This piece will appear in the ADN online on Friday and then in the Sunday paper. It took me a long time to write it. Not long in that I sat at my computer for hours, but long in that it has taken me this long to admit I was raped in my marriage and I should not hold the shame for that. My ex-husband should.
Here is the memory that sticks most in my mind. My husband is kneeling on me with a barbell on my neck and he’s screaming he’s going to kill me. Then he forces me to the bed for what he thinks is hot sex. I comply for fear of what will happen if I don’t.
Some call that rape even if it happens within a marriage. I didn’t have that word for it when it happened to me. But I have it now and I will use it. I was raped. And not just once. I repeatedly had sex with him to avoid the consequences if I didn’t. Usually it started with violence and ended up with him snoring and me sobbing quietly so as not to wake him.
I was one of the lucky ones. I got out in a relatively short time. The marriage was over in three years because I was able to find the support I needed from friends who helped me leave. When I became health director for the North Slope Borough and someone came to me with the idea of opening a women’s shelter or, at a minimum, identifying safe houses in the community, I agreed enthusiastically. I knew the need. I knew the horror and fear of being trapped with an abuser. I knew how quickly you lose all respect for yourself because of the amount of time you spend placating your abuser, trying to keep things on an even keel so he won’t explode. But the rage always does. Sometimes alcohol fuels it. But often it is just cold anger that needs an outlet. My face and body became that outlet.
All the support I found was from other women, women who had been through the same thing and women who were still in the situation but sure he loved them and so they were hanging in there hoping things would change. It quickly became evident to me that it would never change because, as I have said in these pages so often in the past, there was no incentive for my husband or any other abuser to change. No one was standing up to them. While the women attempted to protect each other, the men went about their business as though everything were right in the world and the only things they had to worry about were the big things, the important things, the man things. Women being beaten didn’t make that list.
I have always believed that if the men in the villages stood up to the abusers, this would change. But the men look the other way when their sisters, mothers, aunts, nieces and daughters show up with black eyes, bruised faces and the look of hope, the light that should be in their eyes, dimmed or extinguished.
I don’t understand how they can let this happen and not be enraged. I don’t understand how they can work with the abuser, go hunting with the abuser and party with the abuser with no thought as to what that man was capable of doing to the woman in his life. Either they are cowards or they simply don’t care enough. Either answer should both horrify us and give us a clear insight into why these problems seem to never get resolved.
I was lucky to be able to walk away from my abuser and get on with my life with only minimal scars. Well, they are minimal compared to the scars that other women carry with them for the rest of their lives. Many village women have little to no option but to stay with their abuser if they want to have food on the table. After all, the man is the provider, right? Can’t get the provider mad or he won’t provide for you. So you stay in a horrifying situation because you have no other options. And eventually you drink yourself to death if he doesn’t beat you to death first.
The answer to violence against women resides, at least partly, in the actions of the men who accept the abusers into their society and provide no penalty for their actions. A little old fashion shunning might not be a bad idea. Or a downright expulsion from village society would also work. But something must happen and it is up to the men in society to do their part. Until such time as both men and women get involved in resolving the problem, it will continue to exist as a cancer on Alaskan society.