Giving voice to those who had been silent
To the editor:
Let us walk Thursday with megaphones funneling the invisible cries and muffles of the silenced — women who remain in precariously difficult to identify psychologically violent relations. And the invisible victims — children who witness the abuse. ["Walk a Mile in Her Shoes," benefiting the Elizabeth Freeman Center, will be held during Third Thursday tomorrow in Pittsfield.]
Studies confirm that a disproportionate number of children witnessing abuse are also directly maltreated. Research finally focuses on child maltreatment (neglect, emotional, physical) in conjunction with spousal violence. Childhood exposure to maltreatment perpetuates itself, predicting adult revictimization. The terror, the self-blame, the unpredictability, and the betrayal of childhood trauma are key for clinicians deconstructing adult reenactment and revictimization.
Those who seek shelter, or come forward, represent a small subset of domestic violence survivors, predominantly leaving their batterers because of severe physical abuse. Early research targeted physical violence alone in an effort to help women through legal channels.
Recent research shows the devastating impact of more insidious, escalating, chronic psychological abuse, a multi-factored type of violence that can be classified along a continuum of behaviors (dominance, restriction, isolation, intimidation, and denigration). Psychological abuse is known to escalate into, and coincide with, physical assault.
Psychological abuse emerged as critical to self-esteem deficits, depression and tendency to internalize blame, a dynamic associated with repeated victimization and trauma in our research. In our study of women and children in shelters, enduring and trenchant psychological forms of violence took precedence beyond physical abuse on PTSD symptoms.
Yes we are out there walking and debunking stereotypes, a far cry from early focus on the individual traits of battered women. We are using social-learning paradigms and talking about educating our kids to break inter-generational cycles of violence. We are advocating for structural interventions to break cultural and gender constraints on leave-taking with child witnesses towards safety. But where are these survivors and their young? Isolated on the ledge of a continuum of dominance, of mind control?
Bring their stories forth on the 15th. Hear the perilous sounds of self-silencing.
Carla Lewis-Ruig, Lenox A recent member of the Berkshire community, the writer was previously vice president of Research for Women In Need Inc. and chief of research for the Urban Resource Institute in NYC.