Victims of domestic violence often lose their ‘sense of self’

Editor’s note: This is the second of two stories on domestic violence.

LIHU’E — October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and Nancy Peterson knows all about the dynamics of what constitutes the No. 1 cause of injury to women.

Domestic violence is about control, whether it be economic, using the children, threatening to take the chil-dren away, or isolating the woman, said Peterson.

Peterson pointed out that, if the man did not hit the woman, or if he hit her just once, the woman knows that the potential for more violence is there.

“If he gets up in her face, the message is clear — she will always be walking on eggshells, where she is scared to death,” said Peterson.

Peterson is the program director of the YWCA of Kaua’i’s Family Violence Shelter. She held that job for 18 1/2 years.

She has seen the ravages of domestic violence increase on Kaua’i, to the point that, for the 14-month period ending July 31, nearly one person every other day took refuge at the shelter.

And countless others stayed in fear in abusive relationships.

Between June 1, 2004, and July 31, 2005, 183 women and children sought refuge at the shelter.

In an abusive relationship, Peterson said there is a three-part cycle of abuse that may escalate in intensity and frequency.

Peterson pointed out that, first, there is denial on his side, and on her side, that they are in an abusive relationship.

The cycle starts with the tension-building stage, where she is walking on eggshells, told that she is a lousy housekeeper, that she is a lousy cook, said Peterson.

During this stage, she’ll try to do everything right, said Peterson.

Then there’s the violent, explosive stage, where he just blows up.

The third stage is where he becomes manipulative and kind.

“He says he’ll never do it again. He buys her flowers. He goes to AA, to NA. But it won’t last. He decides when it starts and when it ends,” said Peterson.

Peterson said the cycle of abuse may skip the manipulative-and-kindness stage, and go from the tension-building stage straight to the violent stage.

Peterson pointed out that, sometimes, battered women leave abusive relationships many times. Some are in and out of shelters an average of seven times.

Why do battered women go back?

When a woman leaves a relationship, Peterson said the man will track her down at her mom’s house, or at work, hoping to get her back. Or, he’ll hold onto one of the kids.

Why do women get into abusive relationships?

“Many women have entered relationships with great self-esteem,” said Peterson. “They have houses, jobs, respect from the community. That starts to erode because he calls her at work and jeopardizes her job. It affects her ability to earn a living. All of a sudden, she does not have a job.”

Women in abusive relationships are also isolated.

“He’ll say that you can’t go out bowling with your sister because she flirts with guys,” said Peterson.

“She slowly loses her sense of self. Without that, she loses reality of who she really is. She believes it’s her fault,” said Peterson.

Her family may also play a role in re-victimizing the woman in abusive relationships.

“Her parents may say, ‘Hey, you made your bed, you lie in it,'” said Peterson.

She said that the question of why men batter should be asked.

Diane Wada, the shelter’s manager, said she wishes that there was less domestic violence.

“When I first started, I needed to change my ideas and beliefs of domestic violence. It is a continuous learning process,” she said.

“Ice (crystal methamphetamine) makes the abuse a little more violent and scarier,” added Wada.

Peterson will be leaving her job as the shelter’s program director. Her last day on the job will be Thursday, Oct. 27. She’ll be opening a business, called Scrapbooking with Aloha, as early as January.

The store will be located in the Ace Hardware Annex.

“Can’t wait,” said Peterson.

Peterson will be missed at the shelter, Wada said.

“We are all pretty devastated about losing her,” said Wada. “We are really going to miss her a lot.”

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