Domestic Violence: He fractured my skull, but I love him.
That awkward moment when you fracture your pregnant girlfriend’s skull
In the Mall this week, we had the privilege of providing support and encouragement to a young pregnant woman with a fractured eye socket. It seems her boyfriend had become enraged in a drunken fit of jealous imagination, and pummelled her with punches resulting in a number of injuries including this one.
I was reminded just how strange the emotional state of an abused person gets. We (because it was all of us, the people of God in the Mall, working together) managed to encourage her to get to a women’s shelter, but her resolve was wavering even as she went.
Goes with the territory
We have chosen deliberately to mingle with people who are chronically unemployed, substance dependent, emotionally crippled, and economically disconnected from society. As it happens, domestic violence is prevalent in that social set.
But let’s not forget that brutal domestic violence also occurs frequently in “nice” neighbourhoods, in “respectable” families, and is often concealed and denied for decades at a time. This is a problem of the human heart, not of a social class.
The difference is that, in the street-setting of Ipswich Mall there is a certain level of candour about life. There are facets of life that are displayed openly in that social group, which otherwise would be kept private. This is one of them. Others include things like substance abuse, sexual relationship details, personal hygiene, and grooming.
In some ways there is a refreshing lowering of otherwise stifling social barriers. In other ways, one is reminded of the benefits of discretion in most middle class social situations!
What not to say
Many of her friends were advising this girl simply to leave her boyfriend. On the surface of it, this seems like prudent advice. Unfortunately, this is actually the wrong thing to say.
She was confused by her feelings, which included shock and anger about having been beaten by him, and her firm conviction: “but I love him”.
In this state of mind, if a person is told, “leave him”, the effect is that they contemplate leaving, encounter terrifying emotions associated with that, and simply resolve to stay. It is counter-productive.
What to say
One of her friends told this girl, “you’re worth more than that”. This is a wonderful thing to say. At the same time it affirms her value as a human being, which has been assaulted by the violence, and also makes it clear that the treatment she received is not ok.
We assured her of a number of things which helped her to navigate her feelings:
1. Going to a women’s refuge is not “leaving him”. It is giving yourself space to think, and to decide what’s next for you.
2. At the refuge you will have access to resources to help you get accommodation, counselling, clothing, advice, and so on. You will no longer be isolated.
3. It’s ok to have mixed emotions: everyone who calls a domestic violence service has mixed emotions. They’re used to it. You’re not strange or unusual. These people understand your situation and your confusion.
The power of friends
Right at that moment, this girl was vulnerable. Her boyfriend had already begun the overtures of apology and self recrimination, most of her friends were offering the usual advice, with the best of intentions, but it was only a matter of time before she would have gone home to him that same day. As we gathered around her and gave good, solid advice, coupled with firm recommendations, and delivered all this with love and compassion without judgement… she allowed herself to be guided.
An immeasurably big part of that is that we have been a constant and reliable presence in the mall since May this year. We know this girl and her boyfriend (actually, I’ve known the boyfriend for several years). She trusts us. We have earned that trust by being there, being kind, being non-judgemental, and being consistent. How can we doubt that God has placed us there, precisely for times such as this?
Building relationships does matter.
Did she get to the shelter?
We don’t know if she got to the shelter. We got her in touch with the shelter, bought her a train ticket (it’s a long journey!), accompanied her all the way on to the train, and sat with her until the train left. For all we know, she could have changed her mind twenty minutes later. It’s a flip of the coin, really. It’s a long train trip.
Even if she did change her mind though, she knows that she can count on us. Next time (and there is always a ‘next time’), she will come to us again, and we will help her again, and who knows? Perhaps she will break free then.
In the mean time, we’re committed to this ministry. It matters.
The agency that she contacted: DV Connect (Domestic Violence Connect)
More on the psychology of abuse, and the kind of love that heals: The Psychological Gospel
A brief but useful resource about unhealthy relationships, from which I got the cover photo for this article: Domestic Violence
My email address, in case you need private support or advice about your own experience with domestic violence:
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It turns out that she did go to the shelter, and stayed there a couple of days. She is now getting her own place to stay. She is looking fantastic – healthy and strong.
She is still seeing the guy who was violent towards her, but not living with him. Hopefully she is better equipped to manage her exposure to his violent outbursts in future. If nothing else, she knows that she can get out if she has to, and that’s huge!