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Domestic abuse: finding a way out
 
By Teresa Peneguy Paprock
 

Paige was on the way home from the grocery store, and she was in a panic.

 

An accident on the road up ahead had resulted in a significant detour from her typical route. Her husband would be watching the clock, and checking the car’s odometer. Would he believe her about the detour? Or would he fly into a rage, accusing her of seeing someone else?  “I cried all the way home,” Paige (not her real name) recalls today.

 

It had all started out so wonderfully – at least for a teenage girl who was flattered by all the attention her boyfriend showered on her. She got married at 19 – “I was just a baby,” she reflects today – and was soon living the American Dream, as a stay-at-home-mom in a church-going family, with a little boy and a little girl and a beautiful house in the suburbs.

 

But what started at “over-attentiveness” evolved into obsession and control. Her husband made rules, first that she couldn’t contact family or friends when he wasn’t home, and then even when he was. He demanded to know her whereabouts at all times, and berated her every decision no matter how small. And he began to threaten – vague threats at first, like “Something bad will happen to you,” and then descriptions of physical abuse that awaited her if she made a mistake again. He began breaking her personal belongings and locking her out of the house. And sex in her marital relationship was no longer consensual; it was rape. Threats were escalating. Paige had had enough.

 

Paige was a white woman, a middle-class, a stay-at-home mom from a religious family, who had a good lawyer and did what people told her to do – she “got out.” But in the process, her husband successfully painted her as “crazy” and a drug addict. She left the marriage, but she also lost custody of her son and daughter. “I got railroaded by the courts,” she says, “and it makes me wonder – what about those women who aren’t white, who aren’t middle-class and who don’t have a good lawyer? What happens to them?”

 

Paige would spend the next 14 years as an advocate for victims of domestic violence, first as a volunteer and later as a staff member of a Madison-area organization. The Madison area has a variety of resources to help those in violent relationships, who can be man or women, straight or gay, married or single, rich or poor. Paige says victims all have one thing in common: they are shattered and confused.

 

According to the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Wisconsin averages about 40 homicides every year that are classified as “domestic.” These can be spouses, children, other family members, or police who try to intervene. People often judge abuse victims by saying, “Why don’t they just leave?” but statistics clearly show that a partner who is in the process of ending a relationship with an abuser is even more vulnerable to violence – including homicide – at that time.

 

Ann Brickson, the children and youth program coordinator at WCADV, says the organization provides a network of all the domestic violence programs in the state, “to help them speak with one voice.” It recognizes that while the most obvious abuse is physical, there is also sexual, emotional, and economic abuse, as well as destruction of property and threats or acts of abuse against children, family pets or other loved ones.

 

Another organization, Women Ending Abuse Via Empowerment (WEAVE), is a grassroots organization providing support to older battered women because “she has often been in the relationship for many years … may have limited ways of providing for herself as the couple’s resources are often …  in the husband’s name.”

 

Domestic Abuse Intervention Services, also located in Madison, provides legal advocacy services (including accompanying a victim to court to lend moral support); a 25-bed emergency shelter, support groups, children’s programming and more.

Teresa Peneguy Paprock

This article originally appeared in Wisconsin Woman. Teresa Peneguy Paprock / words & stuff freelancing retains the copyright to this article and it may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without express permission. For reprint rights, contact Teresa Peneguy Paprock at words@chorus.net or P.O. Box 5207, Madison, WI, 53705.

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