of people abusing their spouses when she was young. She grew up in a small logging community, and everyone knew everyone else's business (supposedly). It surprised me when she said she couldn't remember one story. At first she argued that people were less violent, and then she remembered a man who murdered his family. The abuse was still happening. It was just hidden.
My police officer friend has seen a change in willingness for people to become involved. Neighbors are less likely to turn up the volume on their television to drown out the sounds of violence and more likely to pick up their phone. I have seen a shift in how open people are about discussing the topic. When stories are heavily featured in the news, there is open discussion. At work, our Fantasy Football team debated what to do with Adrian Peterson after hearing the allegations of child abuse. People had frank discussions about spanking and physical violence. It was a far cry from the days when my grandmother was shooed from a room at the age of thirteen so the adults could talk about someone who was "in a family way."
Supporting The Victim
I hear people ask, "Why did s/he stay with him?" whenever there is a case of domestic violence on the news. People are so quick to point to the victim and say, "S/he could leave if s/he wants to."
If it were as simple as getting hit once and then using that interaction to decide whether to stay or leave, the question might be valid. Unfortunately, things are not that simple. If a relationship started out as overtly abusive, more people would leave. Instead, it's a slow build that could start with years of humiliation, isolation, and ridicule. The abuser tells the victim they are worthless, stupid, ugly, and will never find someone else. When a person tells you these things enough times, you start to believe them. Reality gets warped, and confidence goes out the window. The physical violence could happen years into the relationship. After being groomed and manipulated into believing they are worthless, that first slap happens, or maybe he or she gets grabbed so hard there are marks the next day. And of course the reason they get hit is also the victim's fault in the eyes of the abuser. "I love you, but you shouldn't make me so angry."
I have seen this happen with beautiful, vibrant friends. They stay with someone who isolates them and devalues them, and they begin to believe it. They lose sight of who they are because they are so busy changing to make their emotionally or physically abusive partner happy. Which ultimately fails.
"Why would she stay with him?" is just another way of saying "It's her fault because she stayed." We're still blaming the victim. We need to stop.
Let's keep that anger focused on the abuser. If enough people band together and shout at the top of their lungs that abuse is wrong, maybe the victims will see they don't deserve that kind of treatment. Maybe a kind friend will encourage them at the right moment, and they will find the courage to leave. Instead of disparaging the victim, let's focus on harsher legal penalties for abusers. Let's focus on shunning the @$$hole who raised their hand to their partner.
If you or someone you love is in an abusive relationship, there are resources you can call on. Here are just a few of the national organizations:
Your local police department will typically also provide a list of local resources. As an example, here is a link to the Seattle Police Department page:
"What kind of dog is it?" It's the question we usually get from people grinning down at our dog. It's not a rude question, and I frankly don't know how to answer it. The mix of breeds that resulted in a seventeen pound dog with rabbit soft hair on her head, ears, and sides and pig coarse hair in a boa around her neck and mohawk down her spine are a bit of a mystery. Her ears are big enough to pick up on the smallest of sounds, she is longer than she is tall, and has a jaunty tail curled over her back and to the right - just the perfect twist to act as a frame to her leash. My nephew feels she stepped off of the big screen of Ice Age - pointing to her and saying, "Scrat!" - although she is obsessed with a ball and not an acorn. She'll eat anything, is fierce despite her size, and has murderous tendencies toward squirrels. She's definitely a dog, but maybe there's a little bit of goat, lion, and a twist of squirrel for irony.
Annie stealing carrots. She isn't nearly as stealthy as she thinks.
Whatever the mix, she is a wonderful blend of playful, mischievous, determined, and love bug. She is smart enough to know that Lance is her play toy and I am her snuggle friend. Originally, she was going to be Lance's running buddy. That was squashed when it was discovered she only likes running if there is a chance of murdering a squirrel (she is always on leash, so that won't happen unless one decides to face off with her in our yard). Despite her homicidal tendencies with small and furry or feathered, she loves kids. If a child is laughing down the block, her ears flatten and she belly crawls toward the source with a wagging tail. She isn't a fan of other dogs, unless she is. We keep our distance because Annie is fickle and it's hard to know which way she will go.
She's really good at helping and loves to insert herself into every situation. Putting on shoes for instance. I bet you never imagined that tying shoelaces was easier with a dog trying to stand on your hands. Painting takes an abstract turn when the dog who insisted on sitting on your lap pounces on the canvas. Going to the bathroom is more fun with a dog trying to crash into the room or wrapping around your ankles if you forgot to shut the door. It's not creepy to hear the shower curtain rustle when you're taking a shower and look over to see two giant eyes peeking in. She has learned to curl up next to my legs while I'm working, but she is very good at letting me know when it's time to take a laptop break.
A subtle hint that it's break time
Annie came into our life when we went to a "Last Chance" adoption fair. Most of the dogs were at the end of their time at the pound, and Annie had been kept a couple extra days in the hopes someone would adopt her. To think such a sweet dog was nearly euthanized breaks my heart. Her previous owner inherited her when her original owners moved and couldn't find a house that allowed dogs. He didn't want her and kept her locked in the back yard in Eastern Washington. She was dumped at the pound because she dug too many holes. I'm surprised our little dog, who loves burrowing under blankets because she gets cold easily, made it in the harsh climate. I think all of us caught a lucky streak the day we brought her home.
Annie's first day with us in 2010 after the adoption fair
My grandparents had decided to take me to Denny's for a double celebration: my high school graduation and my birthday. We tend to be uncomfortable in upscale restaurants. Our family can afford to indulge, but a combination of introversion, frugality, and personal preferences lead to eating out at down-to-earth establishments. I think over attentive wait staff make us nervous. The first time I went to a really fancy restaurant and had a gentleman offer his arm to escort me to the bathroom, I thought I was going to fall over (frankly, it struck me as a little creepy). We prefer to get our food, tuck in, and eat in peace until uncomfortably full and then sit and talk.
Two-thirds of the way into my Grand Slam I had hit the wall and was slowing down. I caught my grandmother's impish smile as she turned to my grandfather, patting his arm with her hand. "Bill, do you remember Runwald's house? They had the gas station that was shut down to expand I-90."
Grandpa sat up a little straighter; his eyes had a glint to them. "Oh, yes. The haunted house."
I carefully set my fork on my plate and stared at my grandfather. "Come again?"
"Not far from here actually. Their house was really haunted."
I sat blinking dumbly for several seconds. I had always looked up to my grandfather and was proud of inheriting his perfectionism and a fondness for logic. Ghosts didn't fit into the picture I held of his inner mental workings. They had to be testing my newly graduated adult status with some kind of joke. "You're kidding, right?"
My grandmother shook her head. "There was even an article in the paper. In the 50's and 60's there was a parapsychology department at the university. They brought in a bunch of equipment and ran tests."
"They got the house for a cheap price from an architect. He sold it because something was scaring his German shepherd. After the family moved in, they started noticing odd things. Sometimes they would see an apparition, but they couldn't make out anything beyond arms, legs, a head, and old fashioned clothes. There weren't any details to its appearance." Grandpa settled back in his vinyl seat and steepled his hands. Next he rubbed the big joints of his thumbs together - a cue that he is settling into a story. "Ridge called me up one night and said the ghost was active and would I like to come see it. I went up to his house. At first, there wasn't much to see, but as one of us was lining up a shot on the table, a couple of the balls started rolling on their own. The ghost was curious, like it was trying to figure out how things worked. It would lock doors, turn on faucets, and play with the pool table, rolling or shoving balls from one end to the other"
"What?" Reality was getting turned on its head. Ghosts didn't exist, yet someone I trusted was painting quite a different picture. It made me uncomfortable and squirm in my seat. I had no reason to doubt my grandfather. His stories were about things he had lived through. He wasn't prone to exaggeration or spinning fiction. It just wasn't his style.
"They just rolled on their own."
"Nooooooooooo." I looked at my grandmother. Had Grandpa lost his mind?
"I talked to their neighbor, Mrs. Brewer, and she said she watched some kind of mist settle over part of their fence. All the vines died where it sat and nothing grew back."
Grandma had lost her mind, too. I was determined to find a rational explanation. "Maybe the pool table was at a slant?"
"No way." Grandpa shook his head. "The balls rolled one way and then another. If it was slanted, more than one or two balls would have rolled and they wouldn't have turned around and gone in the other direction." He was an engineer, always tinkering, fixing, building - he would have figured out if something was strange about the construction of the table.
"What else happened?" My voice was nearly a whisper and I was leaning forward in my seat. I noticed that I was resting the edge of my hand in a pool of syrup and I spent several seconds scrubbing with a napkin, spreading the stickiness around. Focusing on something else helped lessen my anxiety.
"It locked their daughter in a bathroom and moved a beer fridge that weighed over a hundred pounds. One time it locked the bathroom and turned on the faucet." Grandpa bounced his fingertips together. "They had to take the door off its hinges to turn the water off."
"I remember it would settle over a table at a party and the food would turn grey." Grandma made a face and I knew she was thinking of the wasted food. She takes packets of condiments from restaurants and stuffs her purse with free napkins. She'd rather risk food poison than throw out food. That habit had haunted us all more than once. "One night it got in the car with their daughter and followed her to the bowling alley. She just looked in the rear view mirror and there it was."
I picked my hands off the table and clutched at my chest. "Holy crap."
Grandpa shifted in his seat. "The university cut open the pool balls to see whether or not there were magnets and recorded activity. Supposedly they tracked it down to a board in the washroom."
Grandma's voice was perky when she said, "I always heard it was on an Indian burial ground."
The rest of my food had cooled and congealed in a mixture of syrup and fat. The back of my hand still had napkin fibers stuck to it. My grandfather was calmly paying the bill as grandma powdered her nose and snapped her compact shut. My grandpa asked, "Do you want to finish your food?"
"Do you want to go see the house?"
"No thank you."
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That went out the window when I heard the scrape of a stool and the light thunk that accompanied her sitting in the seat. The noise of the swinging rope continued, with no evidence of a rope hanging from the beams overhead.
What I have described was not the first incident or the last. After twenty-five years of silence, I finally turned to one of my grandparents at a family function and asked, "Have either of you noticed anything strange in the basement?"
The question elicited an ensemble of awkward smiles. My cousins admitted that they hadn't felt comfortable in the basement for over twenty years, only running down to use the bathroom in a pinch or retrieve something for my grandmother. My grandparents had been sleeping in the downstairs bedroom and admitted that sometimes objects would turn up in a different place than they were set down, and a shadow would stir at the edge of their vision. My brother and I are logical and argued that the breakers could be grounded improperly or some such science that would lead to high electromagnetic fields (known as EMF by the pros we watched on Ghost Hunters). This could explain feelings of discomfort and perhaps hallucinations, but not objects moving.
Since we aired the creepy stories surrounding the basement, we jokingly refer to it as "Fred." We adopted the Protestant based belief that giving it too much attention might lend it power, so best to not talk about Fred, especially in the house. In accordance with our unspoken understanding, when something strange happened, it was allowed a watery smile and a mention at a restaurant after a drink or two.
We all lived in a strange accordance, but my five-year-old nephew has shaken things up. He was sitting at breakfast recently with my mom and told her he didn't like the basement. My mom asked, "Why?"
"There's a little girl who lives there. She was buried in a box there," he points to the back of the house, "by the bad men."
All adults in the room dropped their forks and stared, horrified. Creeped out. There is something profoundly disturbing about a small child speaking about gruesome things. My mom and I gave the familiar nervous laugh and we surmised (hoped?) that he had seen something bad on television - snuck a peek at something he wasn't meant to see. We also reflected on the fact that he was the first to think it was a she.
A few days later, my brother interrupted my mom while she was sitting on the couch with her feet up, working on her laptop.
"Did you walk into the room and then walk back out?"
"No." Mom points to her raised feet.
"Are you sure?"
My brother squinted an eye and grimaced. "Huh."
We haven't called in the ghost busters because "Fred" is inconsistent in its appearances, which is fine by us. Children and adolescents have grown up in the house without stirring up additional activity. Maybe if we continue to turn our heads and refuse to speak out loud, we will be left alone a little longer.
Embarrassment, failure, shame, and other strong emotions stemming from a specific event can fuel powerful writing. There is a reason why people suggest that new writers start with what they know. With the recent stories in the news about the shooting in Santa Barbara and the ensuing Twitter trend of sharing to #YesAllWomen, I decided to open up about the inspiration behind All the Pretty Bones. My story prominently features a stalker and looks into the mind of both the aggressor and the victim. How could I possibly attempt to understand how either party would feel? Unfortunately, it wasn't difficult.
For an entire school year I lived in fear. Despite the terror that kept me from maintaining a healthy weight or participating in activities outside of my own home, I fought. I did not want him to win. I filed restraining orders. I got a lawyer who insisted I stay at the school (despite the fact that she had pictures of him issued to the security guards at her firm - just in case he came after her). I documented everything he said to me along with dates, times, and signatures of anyone who would admit to witnessing it. Cell phone cameras didn't exist back then, but I did what I could to illustrate violations. I tried to collect statements from teachers and classmates.
The most heart breaking aspect of the experience was how I was treated. My friends avoiding me I could understand. The lawyer's stance was ridiculous. His girlfriend confronting me because he insisted on calling her by my name was insane. But the worst of it was how I was treated by the people in charge. As a child, you are taught to trust that people of authority will do the right thing. The principal refused to move him to a different school. The police rolled their eyes and made fun of me when they issued the restraining order or responded to a violation. People assumed I was a scrawny kid with a need for attention - that I was doing something wrong or making it up.
I was lucky. After stubbornly attending class and reporting violations, the principal was forced to move my stalker to another high school. Not because I was convincing. He split his dad's head open during an argument and the police were sure to alert the principal that he had been arrested. It took an act of violence for everyone to finally grasp how simple it would have been to target me instead. Unfortunately, the move to a new school didn't stop him. Death threats made frequent appearances in my two remaining friends' lockers until even they gave up. I fled the school and was eventually forgotten. Like I said, I was lucky.
Two years later, I was volunteering through my new high school at a community housing unit, planting flowers to make the place a little more cheery. One of the officers who had issued my restraining order recognized me and walked up to me. I didn't remember him until he explained how he knew me and then he shocked the hell out of me. He apologized. He wanted me to know how sorry he was for his behavior. He assumed I was just a bratty teenager blowing things out of proportion, but because I was visibly shaking, he decided to read the detailed report I submitted with the request. He said I had every right to do what I did and that he was wrong. He hoped things turned out well for me and was happy to hear that my stalker had left me alone for two years. He said he had learned to take things more seriously.
I wasn't able to say much in return. I think I thanked him. I remember crying that night, but it wasn't because I was upset or angry. I was relieved.
My stalker provided me with inspiration for a book and fuel for character development, but the policeman gave me hope that there are some people in charge who will do the right thing.
The National Center for Victims of Crime: Stalking Resource Center
Freelance writer and Dark urban fantasy author featuring vampires with bite.