Until batterers are tried and convicted and punished as assaulters, batterers will not face real consequences and will continue to feel "entitled to get their way" by seriously harming the women they are in a relationship with.
To this day, batterers and violent abusers are not tried and punished as perpetrators of assault. Many law enforcement and judiciary figures - as well as lawmakers - have claimed the excuse that there is a "fine line" in cases of rape and assault between individuals that either share residence with one another, or share a relationship. Assault victims suffer the common "blame the victim" stance that lawyers and law enforcement have used for rape victims - domestic violence victims are often blamed for the abuse inflicted upon them, with the common assumption that they are "weak", "passive" or "helpless". Oftentimes, even well-meaning bystanders ask the victim, not the perpetrator, "why did you/would you stay?" Few fingers point at the perpetrator and make him pay for his consequences.
For some reason, an assault committed by a stranger upon another stranger is considered more gruesome, terrifying and horrendous than an assault committed upon a loved one. If an assaulter, for instance, takes a man off the street and hacks up his skull, that assaulter/murderer will be tried for murder and will most likely be given the death penalty or at the very least, life imprisonment. If that same assaulter went home and took his aggressions out on his wife by hacking up her skull, it will be considered a "crime of passion" and his defense lawyers will defend "the thin line," inferring how much his wife deserved the blows because maybe she had a mind of her own, or went out dancing at clubs, or whatever. What the defense lawyers won't point out is how little a woman's life is worth compared to a man's. What they also don't point out is how our American society praises and rewards those individuals that they deem "warriors." Of course, women are never warriors by the very nature of being women. And men who need to lash out in violence are condoned because they have an overabundance of testosterone, because "boys will be boys", etc. Nurturing is ridiculed and aggression is respected. Aggression is not respected, however, when the cost/value of the person is much higher, as in the case of men. Men are valued in society, so, to kill or torture a man off the street is a high crime. To kill or torture a woman at home is not. A woman is not valued highly her entire life - this message is subtly reinforced in high schools, colleges, television advertising, her employers - so when she is beaten or assaulted at home, society is not outraged, politicians are silent and the police laugh.
Although I can tell you the terror I endured when I was trying to leave an abusive relationship, no one will ever truly know the horror unless they live through it themselves. I was in a relationship with a man - Raphael - who was very charming to anyone he met - he fit the typical Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde personality of most abusers. The relationship I had with him was both traumatic and stressful, but not nearly as much as the 6 months I attempted to leave him. When I first refused to date him, he threatened suicide, in an attempt to make me pity him and return to the relationship. I counseled him out of pity (though I remained firm on not dating him), until he laughed and told me how he was threatening suicide "for show" so he could get me back.
Disgusted with him, I left and refused to see him. I knew I needed space and he was a controlling, dominating person who left me feeling used and spent. I wanted my energy and life back. Raphael often called 20 times a day, and came to my apartment 4 or 5 times a day, insisting that I date him. What before was a relationship that consisted of many conversations about art and society trickled to a monotone insistence that I return to his control.
I felt embarrassed that he stalked me so much that I threatened to call the police if he continued. Raphael laughed and said, "You're not going to call the police...." He found it funny that I would try to take the reigns for my own life back. He found it ridiculous that I would be strong or insistent enough about my boundaries that I would go to the extremes of calling upon help from law enforcement.
The stalking increased. I appealed to Raphael's and my mutual "friends", explaining the situation to them, hoping that they would apply a kind of peer pressure to keep him in line. Perhaps because I hadn't told them of the physical abuse before we ended the relationship, few believed me - I suspected because Raphael was charming and had more contact with them, he convinced them that I was just "trashing" his name in a sour grapes kind of way - although that made no sense because I wanted NO contact with him - I didn't want him back or want revenge. Most of the people I told either averted the subject, or asked me why I stayed and then proceeded to tell me how much they loved and adored Raphael. When I mentioned that I was going to get a restraining order, one "friend" came to my apartment to tell me I was being "too harsh." Another laughed at me, and insisted I was being "too paranoid."
Once the temporary restraining order was served, the stalking ceased for awhile. Although Raphael and I had previously "bumped into" each other often because we attended the same small campus, he disappeared after he was issued the restraining order. I later discovered from mutual "friends" that he was really surprised when the police came knocking, and that he finally "respected" my needs because of the restraining order. Raphael's fear of impending arrest and imprisonment kept him away from me - for awhile.
At the same time this was happening, the school officials and campus police were keeping a sheet on him. They wanted him out of the school for other, additional reasons. One official, a woman, approached me and wanted me to pursue a case against him so that he could get kicked out. I asked her what kind of protection they offered me, whether he would be imprisoned, etc. Both the campus police and she replied that he probably wouldn't be arrested for more than a night. Because Raphael didn't have his own residence - because he was capable of living out in their 1,000-acre woods or anywhere else on campus, I worried that after being expelled from campus, he would return and live there anyway. I was worried that being expelled would make his precarious sense of self and sanity nosedive (he was insane but so intelligent that few ever suspected), and I was worried that he would take his revenge out on me.
The police were nonplussed when Raphael later became comfortable with the restraining order and harassed me in subtle ways. He would walk behind me, while I was on my way to class and would whistle or make strange noises, or talk out loud or shout at me. He would stare at me if I passed by - when I reported this to the police they thought it was nothing because I could prove nothing. Raphael neither left a message on my answering machine, nor a letter in my mailbox, nor were there witnesses that he had come close within a certain radius to me. I felt helpless and ignored. He must have realized that, if he harassed me, nothing would happen. He must have discovered that he would only be jailed for a night, if that.
As soon as the semester ended, I relocated anonymously thousands of miles away. I quit my stay of school and further pushed back my year of graduation. I discovered later, again through a mutual friend, that Raphael had, that summer, been kicked out of that college permanently and was considered the "most dangerous man on campus" - he too moved thousands of miles away. But I had already changed my state residence and I could not afford to return to school as an out-of-state resident. I dealt with the shadow of Raphaelís stalking with months of endless sleepless nights, with a body that was so racked from having an adrenalin "rush" for 6 months, that I became dizzy constantly, lost 20 pounds in a matter of days, couldn't eat enough to maintain my sense of equilibrium, and was haunted by nightmares and crying spells. Emotionally, I've become jaded at the lack of support and the blame that I've received for having been in a relationship with Raphael in the first place. I still havenít found a counselor that is willing to speak with me about the past trauma, and still have no friend who wouldn't avert the subject to something "more pleasant."
The nightmare that so many abused women endure could easily be changed if we started doling out real consequences to abusers. Anyone who assaults - whether it be upon a stranger or a spouse, a man or a wife - should be tried the same, or tried to the gruesomeness of the assault. We need to take more preventative measures as well - men who stalk and who have abused once should be forced into counseling and should not have a time limit to their counseling but should be released from it only when the head counselor deems they understand that violence upon another is wrong and NOT justified or condoned, and when the counselor is certain that the abuser is channeling his aggression in healthy ways. Until then, wives and girlfriends and dates will be laughed at, ridiculed, and left for dead.