By Shani K. Collins
Domestic violence is a serious matter. It has existed for years, but often goes unaddressed because of the immense stigma, fear, and shame surrounding the issue. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (2007) defines it as the “willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior perpetrated by an intimate partner against another.” The Coalition reports: “it is an epidemic affecting individuals in every community, regardless of age, economic status, race, religion, nationality or educational background. This violence against women is often accompanied by emotionally abusive and controlling behavior, and thus is part of a systematic pattern of dominance and control. Domestic violence results in physical injury, psychological trauma, and sometimes death. The consequences of domestic violence can cross generations and truly last a lifetime.”
Recently, I attended a sorority function, and heard the powerful testimony of a very attractive, middle-aged, upper-middle class African-American woman who was a victim of domestic abuse while married. After sharing her story of leaving her husband, and a $300,000 mansion, she said: “Sisters, don’t think that because we are college-educated women that domestic violence can’t happen to us–it can.” She was absolutely right. Domestic violence is often thought to occur among women who are under-educated and from low-income backgrounds; however, this is not entirely true. In fact, 1 in every 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime; 85% percent of domestic violence victims are women; and women between the ages of 20-24 are at greatest risk of non-fatal intimate partner violence. Unfortunately, most instances of domestic violence are never reported to the police (NCADV, 2007). Factors such as fear, embarrassment, and religious beliefs about dating/marriage may prevent a woman from reporting violence, but not taking action to stop domestic violence is never the best option.
Time after time, we are sadly reminded of the victims of domestic violence—women whose bodies were maimed by things like rape, and alcohol, acid, cigarette and gasoline burns, or by gunshots and physical assaults. More frequently than not, we are reminded of the many women whose lives were taken away too soon. Latasha Norman is one such example. A native of Greenville, MS, Latasha was described as a beautiful, bright, energetic, fun-loving, spirit-filled, family-oriented young woman. However, during her junior year Jackson State University, the 20 year-old accounting major was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, Stanley Cole. After an intensive search, her badly decomposed body was discovered in a wooded area near historic Tougaloo College. Was Latasha’s life not worth more? Certainly, it was.
There are many Latasha Normans walking around on college campuses each day. They are college-educated women who are involved with men who may be physically, verbally, sexually, and emotionally abusive. There are many female college students who know they are involved a very bad relationship, but feel powerless to change their circumstances. In fact, the cycle of domestic violence is like being trapped in a revolving door: it is hard to get escape. The cycle begins with: abuse: the abusive partner lashes out with aggressive, belittling, or violent behavior; guilt: after the abuse, the victimizer feels guilt, but not over what he’s done; excuses: the abuser rationalizes what he has done; normal behavior: the abuser does everything he can to regain control and keep the victim in the relationship. He may act as if nothing has happened, or he may turn on the charm; fantasy and planning: the abuser begins to fantasize about abusing again; he spends a lot of time thinking about what the victim has done wrong and how he’ll make her pay; and the set-up: the abuser sets the victim up, and puts his plan in motion, creating a situation where he can justify abusing her (Help Guide, 2012). This cycle goes on and on.
As humans, it is important for us to safeguard one another, and to look for the signs of domestic violence among our female relatives, friends, and family members, especially among college-aged women who are at highest risk of abuse. The signs are not always visible, but they are there. The key signs of a dysfunctional intimate partner relationship include: intimidation, which involves the victimizer making a victim afraid with looks. It continues with emotional abuse: putting the woman down; and isolation: controlling what she does. After that, the minimizing/blaming cycle starts: this involves the victimizer blaming the woman for the abuse, or saying she caused it. This phase is followed by using her children to relay messages or threatening to take them away. Other signs of domestic violence include: economic abuse—taking away a woman’s money; using male privilege—the victimizer treats the victim like a servant; and threats—the victimizer threatens her, threatens to leave her or commit suicide if she leaves the relationship (Help Guide, 2012). The cycle of violence continues on and on until it reaches a breaking point. Usually, the breaking point is defined by serious injuries to the woman, or death as a result of violence.
Domestic violence is a serious problem among women, particularly college-aged women. Being silent about domestic violence is not helpful. The best way to prevent it is to take immediate action to eliminate the abuse. This includes removing oneself from a harmful relationship. Also, prevention starts with being informed of the issue, and to knowing how to and when to reach out for help. If you or someone you know is involved in a domestically violent relationship, please reach out for help by calling your local police headquarters, and by going to a domestic violence shelter for safety. You may also seek anonymous and confidential support by calling: 1.800.799.SAFE (7233).
In closing, we are all human beings, created to fulfill a larger purpose on this earth. Domestic violence robs us of our purpose; thus, it serves no purpose at all. For more information on domestic violence, please visit the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence at: www.nacdv.org.
Shani K. Collins is a native of Greenwood, MS, a college instructor, and is completing her Ph.D. in Social Work at the University of Alabama. You may visit her at www.shanicollins.com
The Latasha Norman Center for Counseling and Psychological Services was established at Jackson State University in memory of Ms. Norman. The annual Latasha Norman 5K Run/Walk will take place on Saturday, October 27, 2012 on the campus of Jackson State University, located in Jackson, MS. This article is written in honor of the beautiful life Latasha Norman lived.