Inside The Souls Of Both Sides Of One Domestically Violent Relationship

Inside The Souls Of Both Sides Of One Domestically Violent Relationship

But the fact that they describe these experiences so vividly show that, to some degree, the relationship was a cornerstone moment and turning point for both of their lives – and what we can take away in its wake is that the story didn't end on that Sunday night for either Dylan or Isabelle.

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This week, I am writing a riff on another article I found powerful and thoughtful - a CNN article titled "Peering inside a batterer's mind - and a victim's soul." Published on January 2, 2015 by Jessica Ravitz, this article surfaced about 11 months after TMZ released the video of Ray Rice beating his girlfriend, Janay Palmer, in a casino elevator. The article reckons with an individual - and unique story of two people's story in a relationship of domestic violence - and the article in itself is very, very unique as well. It is told from the perspective of the abuser - and the victim, tells both their stories and documents how their lives and souls have reckoned and changed from their experiences.

The article immediately grips the reader with an encounter with "Dylan," the former batterer. "He's nothing like I imagined. His demeanor is gentle, his smile and handshake warm, his words friendly and measured."

It's a fundamental theme of the human condition, and something we need to all realize within ourselves and within others. No one is better or worse than anyone. Anyone, no matter how kind, compassionate, or thoughtful, is capable of anything, no matter how cruel or monstrous. I often look to Romans 3:10-12 to see what I believe of the human condition, that we are all imperfect sinners before a God who saved us: "as it is written: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." I don't believe in bad people, but only good people who've done terrible things.

Ravitz then questions in the next paragraph: "where is the batterer I've­ come to meet? 'The man who grabbed, pushed and punched a woman he claimed to love?" She describes, so painfully, in the next sentence, what compelled her to seek out Dylan and why she's writing this article: he is "the one I've enlisted to help me understand: Why do some men do this? How can they be stopped?"

She then describes Dylan as the antithesis of what she expected from a wife-beater: he is Ivy-league educated and raised by loving parents. In exchange for Dylan agreeing to "take me back to a time he'd rather forget," Ravitz agreed to change his name and hide his identity to protect himself and the abused victim. But the story doesn't end with the trauma and abuse: it is also a story of reform, as she also tells of how "some 10 years later, he became a new person, the man he wanted to be."

For Dylan, there were stark similarities with what he saw growing up and how he acted as an adult. His parents argued, and twice, he saw his father push his mother. Another time, he saw a friend he respected striking his girlfriend in a high school parking lot, and both times, no one talked about it. "Love between a man and a woman, as far as he could tell, was allowed to look this way."

Dylan then showed Ravitz the power and control wheel, "tactics a man might use to gain leverage in a relationship." The tactics on the wheel include examples like minimizing, coercion, male privilege, isolation, threats, and economic abuse. The actual implementation of these tactics included things like telling his girlfriend he didn't like her friends (even though he didn't know them) and criticizing how she did her hair and unloaded the dishwasher. In their unique situation, Isabella, Dylan's ex-girlfriend, had a disability and relied on him to get to work. "He didn't forget it…He kept the wheel well-oiled, and it would eventually spin out of control.

Through Dylan, Ravitz got into contact with Isabelle. Like Dylan, she only agreed to speak to Ravitz using a pseudonym. Growing up, she also saw her father verbally abuse her mother and throw things at her. Her mother would eventually leave, but "Isabelle learned early about submission."

From her perspective, she regrets not seeing the warning signs coming. She escaped him on the weekends and went away, and although she couldn't drive, she did just fine before he came along. Isabelle, isolated from loved ones, was "too ashamed to admit how unhappy and worried she was, [and] isolated herself further."

However, she still loved him. "Still, for so long, she hungered for what they had when the relationship was good."

The first time violence happened, Dylan recalls thinking she was cheating when she was up late talking with a male friend. "He ripped up some of her favorite photographs. He called her a bitch and a whore…And then, he unleashed his remaining rage with a punch to her chest." Dylan immediately realized what he'd done and apologized and left to give Isabelle space. Later, in court, he agreed to stay away from her for a year.

As Isabelle recalls it, she hadn't been on the phone on the day of "the incident." Dylan tried to break a vase of flowers over her head, and when Isabelle tried to close a door between them, he punched her in the chest. "The world, she says, fell silent. And then 'the universe said just play dead, and so I did.'"

Dylan, freaked out and appalled, apologized and offered her Advil. "She laughs at the absurdity of that suggestion. As if Advil could make things better?" When a friend later took Isabelle to the hospital, the doctor told her this: "I don't know how you're alive." If the punch were an inch more to the left, the blow to her chest could have killed her.

After being the court date, Dylan sought out ways to change himself. He discovered Men Stopping Violence (MSV), a training program that seeks to help society prevent, understand, and change the norms that create violent men, "and thereby prevent the abuse of women from even starting." Since only a small portion of batters get caught, MSV Executive Director, Ulester Douglas, says that "it's better to engage all men before they abuse." MSV has both prevention and intervention programs to protect women in these situations.

In MSV, Dylan re-shaped his perception of what it meant to be a man, and "he'd owned what he'd done and who he'd become. Only then could he change." Learning techniques to "center himself," he learned to practice a spirit of patience, peace, love, and empathy for others. Today, he works in social justice and dedicates himself to protecting women, and he volunteers with MSV. He's in a healthy relationship now, and calls Isabelle his best friend.

Isabelle, however, wouldn't go that far. Although she sees him as a brother and doesn't believe he would hurt another woman, she states explicitly that "I forgave that day because I choose to forgive…but some of my life got stolen." Dylan has built a successful and inspirational career, but "in some ways, she paid for it. He wouldn't be doing what he's doing, after all, if he hadn't abused her and found his way to Men Stopping Violence." Even though Isabelle has been through therapy, the PTSD still reverberates through her life: she flinches when a man takes her arm, or a man makes a critical comment. In relationships, she still worries that she'll miss the signs, and also wonders if the other person is trying to manipulate her.

"But she also emerged on the other side empowered in new ways. She isn't afraid to stand up for herself. She's strong enough to know she'd rather be alone than mistreated."

When asked why she was willing to share her story, Isabelle had this to say: "she wants women to see their value. She wants to give hope to those in unhealthy or dangerous relationships."

Let's take a moment to stop, and acknowledge how uncommon this sort of radical change is for people. The story of Dylan and Isabelle is just that unique. There are no second acts in life – because the past can never ever be erased. What's done is done, and what we think of reform and radical change is a building and growing from the past. For how could you have reformed so much if you weren't, at some level, deeply ashamed of what you'd done or who you were?

One of the last lines of Ravitz's article is that she "loses sleep wondering if it's too good to be true." Walking through the Dekalb County Courthouse, and observing men arrested for domestic violence misdemeanors, Ravitz stumbles into an afternoon class for the people who have to be there, and "no one is happy to be here. Some are outwardly mad."

At the end of the course, a Ravitz observes a couple light bulbs go off as the men go through exercises. She wonders, at the end, whether "they, like Dylan, [can] give change a chance? Or will they walk the path they've already traveled and abuse again? And, most pressing to me, how many Isabelles will suffer in their wakes?"

The truest answer, three years after this article was published, is that I don't know. No one does. At some level, at least the men are in the class, for the majority of batterers don't get caught. What stuck out to me in this article is that Dylan changed because he wanted to and because Isabelle treated him with hope and forgiveness – and yes, Isabelle paid the price for it.

It haunts and terrifies me that this story is often the best it gets in the narrative of the batterer and his victim – and when I think about what would happen if I met and talked to Isabelle and Dylan, I would know that they're a lot more than victim and batterer. But the fact that they describe these experiences so vividly show that, to some degree, the relationship was a cornerstone moment and turning point for both of their lives – and what we can take away in its wake is that the story didn't end on that Sunday night for either Dylan or Isabelle. Even if we're not in domestically violent relationships, when we're in our own trauma-inducing circumstances – when there seems to be no end in sight – the story doesn't end there, no matter how defining the moment was.

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A Letter To The Tomboy I Used To Be

To that girl with the baseball hat, board shorts, and grass stains, thank you.
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To the tomboy I used to be,

Thank you so much for making me the strong, beautiful, determined, and badass girl I am today. I am proud of who you've become. It is because of you that I can stand on my own two feet. It is because of you that I am not afraid to stand up for what I believe in. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

You were never easy to deal with. Mom and Dad had a lot to handle growing up. It was Dad who had to fight for you to be able to play boys' baseball. It was Mom who had to stand up to the boys that were mean to you for playing a boys' sport. It was both of them who had to cart you around to all of your games and practices, because playing one sport a season was just not enough. It was Mom who had to wash your clothes endless times, because the grass and dirt stains would never come out the first time. Don't ever forget who helped you become who you are.

Your attitude and thought process is very different from that of most girls. You grew up dealing with your problems through wrestling or fighting. Pettiness was not something you could deal with. Your anger came from losing a game, not drama with girls. You didn't understand why girls fought, or were so mean to each other, and to this day, you still don't understand it. You are different. You aren't like most girls by any means, which can be difficult for you, even now. You are so much tougher. You think differently. You are determined.

I love who you turned into. You are so strong; you handle everything with such passion and grit, that I can't help but thank you. Thank you for pushing yourself, and for not letting anything or anyone get in your way. The boys were mean sometimes, and the girls talked about you, but that never fazed you. That chip on your shoulder only made you strive even harder for greatness.

Thank you for making me unique. Thank you for making me extraordinary. Thank you for making me, me.


Love,

Amy

Cover Image Credit: tumblr

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If You're Against Abortion, Here's What You Should Do About It

There's more you can-- and should-- do than picket outside Planned Parenthood

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Upon the recent passing of a law that permits late-term abortions, I have seen many of my friends cry out uproariously that our country is fallen and has forsaken God. While you could probably argue this point with other examples, I don't think that this particular one serves as proof of our current state. Let me first explain to you what this law really is about and then encourage you to take other actions to lower the abortion rate.

Now in case you're not familiar, New York recently passed a law allowing abortions during the third trimester of pregnancy. What I think a lot of people have still yet to realize is that this is only allowed in the case that the fetus is not likely to live once outside the womb or the birth will be of danger to the mother. So one more time for those who still might be confused, abortion doctors are not just taking babies out of the womb and killing them a day before birth because the mother decided she didn't want it anymore. This is to save lives and prevent pain and suffering.

I know many think that aborting a terminal fetus before birth still counts as murder, but let me equate it, instead, to ending life support for a loved one who is brain-dead. In many cases, these children are experiencing pain inside the womb only to be followed by more pain shortly before death once born. Parents that are choosing to abort their pregnancies in the third trimester for these reasons are devastated and only trying to end a child's suffering, often at the expense of their own.

Hopefully, I have convinced you that not all abortions are just being used as a form of contraception and that there are many painful stories about the necessity of abortion for a mother. What can you do to lower these rates though? Well, I might add that making abortion legal probably isn't going to do the trick. While you might want to close your ears to this information, women who want an abortion are probably going to get one whether it's legal or not. Many anti-abortion individuals happen to be the same individuals that are anti-gun control with the argument that illegal guns will be procured no matter the laws. Might I turn your eye than to the case of abortion and the fact that people will probably always do what they want to do. Anyhow, let me get off of my soapbox and actually provide some information.

If you're really in it to lower abortion rates, walking outside of Planned Parenthood with a sign, shaming the women who enter probably isn't going to do the trick. First of all, Planned Parenthood does more than just provide abortions, so you may be scaring/shaming a woman who just wants access to healthcare for her pregnancy out of seeking help at all. What you can do, however, is push for your local schools to teach real sex education and not abstinence-only contraception. Yeah, scary pictures of STD's might do the trick for a while, but as we've previously discussed, people are probably going to do what they want to do regardless of what you tell them. We need to be teaching our young people how to have safe sex, and just be teaching them about sex in general. I know that the thought of your teenager having sex probably scares the crap out of you but, if they're going to do it anyway, don't you want them to be safe?

Another thing that you can do to lower the rate of abortion is to call for easier access to birth control for women. When they can easily and affordably access safe methods of contraception, there are bound to be less unwanted pregnancies. The United States needs to not only be educating its youth about all aspects of sex, but it needs to be making it as easy as possible for them to be SAFE about it. It may not be your first preference for young people to be having sex, but if they're going to do it anyway, we need to ensure that they feel comfortable taking the countermeasures to be safe about it.

The last point I'd like to make before I finish up is that even if you think that abortion is morally wrong, it's not your choice to make whether or not another individual decides to get one. Many times this decision is going to be a painful one for the mother, especially if she knows that her child will not survive outside the womb. There is no reason to make this process more painful for her, or even dangerous by illegalizing it. We need to be supporting mothers and not shaming them for whatever decision they decide to make.

If you're anti-abortion, that doesn't mean you have to be anti-choice. If you would choose not to get one, that's totally fine and I understand that, but it's important to look at the bigger picture and ensure both the physical and mental health of our women who are probably already going through a lot. Now is not the time to tear others down for their choices. Now is the time for the human race to stand together and support each other and make sure that our country is a safe one to live in regardless of your beliefs.

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