It’s hard to describe what it feels like to relive the pain. Not the pain of being hit. After a while, abuse becomes just another part of life, pain you learn to live with. No, it’s very much more the pain of feeling so alone and vulnerable. You’re hurt, crying, and scared. And there is no one to protect you. The other women are just as scared. Even if you run to their house, there is every chance he will follow you there and then they will be potential victims too. As for the men, while they may try to stop the initial assault, tomorrow is another day. The abuser will go hunting with the other men in the village and they will laugh together over their campfire coffee. It’s as though the beating never happened.
That’s the scene that gets repeated again and again in our state. Oftentimes – way too often – it is repeated in isolated villages where little to any help is quickly available. I know this from personal experience, from a short lived, young marriage that should have never been. But it was. My mother-in-law took me in when I needed shelter from her son. She was one of a very special breed of Inupiaq women who stood up for their beliefs. And they believed a woman should be safe in her marriage.
Reading the recent article in the paper about the continued rampage of physical/sexual violence against women in our smaller villages brought back memories I’d hoped would fade more over time. But it turns out, having barbells pushed against your throat by someone so drunk there was no there in their eyes is apparently not something that fades with time. Reading about the strangulation marks on women’s necks brings it all back like it happened yesterday. But it didn’t. It happened over 40 years ago. So, if you want to know how long the damage of abuse lasts, I have avoided any long term relationship since then.
I would like to take this space to explain to you why men in this state – of all colors, races and creeds – look the other way when they know a woman is being abused. Not only do they look the other way, but they will also still hunt, bowl, go for drinks and eat dinner with the abuser as though absolutely nothing was wrong. After all, if the woman isn’t going to the police, then she must be ok with it. Right?
Most men I know now are horrified at the idea of a man abusing a woman. They say if they saw it happening, they would interfere. Which is fine as far as it goes. The thing is it doesn’t go far enough. Most abuse happens in the privacy of a home, so they won’t see it happening. Yet when these same men see the results, they tend to just turn away. The sight of a woman with bruises, black eyes and strangulation marks on her neck makes them uncomfortable. But not uncomfortable enough to apparently do anything about it.
And maybe a woman in a big city can find safety with the help of other women. But in a small village, there is no safety without the support of the men in town. Unless they make it clear to an abuser that the abuse will cause him to be isolated and shunned, if not thrown out of the village completely, the man will keep abusing and the woman will keep suffering until she dies.
I remember when the state had a lot of oil money. We were able to start women’s shelters all over the state. We viewed it as a great first step. Make women safe and then deal with the emotional/substance abuse/mental health issues that are part of violent relationships. But here we are almost 50 years later, and the statistics haven’t really changed. Neither has the number of men willing to stand up and be counted. Turns out that without both men and women taking up the cause of domestic violence and abuse together, nothing happens. Imagine that. It takes two to tango.