Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Domestic Abuse: When Harm Goes Both Ways

Every 15 seconds, a woman is severely assaulted by her male partner, according to research compiled by Yale University. And every 14.6 seconds, a man is assaulted by his female partner.

Does the statistic on assaults on men by women surprise you?

That was the subject of a recent episode of the Tyra show. Two women featured on the show regularly become so hostile that they hit their boyfriends upside the head or even push them down the stairs out of anger.

The men, wisely in my opinion, announced on the show that they could no longer take the abuse. (In one case, the man had long ago exited the relationship, while the other guy just mustered up the courage to leave his child's mother.)

Tyra pointed out that men who are the victims of domestic abuse are not that different from abused women. They stay despite the continuing abuse and make up stories for the inevitable bruises and scars that draw attention from coworkers, family and friends. Some tell the truth about how they were injured; others make up fictional stories about their wounds. ("I broke up a fight between my cousins," one guy said he told coworkers.)

What Tyra said about abused men behaving similarly as abused women rang so true to me. I have seen an episode--thankfully just one episode--of domestic violence firsthand. It wasn't a clear-cut case of female-male abuse or male-female abuse -- Instead, I'd say it involved a bit of both.

At the time, I lived in a condo building and had made friends with a neighbor who lived with her boyfriend in the same building. On the night in question, that girlfriend picked a fight with her boyfriend. It clearly wasn't the first time they'd had a physical fight--after all, she was way too comfortable calling him a bitch and other names that I won't mention here.

And for his part, her boyfriend seemed to snap very quickly into hostile mode, and he knocked her to the ground in our parking lot several times.  I tried (all 5'2 of me) numerous times to get him to stop hitting and rough handling her. But he just pushed me out of the way. And every time she had a chance to get away from him, she just went right back again, cursing, yelling, even hitting him back.

I call this an episode of abuse that went both ways because while her boyfriend, at approximately 6'4, clearly had the upper hand over her petite, slim frame, she was every bit the instigator. I hate to say it, but it was almost like she enjoyed it, cursing at him over and over again, hitting him, knowing that it would fuel his anger. (She would later tell me that the episode I observed was the first time they fought that way. Yeah, right.)

But when it got to the point where he was straddling her on the ground, his fist raised to begin punching her, I yelled at her boyfriend's friend--who up until that point had just been sitting in his car, engine idling, watching as his friend beat my friend up--to please stop him. And he did.

Later that evening, my friend went to stay with family, claiming she was never going back to her boyfriend.

That lasted about a day. Her boyfriend bought her roses, told her he loved her and that he was sorry, and a few months later, she was pregnant with his child.

This all happened about two years ago. My friend and I had only known each other a few months when the beatdown occurred in the parking lot. I kept in touch with her while she was pregnant but have since moved away from the building that she and her boyfriend live in, and honestly, I've distanced myself from her. That situation was just too intense. 

And to be honest, I don't know that I'd put myself out to help if I observed a similar situation again. That night, I knew I wouldn't have felt right about walking away. But in a case where both partners seem to enjoy abusing each other, I have to question whether it's worth it to intervene.

TALK BACK: Would you intervene if a friend and his or her partner were physically fighting in front of you? Why or why not?

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