Speaking Up, Speaking Out...
Against Domestic Violence

An awareness and visibility project around issues of domestic violence in various communities.


The Explanation

About this Project:

As the subtitle explains, this is an awareness and visibility project. I took on this task as my final project in the SWG (Study of Women & Gender) seminar I'm taking at Smith this semester (Spring 2006), "Redefining Community: South Asian Women's Cultural Production." As the title implies, the course itself revolved around South Asian cultures, both in the geographical location of South Asia (India, Pakistan, etc.) and in the South Asian diasporas in the UK and the US. In the context of this class, we discussed domestic violence and rape in South Asian communities, and I was struck by the lack of culturally-sensitive services in the diaspora and by the lack of any widespread, effective services in South Asian countries. This led me to think about the silence(s) around all forms of domestic violence and violence against women, the structures that support and perpetuate these silences, and the ways that these silences may be broken - not just in South Asia and the diaspora, but in every part of the world. I decided that these silences must be broken, and that I wanted to be a part of helping that to happen. (And if I can get academic credit for it, too, all the better.)

The Project (Logistics).
This project will, then, consist of stories that have been emailed to me at the address listed in the sidebar (below the Important Note). I will edit these stories only to ensure that they fit the formatting of this blog. The space of hir post will be hir safe space, and my part in this will only be to provide and facilitate this space. Out of concern for maintaining this blog as a safe space, then, I will be moderating comments.

I will also add to the resources listed on the sidebar as the project progresses, and will link to relevant resources based on the circumstances of the stories that get shared. In addition, there will be some posts to which I will attach a companion post including an annotated bibliography of a scholarly source relevant to the story told in the post.

The choice of venue.
The internet is (or at least, has the potential to be) a worldwide forum. Yes, there are tons of accessibility issues - who has access, when, and how - but out of all the publishing contexts that are currently available, the internet, I think, is the most accessible and far-reaching. And so I decided to bring my visibility and awareness project here, where it could (potentially) reach the most people and allow the most diverse group of people to share their stories.

A note on methodologies.
I acknowledge that this is not entirely unproblematic. First, the issues around accessibility will inevitably erase a number of stories. The fact that I am providing a space for these stories to be told, too, is worrisome, and I fear that as much as I try not to, I may end up appropriating these people's stories by virtue of my privilege in creating and maintaining this space. The language limitation, too, based on my own limitations, is an issue, since I myself am not bilingual (I speak a very small amount of French), and the rest of the world is not universally English-speaking.
I hope, however, that my awareness of these issues, and other issues that arise, will move toward making these issues slightly less problematic.

To explain why I took on this project in the first place, why I am part of this fight against domestic violence and violence against women, I'll end with this, a poem by Ntozake Shange (a poet/playwright/author/professor at the University of Florida)

from nappy edges (1978):

with no immediate cause

every 3 minutes a woman is beaten
every five minutes a
woman is raped/every ten minutes
a lil girl is molested
yet i rode the subway today
i sat next to an old man who
may have beaten his old wife
3 minutes ago or 3 days/30 years ago
he might have sodomized his
daughter but i sat there
cuz the young men on the train
might beat some young women
later in the day or tomorrow
i might not shut my door fast
every 3 minutes it happens
some woman's innocence
rushes to her cheeks/pours from her mouth
like the betsy wetsy dolls have been torn
apart/their mouths
menses red & split/every
three minutes a shoulder
is jammed through plaster and the oven door/
chairs push thru the rib cage/hot water or
boiling sperm decorate her body
i rode the subway today
& bought a paper from a
man who might
have held his old lady onto
a hot pressing iron/i don't know
maybe he catches lil girls in the
park & rips open their behinds
with steel rods/i can't decide
what he might have done i only
know every 3 minutes
every 5 minutes every 10 minutes/so
i bought the paper
looking for the announcement
the discovery/of the dismembered
woman's body/the
victims have not all been
identified/today they are
naked and dead/refuse to
testify/one girl out of 10's not
coherent/i took the coffee
& spit it up/i found an
announcement/not the woman's
bloated body in the river/floating
not the child bleeding in the
59th street corridor/not the baby
broken on the floor/
there is some concern
that alleged battered women
might start to murder their
husbands & lovers with no
immediate cause"

i spit up i vomit i am screaming
we all have immediate cause
every 3 minutes
every 5 minutes
every 10 minutes
every day
women's bodies are found
in alleys & bedrooms/at the top of the stairs
before i ride the subway/buy a paper/drink
coffee/i must know/
have you hurt a woman today
did you beat a woman today
throw a child across a room
are the lil girl's panties
in yr pocket

did you hurt a woman today
i have to ask these obscene questions
the authorities require me to
immediate cause
every three minutes
every five minutes
every ten minutes
every day.


I don't remember much.

This comes from F, a middle class Jewish atheist woman residing in Los Angeles.


To be honest I don’t remember much. A lot has been filled in by others’ stories, not realizing they were holding in their minds one piece in a large puzzle of cruelty. Some of what I remember comes slowly and is backed up by a sibling, because maybe I don’t remember correctly. Maybe I’m making it all up.

I don’t remember much. I remember running away. I remember writing a suicide note. I remember praying a little – I don’t think it occurred to me to pray for anything. Not for help, not for rescue, not for hope, not for death, not for future – just the prayers that I was taught. Shema yisroel. Modeh Ani. Perhaps if they saw me praying nothing bad would happen because I was close to God at that moment. Or at least they might think I was, even if I wasn’t.

There was a little tote bag that I had packed with a few snacks. Perhaps I somehow got away with stealing a wax paper sleeve filled with graham crackers – I got it to my room when no one was looking, when no one would find out there was a half of a box missing. I don’t know how. There was an extra toothbrush that I got on dental hygiene day in school. There was a book, a few dollars that I had saved and probably some worthless foreign coins, a buffalo nickel and some wheat pennies that I was sure I could trade for something. When I got two blocks away I realized I had no where to go. I cannot remember the pain I must have felt at having the audacity to leave and having to go back. How could I not have planned for a place to go? Did I have a place to go and I just lost courage and since have lost the memory of my abandoned sanctuary? I probably returned the graham crackers to their cardboard box, maybe even slightly wet the top to reseal it so noone would notice they had been briefly missing.

I know that hiding was off limits. Everything was open. No secrets. Drawers were overturned and closets were emptied in a desperate search for scissors and tape stolen from other rooms. Doors remained open – no matter what. Only during showers were they closed, I think -–but never locked and never off limits. I set up a secret room in my closet once. Moved everything out of one area small enough for a 10 year old. I hung a flashlight from the clothesrod and shoved pillows and old stuffed animals against the wall. I closed the door and read, maybe twice or three times. Eventually I took it all down because of what might happen when I got caught.

I vaguely remember the restrictions. There was only four ounces of orange juice made from concentrate every morning. The sticky little barely opaque pink Tupperware bowl sitting ominously on the postal scale waiting for the 6 ounces of Team Flakes. Skinless chicken with onion flakes cooked in the juice of a bargain brand orange soda. Names were called. Accusations are made. Questions like, “Do you think you need that?” Tests given – would I burn more calories (a) bending down and clearing all of the silverware out of the dishwasher at once or (b) clearing the forks and putting them away, then going back for the spoons, going back for the knives?

I recall trying and trying to throw up. I wondered how I could buy a bottle of syrup of ipecac without the pharmacist suspecting anything. I gave up trying to figure that out. I remember the food never coming up and hating myself for being too chicken, too stupid, too short fingers (?) when stupider girls than me had been throwing it up for years. I finally figured out, it’s easier to throw up ice cream than bread. Unfortunately it’s harder to sneak a carton of ice cream under your bed.

I don’t remember threatening to call the police I only recall the threat of being taken away by them to a place where abused children went and stayed on cots in big rooms with 40 other children who were certainly being abused worse than I.

I can almost remember what it felt like to slam my fingers in the space between the door hinge and the jamb. Pressing tightly at first, then tighter – learning what it would feel like when finally I crushed my fingers.

You think every abuser is abusive all the time. That’s not how it works – this I know for sure. Sometimes everything is great. He buys you a light saber and lets you be Princess Leia. He’s proud of you for winning best school essay. He buys you cheap jewelry – but you don’t know it’s cheap because you’re only 8 and jewelry is jewelry, especially when it comes in a box with a layer of cotton.

All the time when we’re out he’s perfect. He kisses every woman and hugs every man warmly. He dresses sharply and wears big belt buckles that he happily takes a bit of ribbing for by his friends and colleagues. He drinks a neat scotch. She drinks tequila – wave a bottle of Rose’s lime juice over the glass for a gimlet.

You learn that in all the okayness there is rage waiting to be let out. It is growing inside, while other families have prettier children, thicker carpet, shinier cars, better teeth. On the way home it hisses while we sit in the back seat quietly, hopefully until we can run up to bed without incident – and sometimes it works. And sometimes it doesn’t.

The one thing I remember so clearly – I can see it with my brain, the popping veins the purply-red skin the crooked yellow teeth bared – I can hear it as if it was now, growling low like a horror movie monster “I’ll throw you through the wall.” “I’m going to throw you through that window.” “If you don’t shut up I’ll knock out all your teeth.” – I can feel it like today-fingers pressing into the skin, crushing the muscle deep in my left arm just a little. Little black bruises, then blue, then yellow – little where the fingers were, especially underneath where the thumb pressed in.


"dv is [NOT] something that happens to those Other women"

This is from Jan Kurth, a white, heterosexual, woman with a Master's degree currently residing in Western New York. She submitted two pieces; this is the second. (The first is here.)
Note: This submission is mostly in the form of a reaction to my call for submissions (one of which can be found here, at The Happy Feminist). I will respond to the issues and questions that Jan raised in my Conclusion post.


Hello from a fellow seven-sister (Vassar '81).

I am absolutely sympathetic to the fact that women of color are often underserved as far as dv services go. However, I'm not sure I'd go as far as to assume that services are veered to the middle class per se. Quite the opposite. In fact, dv shelters very often offer services like getting a GED or drug/alcohol counseling, assuming, of course, that all those "poor women" they serve are exactly that--low income, uneducated, and mentally ill or addicted. Some no doubt do have these issues, although it is not always clear how much alcohol or drugs may be a self-medication mechanism vs. being a stand-alone problem. Generally, I see it assumed that any woman entering a dv shelter, etc. needs "services." And that if a woman does not need "services," if she has "resources," she should be okay. Well, I wouldn't say that a woman with "resources" is disadvantaged compared to one who does not have them. It's just that relative to the probable social/economic power of her foe, it doesn't amount to much. In other words, I find that much of the DV community focuses on the amount of "services" or "resources" the woman has or needs, not on how much POWER she has relative to the man who is abusing her.

That said, as far as racism/classism goes, I get tired of it being assumed by women of "our class" (you, me, and other women grouped in the "elite" college group), that dv is something that happens to those Other women out there, all those women without fancy degrees, etc., and not to Us. In fact, by the time many of us have found ourselves in abusive situations, it is with a degree of absolute denial. How can it be? Our husband/boyfriend doesn't sound like Stanley Kowalski. He isn't necessarily some blue-collar loser (although it seems that a lot of highly educated women are "settling" these days in the hopes of having a family). He may very well be smart, conventionally successful. An absolute charmer--in public. A few months ago in our county, a woman was brutally murdered by her husband (with a hammer for God's sake). Was she on social services? Was she a low-wage earner with a lot of dependent children? On the contrary. And this is the part that freaked out a lot of people. No kids. And she was a successful businesswoman who served on the boards of many non-profits, including our local area Empire Zone, which I was marginally familiar with since I work in the planning/development field.

I was in an abusive marriage (yes me, cum laude from Vassar), and I lost everything in the divorce. All financial resources (I was buried in his debt for years, and still can't really get clear of it). He stole my ATM card and drove me into overdraft. DA's office did nothing. He trashed my possessions. Judge yawned. Worst of all, a guy who decided he no longer felt like working during my pregnancy with my daughter somehow managed to strip me of custody. You are still a young woman and I wouldn't have understood this when I was your age either. Trust me on this. One of the worst things you can ever experience as a woman (worse than rape, in my opinion, which I also experienced at your age) is having your baby taken from you by an abuser. I am a feminist, but I am not gender "neutral" as many younger feminists seem to be. Giving men the right to strip women of their children (as the Fathers Rights people are advocating) means that women have nothing. Your fancy job, profession, education, will mean nothing if you are left impoverished by actually having to PAY child support to a deadbeat who then has permission to threaten and harass you. Or paying lawyers $1000s of dollars to try (in a pointless exercise) to have your visitation enforced.

Some time ago, I was reading the Vassar Alumnae magazine classnotes, and something rang a little bell in my head. I contacted a woman from my class that I barely knew while in school and found out what I suspected was true: she was trapped in a battering relationship. Husband, 4 kids, a corporate lawyer. Has it all, right? Wrong. She could barely get through her day without anti-depressants. Any "resources" she had were countered by her hubby's ability to outmaneuver her. She was afraid to leave because of the unfortunately absolutely realistic fear that her children would be left (at best!) with unsupervised visitation with this creep. She was seeing her oldest son taking on the behavior of the abuser, down to his cutting hostility and verbal abuse directed at his mother. Did anybody ever warn "us" that this scenario could be in our future? On the contrary. It's assumed to be a problem that those Other women face.

I have felt for some time that colleges like Wellesley, Smith, Vassar, etc. should do an article in the alumnae magazines on dv as IT RELATES TO THEIR OWN GRADUATES. If they can find anyone who will actually come out of the closet.


Public Hearing Testimony: DV and child custody

This is from a white, heterosexual, woman with a Master's degree currently residing in Western New York. She submitted two pieces; this is the first. She gave (non-personal) testimony in Buffalo, NY on April 21, 2005 before the New York State Matrimonial Commission on the issue of child custody in domestic violence cases. (The full transcripts of all of the NYS Matrimonial Commission hearings from October '04 to May '05 can be found here.)

I reproduce her testimony in full.


JAN KURTH: Good afternoon. My name is Jan Kurth, and I'm just recovering from a little laryngitis, so please bear with me. I'm a noncustodial mother, a CASA-trained volunteer currently inactive due to time and employment constraints, a past member of the Battered Mothers Custody Conference that was organized out of a meeting held at Siena College last year. By profession, I'm an urban planner and grant writer with an undergraduate degree from Vassar College and Masters from SUNY Buffalo. Among the projects I am currently working on is a HUD Continuum of Care application for transitional housing that would serve homeless Domestic violence victims and their children. I am currently living in Chautauqua County, which is just to the south of Erie County, for those of you who are not too confident in your geography.

While I could discuss many aspects of the divorce process, I will limit my comments to the training of custody evaluators, the rise of joint custody and sole father custody and the problems that these raise for mothers and children, and the lack of accountability for various ethics violations.

Under Poor Training for Custody Evaluators.
Custody evaluators often have dubious training, as many parents have found out in New York State. In Chautauqua County one private evaluator -- evaluator was able to set up practice with nothing but a background in pastoral counseling. This often leads to professional and ethical problems, as in at least one documented case this same evaluator declined to contact one of the parents, in this case the mother, or seek any information from this parent -- from this parent before making a custody recommendation. Nevertheless, the judge in this case admitted this report into evidence and cited it in his final decision.

In addition to the general inadequacies of custody evaluators, there is often little training in domestic violence. Nationally, just four percent of mental health providers are estimated to have had sufficient DV training. As a result, evaluators are too frequently taken in by unproven and dangerous psychological theories, such as Richard Gardner's Parental Alienation Syndrome, PAS, and its many spinoffs. This theory asserts that in cases where a child shows fear or reluctance around one parent, typically assumed to be the father, it is generally instigated by or the fault of the other parent, typically assumed to be the mother. In what are purported to be "severe" cases it is recommended that custody be transferred from the so-called "alienating" parent to the so-called "victim" parent. While this theory sometimes gives lip service to domestic violence or child abuse as a cause for the children's behavior, this very real possibility is seldom explored and in practice. In addition, there's tremendous gender bias in how the theory is applied. Women are often accused of PAS, but there are very few cases, if any, where a mother has successfully charged PAS against the father. In addition, PAS theory does not acknowledge that estranging tactics are very much a part of the modus operandi of the abuser. In other words, estrangement tactics are not so much a discrete psychological syndrome suddenly arising in mothers at the time of the divorce, as a common response of the abusive personality.

Again, in Chautauqua County, one mother lost custody despite the fact that the court-appointed evaluator determined that the father displayed, quote, alienating type behavior and had attempted to obstruct contact. Apparently this kind of behavior was only unacceptable in mothers, as the same evaluator, speaking at a Fathers Rights summit, spoke at some length on the harms associated with "maternal gatekeeping", end quote, which is apparently another term for blaming mothers who allegedly restrict the children's access to their fathers, even if there are concerns related to domestic violence or child abuse. The presentation made no acknowledgment of the fact that "gatekeeping" can be a normal, healthy, and, indeed, expected behavior for mothers or parents in general, sometimes called taking responsibility for one's children and keeping them from harm's way. And, of course, there was no acknowledgment, especially in this setting, that fathers, especially abusive fathers, can be guilty of blocking access to the children or attempting to alienate the children from the mother, especially as more fathers gain custody.

And then regarding the problems regarding joint custody and father custody. As some speakers have mentioned earlier, it is not uncommon for a father with a history of domestic violence or abuse to gain joint custody or even sole custody. According to several studies, fathers, even abusive fathers, are successful in some 70 percent of contested child custody cases. The results can be tragic. Earlier this year in Orange County a seven-year-old girl was allegedly stabbed to death by her father, who had sole custody. The father had gained custody despite two Orders of Protection against him by two different women for domestic violence, one was the girl's mother, and many illegal drug issues. More recently, a three-year-old Buffalo child was murdered by a father with sole custody. While it is reprehensible that any parent would murder his or her own child, it is especially repugnant that a child would have been ordered into the care of such a parent by the courts, especially with clear warning signs. Even in cases where the abuser is not granted full custody there can be problems. Two years ago during a visitation exchange in Chautauqua County a woman was kidnapped by the father of her children, driven across state lines and assaulted. In this case, she had an Order of Protection, but was apparently still required to facilitate visitation. Last year, a Chautauqua County mother was unsuccessful in her attempts to gain sole custody of her minor daughter, despite the fact that the child's birth father was a registered sex offender who had served jail time for molesting an older stepdaughter. As a result of her fears, this woman ultimately returned to her battering partner, a trend which is certainly worrisome.

In another case, a custodial mother in Chautauqua County was told she must continue to allow the father to visit their preschool-aged child, even while an active sexual abuse charge was being investigated. Appointing the mother or current girlfriend of an alleged abuser to serve as a monitor appears to be a common practice, though of dubious value to the safety of the child, given the enabling behavior and denial common to those who choose to live with and support these individuals.

These are not isolated incidents. Domestic violence agencies in Chautauqua County, such as the Agnes Home, have all reported an alarming number of clients who have faced custodial challenges and even lost custody to an abuser. Some have lost due to a poor understanding of domestic violence on the part of judges and the courts. Especially the myth that "women do it too" and in the same numbers. As a result, our courts have sometimes condemned both parents for domestic violence behavior, even if the woman just got out of Intensive Care and the man has a few scratches. These assumptions tend to ignore the severity of the violence, the psychological aspects of domestic violence, and the need for the abuser to control or terrorize the victim.
One person, who used to administer a program for battering men, reported to me that one client in the program had threatened to kill his ex within the program. The same man had been granted custody of their young daughter by the courts. Once mothers lose custody, there appears to be very different standards applied to visitation.

One Chautauqua County mother was told, after complaining of numerous visitation violations, that she was responsible for enforcing her own visitation agreement, despite the father's hostility. On the other hand, custodial mothers are frequently told by our courts that they must rearrange their schedules and make the appropriate arrangements so that the children can visit the father in jail, even when he is in jail for a violent crime like assault. This, too, seems to be very common in Chautauqua County. And if they fail to comply, they can be accused of alienating behavior. This is despite the fact that there is no evidence that jail visitations are of any benefit to children.
A recent New York Times article on the subject raised the specter of whether all this mandated prison visitation didn't, in fact, normalize the prison experience for at-risk young people. In fact, one of the biggest risk factors for becoming a criminal is not having a single mother, as is sometimes asserted, but having a parent or other close relative who exhibits antisocial behavior or has been incarcerated.

On the question of professional ethics.
There's often little recourse for parents who experienced breaches in professional ethics. It is often the word of the parent against the professional and any complaint tends to be dismissed as sour grapes on the part of the losing parent. In some cases it is not clear where one would complain or how. In the case of the evaluator who was not a licensed psychologist but a pastoral counselor, what professional board would apply?

In another case, a Chautauqua County attorney actually admitted during a pretrial conference that he had spoken to the child in question, a clear breach of professional ethics. The mother had suspected this was true, as some time before, the child had repeated -- had been repeating disparaging comments about the mother, followed by the mantra, "Daddy's lawyer says so". Yet no one within the court felt compelled to pick up on the matter. It would have been the responsibility of the wronged parent, who often has no credibility in these matters unless he or she is able to join in with other parents with the same or similar complaints.

In terms of reform, I think several initiatives need to be pursued. One, comprehensive training for all court personnel, especially in matters related to domestic violence and child abuse. Two, a presumption that perpetrators of domestic violence and child abuse not be granted custody when there's a nonperpetrator parent. Three, that jail visitation needs to be at the full discretion of the nonoffender custodial parent or caregiver. And, four, that clear lines of authority and accountability exist for obvious ethics violations, thus relieving some of the burden placed on parents.

Thank you for this opportunity.


Coitus Interruptus

This submission comes from poet Richard Jeffrey Newman, and the stories depicted in this poem all took place in New York City (either in Queens or on Long Island). His experiences are not direct or firsthand, but his poem is poignant nonetheless. This poem is actually being published next month, so the requisite publication information is at the end.


Coitus Interruptus


Naked at the window, my wife calls me
as if someone is dying, and someone
almost is, pinned to the concrete face down
beneath the fists and feet and knees of three

policemen. I’m still hard from before she
jumped out of bed to answer the question
I was willing not to ask when the siren
stopped on our block, but now I’m here, and I see

the man is Black, and how can I not
bear witness? They’ve cuffed him,
but the uniforms continue to crowd our street,
and the blue-and-whites keep coming,

as if called to war, as if the lives
in all these darkened homes
were truly at stake, and that’s the thing—
who can tell from up here?—maybe

we’re watching our salvation
without knowing it. Above our heads,
a voice calls out Fucking pigs!
but the ones who didn’t drag the man

into a waiting car and drive off
refuse the bait. They talk quietly,
gathered beneath the streetlamp
in the pale circle of light

the man was beaten in, and then
a word we cannot hear is given
and the cops wave each other back
to their vehicles, the flash and sparkle

of their driving off
throwing onto the wall of our room
a shadow of the embrace
my wife and I have been clinging to.

When I was sixteen, Tommy
brought to my room before he left
the Simon and Garfunkel tape
I’d put the previous night

back among his things. He placed it
on the bookshelf near the door
he’d slammed shut two days earlier
when he was holding a butcher’s cleaver

to my mother’s life. I wanted
to run after him and smash it at his feet;
I wanted to grab him by the scruff of the neck
and crush it in his face, to dangle him

over the side of our building with one
ankle in my left hand and the Greatest Hits
in my right and ask him
which I should let drop.

But I didn’t, couldn’t really:
he was much too big,
and I was not a fighter,
and one of my best friends right now

lives with her son in the house
where her husband has already hit her
with a cast iron frying pan,
and so there is no reason to believe

she is not at this moment cringing
bruised and bleeding in a corner
of their bedroom, or that she is not,
with her boy and nothing else in her arms,

running the way my mother
didn’t have a chance to run,
and there’s nothing I can do
but look at the clock—Sunday,

11:11 PM—and remind myself
it’s too late to call, that my calls
have caused trouble for her already.
When they pushed Tommy in handcuffs

out the front door, past where my mother sat,
quiet, unmoving, and I did not know
from where inside my own rage and terror
to pull the comfort I should have offered her,

the officer making sure Tommy
didn’t trip or run winked at me, smiling
as if what had happened were suddenly
a secret between us, and this our signal

that everything was okay. I wondered
if his had been the voice, calm
and deep with male authority—Son,
are you sure your mother’s in there

against her will?
—that when I called
forced me to find the more-than-yes
I can’t remember the words to
that convinced the cops they had to come.


Sophomore year, walking the road
girdling the campus. Up ahead, a woman’s voice
pleading with a man’s shouting to stop.
A car door slamming, engine revving,

and then wheels digging hard into driveway dirt
that when I got there was a dust cloud
obscuring the blue vehicle’s rear plate.
The woman sprawled on the asphalt,

her black dress spread around her
like an open portal her upper body
emerged from. She pulled
the cloth away from her feet,

which were bleeding, and I drove
to where her spaghetti strap sandals
lay torn and twisted beyond repair.
She left them there. Then to her home,

two rooms in a neighborhood house,
and I helped her onto the bed
that was her only furniture, and filled
a warm-water basin to soak her feet,

and he had not hit her, so there was nothing
to report, but she said she was afraid
and would I sit with her a while.
We talked about her home in Seoul,

the man her parents picked for her
that she ran to America to avoid marrying,
and here she laughed—first trickle
of spring water down a winter mountain—

So instead I take from Egypt! I so stupid!
Then: What you think? Can man and woman
sleep same bed without sex?
I said yes.
So, please, tonight, you stay here? Maybe he coming back.

He fear white American like you.
I was not a fighter,
but I stayed, and in the morning when I left,
she said kamsahamnida—thank you—
and she bowed low, and she did not

ask my name, nor I hers, and though
I sometimes looked for her on campus,
I never saw her again. Just like Tommy,
whom I forgot to say before was white.

Just like the Black woman who lived downstairs
before I got married, whose cries—Help!
Please! He’s killing me!
—and the dead thud
of him, also Black, throwing her

against the wall, and his screaming—
Shut up, bitch! Fucking whore!—filled the space
till I was drowning. The desk sergeant
didn’t ask if I knew beyond a doubt

that she was being beaten,
but when she opened her front door
to the two men he sent, she shrieked
the way women shriek

in bad horror movies
when they know they’re going to die,
and I almost felt sorry for calling. A few weeks later,

a voice on the phone: You know
what’s going on below you, right?
Please, tape a message to the door: “Mr. Peters
has been trying to reach you.” Nothing else.

And whatever you do, don’t sign it.

For a month all was quiet. Then,
coming home early from work
I walked upstairs past people moving furniture

out of her apartment. No one ever
wants to get involved, right?
a thin white man
in shorts and a t-shirt whispered bitter
behind me. I kept walking

the way Tommy did when he saw me
trying to catch his eye: head down,
gaze nailed to the floor, and then he was gone,
and the questions I wanted to ask him

never became words. That tape
was all I had, till one day,
cleaning house, my mother
held it up:

Do you still want this?

I never play it.

Throw it out then.

So I did.

By Richard Jeffrey Newman
published in The Silence Of Men - CavanKerry Press

"I was helpless and ashamed of being helpless."

This story comes from a heterosexual, white, working class woman residing in urban southern California.


My first husband was abusive although he never hit me.

I have often wondered if he had, would I have left sooner or would I have felt so beaten down that I would still be there?

He was hostile and sarcastic and insulting, and it took a mental health counselor (a male Viet Nam veteran, I might add) who told me that my husband was abusive. Until then, I was in so much denial I could hardly feel.

What is insidious about emotional abuse is that you can't point to physical injuries that clearly show that someone is hurting you- all you have is a deeper and deeper pain that you cannot connect with the abuser and you can't figure out why. You wonder why you can't communicate clearly (because he misinterprets everything you say), that you aren't nice enough (because a nice woman would not mind a little teasing) or a good enough wife, because surely he would be kinder if you were. To make sense of it, you try to find an explanation, and for me, it was that he had an unhappy childhood, or that no one understood him, or that underneath all the rage was a sensitive soul who just couldn't handle his pain. Although these things were factual, they do not excuse the way he treated me. And it has taken me years to realize that nothing I did justified his abuse. I have not shared my story with people because I am still ashamed- that I married him in the first place and that I stayed with him for almost 10 years.

After I left him and well into my second marriage, I began to remember incidents of things he said or did that now shocked me. We had been married about a week when I asked him to take the trash out and he refused- although he was on his way to his car right past the dumpster . He refused to let me drive his car so I had to walk to the grocery store and carry food back in a knapsack. He never picked up after himself, never cooked or cleaned or did yard work and he cashed most of his paycheck so all he put into our account was the bare minimum to pay the rent and buy food. We were both working swing shift. He would drop me off at work but would not pick me up. If I couldn't find a ride home, I would walk home at midnight. If I was sick, I would go to the free clinic. I bought my clothes at the thrift store while he had new hobbies every year which required the finest equipment. He had cameras and guns and fishing equipment and bicycles and a fancy stereo. Because I was a neglected child, this did not seem as outrageous as it does now. I felt ashamed that I did not have my own car or a better job and I pretended things were better than they were. I told no one that it was like this. I always had a good reason why my husband would not lift a finger for me. I do not mean to denigrate women who are battered by their husbands- my life was not as hellish as that. I was helpless and ashamed of being helpless so I put a good face on it and tried to accept it. When I started remembering these incidents, I finally cried the tears I could not shed at the time.

everything hurt

This is from Lauren*, this one a 20-year-old undergraduate college student in central New York. She is a white, queer/lesbian, upper-middle class woman, originally from Long Island.
*Name changed from original.

It's been a year and almost 10 months since I told her to leave.

On July 17, 2004 I started dating a girl while I was home for the summer. We got along great, I felt comfortable with her and it was fabulous. We dated for a month and two weeks before I had to go back to school. The week before I had to go back to school I saw her only a few times, and this week was the first week we had sex, and she took my virginity. I went back to school, we were apart for a week and half, and than she came to visit me at school. When she came to visit it was disastrous. Within the first two days she was here she had bitten me b/c I said something she didn't like. She stayed for about a week more b/c I didn't have the money to send her home.

Throughout this week we got into a lot of fights, almost every night. Also, every night she would try to touch me, touch my clit, even though I didn't want her too. She never actually did, but constantly tried. The second week she was only at school for 3 days. On Monday everything was fine until the evening. Monday night, around midnight, my roommate had gone to bed. My girlfriend was having a really hyper moment, she had ADHD, and was really awake. I took her down stairs so she wouldn't wake up my roommate. We were hanging out in the lounge, laying on the couch together and talking. We were originally laying next to each other, but she didn't like that and moved me on top of her. Now that I was laying on top of her she asked me if I'd ever kiss another girl, if they kissed me first. I told her no, and pushed off of her. I was mad at her because I would never do that to her and I had told her repeatedly throughout the week. She didn't like that I had moved away and she moved to lay on top of me. While she was laying on top of me she slipped her hand into my pants and told me she wanted to have sex. I told her no and she asked my why as she tried to move her hand further down my stomach.

I tried to keep her hand from moving down and kept telling her no, but she didn't listen. She finally got her hand to my clit and started rubbing it and playing with it. I'm not sure what happened next. I have kind of blocked out what happened between when she started to when it ended. I'm pretty sure she penetrated me with her fingers, but I'm not sure. At one point, people had come down to hang out in the other part of the lounge. She had stopped, but didn't move her hand. When they left, she started again. Eventually she stopped, but only when she saw that I was starting to cry. She moved her hand and got off of me. I rolled over to face the back of the couch and just cried.

Everything hurt, legs, vagina, abs, back, neck, everything hurt and I just couldn't stop crying. She told me that they made pills for that, so it wouldn't hurt when we had sex. I was so mad. I got up to leave and walked into a pole and almost tripped up the steps. She caught me and sat me down on a nearby couch. We finally went upstairs a little later and I crashed.

The next day I was so blah, and didn't know why. The next night my friend had told me that I didn't seem okay and asked me what was wrong. I told her that my girlfriend had been forcing me to let her touch me, I didn't realize at this point that she had raped me. Two days after it happened I had her kicked off campus. I started to spiral. I don't remember really what happened this past year, but I stopped sleeping and lost about 20lbs. About 6 months after it happened I realized had raped me, especially since I started having nightmares about being raped over and over again. It wasn't until this past semester, that I started eating and sleeping again. I'm still seeing a therapist, and am still not over what happened, but I'm doing so much better than I have been in the past year and 10 months.

Rape as a Tactic of War

This is not a personal experience, but it's a really powerful art piece that I sort of fell in love with after it was sent as a submission, and so I'm including it here. (Especially note the medium in which it's done.)

Artist: Kate Goldwater (bio)
Artist's Location: 22 year old, white, middle class, student, New York City
Medium: menstrual blood, acrylic paint.
Title: "Rape as a Tactic of War"
Brief explanation (from artist): This piece represents the systematic rape of thousands of Darfurian women. After being driven from their homes, 2.5 million Darfurian refugees reside in camps where security and international presence is low. In order to to cook food and stay warm, refugees must leave their camps, towns, and villages to gather water and firewood. The Janjaweed militias, or armed men on horseback, either recruit or kill any Darfurian men en route to collecting supplies. In their place, women go out to collect, facing brutal rapes and beatings in order to return alive. Darfurian culture places such disgrace on rape that these victims keep silent or could be banned from their own families. For this reason, I depict the women covering their faces in shame.

"Rape as a Tactic of War" is done in acrylic paints and my own menstrual blood. I paint with my menses to draw attention to important issues as well as alleviate stigmas on feminine hygiene. I hope to convey that menstrual blood and cycles are not dirty or taboo, but rather a beautiful, positive aspect of women's bodies. I use environmentally friendly, economical, and reusable sea sponges in place of tampons to cut down on the amount of waste produced by paper products. I depict feminist topics such as violence against women, female genital cutting, and reporoductive rights and access to abortion/contraception to raise awareness about the topics.


(Click on image to enlarge)

I remember my anger

Both of these pieces were submitted by Heidi, a woman who chose not to include any other locaters other than her (gendered) name.


I remember my anger
It was all about me
Selfishness and resentment ruled
The world seemed to revolve around my anguish
Yet all the while no one took notice
They couldn’t see what was eating me

I remember that face
In that instant I knew
We both went there with a plan
Neither were as the other thought
Just from the memory, my arm aches
For on taking my arm, he took my power

I remember that wall, that floor, the dead bolt
I remember the smell of the carpet, of mold and cigarette smoke
The feeling of disgust at every touch
The sound of his voice and the evilness in his eyes
The remote control and the open window
That voice

I can still feel his touch and his breath on every inch of me
I still feel the panic on waking up to the mystery
What happened then, for how long, I want to know yet I don’t
Then screaming, how could no one have heard me?
I remember the game, he was evil and cruel
I remember the pain

I fought him, I did! He left a mark from his belt
I felt at the brink of my very end
I didn’t want to be found dead that way
A headline in the news
When he pushed me to the floor I thought
This is it.

God’s very angels drove me home
Once in the shower I thought, I would never be clean again
I wanted to die, I couldn’t see, I couldn’t think
Why this Lord? Again…I never thought it could be worse until that day
Now I know, it can always get worse
So now what?

Now I look back and remember
I remember everything in its hellish entirety
I feel afraid and weak
I am anxious and tormented
I cannot escape these thoughts, even in my slumber
These memories haunt me like an evil presence

I don’t know what to do with the memories
But to keep walking forward
I am a year past that day
So help me be farther away from that time
As every day passes

And let me never return to such a place.


I hate what you did to me; I wonder if you had it planned or if you even knew what you were doing. Maybe that is how you were taught, maybe you did it just for control- frankly I don’t care. You hurt me and from that point on my life has been changed and not for the better thus far. I wonder if you have done the same to other girls, or if the same happened to you. I wonder if you think back to it and feel guilt or shame for it. I hope that the consequences for you are great. I hope that you know it made you a rapist. I wish that you knew that for every moment of your pleasure I felt pain and for every second after that you felt proud I felt shame. Because of a moment, a single decision that you made, I have spent years of my life engulfed in misplaced shame and grief. I hate the control that you have had over me, not just that night but for the past ten years. You once were my glimpse of hell, now you share your title with another. The two of you showed me evil in its purest form, cruelty and selfishness at their best. I look back and can imagine the angels and the demons fighting above us, why did you side with the demons? Did they whisper in your ear thoughts of power or pleasure, vengeance or charm? I can only hope that you now recognize such lies and deceitful voices. I hope so for the protection of the people who trust you now, that you will not do the same to them. You brought hate into my life, heartache would be considered kind compared to the hate that enchanted my being after you touched me. More than anything, I want you to know that you took my smile, my innocent laughter; my sweet unguarded joy.


This story comes from Diana*, a white woman, middle class, mid-thirties, living in Missouri. She is heterosexual, a feminist, has a Master's Degree and is self-employed.
*Name has been changed.

It was Friday December 29, 2001. I remember the day not only because it was the day I took the biggest risk of my entire life, but also because it was my youngest child's third birthday.

In fact, until I found pictures of us celebrating his birthday earlier that week, for years, I didn't think I had done anything to celebrate my Tommy's birthday that year, and despite everything I had done on his behalf that day, I felt oddly negligent and depressed about it.

That morning, my husband Mark took our seven-year-old son Sam, my oldest son, and drove to visit family in Ohio. I stood at the glass door and waved to them, trying hard not to panic or burst into tears: I knew that while they were gone, I was going to be moving myself and the other two children out. And I knew that if my husband found out, he might leave my son in Ohio, and I might have a hard time getting him back.

The Friday before, I had driven 90 miles to see a therapist because I was terribly depressed, and terribly angry at my husband for nine years of shitty behavior.

I walked into the therapist's office and started talking, and talked as fast as I could for twenty minutes, until she stopped me gently.

"You are being emotionally abused," she told me.

It is one thing to hear it from your best friends. It is another entirely to hear it from a therapist, whom you have hoped for months to hear it from, but at the same time, dreaded hearing it from. She gave me some literature to read, and told me that she wanted me to call Victim Support Services.

I was horrified.

She explained, "We generally don't encourage marriage counseling. Emotional abuse almost always results eventually in physical abuse. We always recommend that the woman leave."

I resisted. The wives of college professors did not call Women's shelters. We certainly did not go and live in them.

She said that she would work with me to gain my independence.

I went home and read the materials and saw my husband and my marriage there. I called my best friend from my basement and said, "I don't know what is going to happen," regarding leaving my husband.

She said, "I do. I just don't know when."

On Christmas Eve, I wore a knee-length brown, velour skirt for church. Mark did not like it. It was too short. I raised my chin a little and told him that I was going to wear it anyway.

At the grocery store later, I wanted to buy a bottle of wine to have with dinner, and we were told it was too early on a Sunday. Mark made a remark about, "Your liquor," and I said, "Since when do you not drink alcohol?"

I never talked back to him. Ever. But I was behaving with the recklessness of someone who has nothing left to lose.

That night, I took Sam to Children's Mass with me, and when I got home and had put the children to bed, I asked Mark if he wanted to come downstairs and watch a video. He was sitting on the couch outlining a textbook in yellow. It was Christmas Eve. It was Christmas break. He said he had reading to do.

The next morning, the children wanted to get out of bed, and he told them they had to wait, so they cried in their beds. He tossed a little wrapped pendant at me saying, "I guess I can't get away with not getting you a present this year."

I took five baths that day because I was sweating so much. And in my second bath, as I stared at my toes in the tub, I decided that I was going to leave. And what was more, I was not going to wait for months of therapy to do it: Mark was going out of town, and so when was there going to be a better time to do it? I had tried in August to get him to move out. No good. In November, I told him I was going to take the kids and find an apartment because I needed a separation. He told me maybe we should voluntarily check me into a mental hospital so I could "think things over." That scared me so badly that I didn't leave.

I finally insisted on therapy, though, and he found my therapist for me, out of town because, "You can't tell people what an asshole I am."

For the first time in our marriage, I was allowed to drive 90 miles away by myself.

On the day after Christmas, I went into town on the pretext of getting groceries, went to a friend's house and burst into tears on her porch. "I have to use your phone. I have to call Victim Support Services."

The woman on the line asked me, "So, you'll be wanting a divorce then?" I had not even gone beyond the idea of getting out and physically away. I said, "Yes," before I even thought it.

I asked her, "Is it illegal for me to move my children out of the house with me?"

No. It was not. But I had to make sure he didn't know what I was doing so he wouldn't cancel his trip to stop me. And I had to make sure that he did not find out and hide Sam in Ohio. "Nice, nice nice," she told me.

I contacted my friend Rachel, who agreed to come down from a state away to help me. Victim Support Services told me not to take any communal property, and to think about the shelter.

Rachel said, "Fuck that. Take everything."

I couldn't think about the shelter. Not with three kids. That was just too awful, too foreign, too much.

Rachel offered to come down and help me find a place to live.

I was in my last semester of graduate school. I earned $888 a month. I didn't know what I was qualified for or how I would live or where or whether I would get one dime from my husband. But I was leaving, I was focused, and I just didn't allow myself to think about how it would be possible: I was simply going to do it.

That week, I applied on-line for new credit cards, looking behind me at the computer desk, hunched over nervously, my fingers ice cold and little deadweights on the keys. I kissed my husband goodbye, and had sex with him one last time before he left so he wouldn't suspect anything.

I hurt the entire next day.

I packed Sam's bags and as he drove up the road with Mark, I prayed, "Please don't ever let me do anything so stupid ever again."

I did not know that I would find a place to live later that day. I did not know that the most amazing team of people from my department would come to help me move with mini-vans and trucks.

I did not know that people would volunteer to stay with my younger children, and that two people would volunteer to ride out to the country with me at dusk to get my oldest child back.

I did not know that Rachel and her daughters would come and live with us and share baby sitting and expenses.

I didn't know that I would be able to live on what I took from my joint savings account and my meager salary until I got my student loan check.

I didn't know that in three months, I would meet the love of my life.

I did not know that I would not get any child support for more than a year. I did not know that I would be in court fighting for custody of my children for three days.

I did not know that I would be accused of lesbianism, pot-smoking, and child abuse, publicly, to my children's teachers, to my students at the university, to the community at large.

I did not know that I would win custody and child support eventually.

All I knew was that my oldest child was suddenly gone, and that I had four days to turn my entire life upside down and try to put it back together.

And then I closed the front door, went to the computer, and wrote Rachel an e-mail as we had arranged for me to do when he left. I wanted to start packing, and the e-mail I sent her had two words in it.

"I'm ready."