By Rae Jefferson
“You whore! You are nothing but a whore!” Her face smashed into the dashboard.
*Sarah could not hear the words her husband, *James, was screaming. They were muffled in the moment – lost in the sheer shock of what was happening. Head throbbing, ears ringing. She knew this was bad. This was not the first time, but it had never been quite like this.
Sarah’s thoughts were muddled, but she tried to remember how things escalated so quickly. So violently. She and James had what she had considered to be a slight disagreement, but he interpreted it as outright disrespect.
His fingers were bunched into a fist, her hair wired in the middle to keep a grip on the back of her head. He drove her forward into the hard plastic again.
They had been visiting a friend only 20 minutes ago when he stormed out of the house, commanding her to get in the truck so they could leave. Knowing the kind of man he was, she quickly, silently obeyed him to mitigate his irrational anger.
“You whore!” Dashboard.
Now driving, James cursed as he missed his turn. He pulled into a gas station to make a U-turn. The instant his grip released to turn the steering wheel, Sarah snatched her head away, flung the door wide, stumbled out and ran as fast and as far as she could muster.
This story is based on one of more than 20 narratives in a book of vignettes that has been compiled by Waco’s Family Abuse Center, which offers living quarters and resources for domestic abuse victims free of charge. The collected essays and poems cover the experiences of a handful of the center’s former clients
Domestic abuse is a term used to describe the dominance of one individual over another within a family unit by means of physical, sexual, psychological or emotional abuse, said Sgt. Chad Ashworth, supervisor of the Waco Police Department Family Violence Unit.
According to “Domestic Violence: How much do you know about it,” a handout from the Family Abuse Center, aggressors are generally motivated by a need for controlling others around them, and were often victims of domestic abuse themselves.
Common characteristics of abusers include low-self esteem, jealous and possessive qualities, emotional dependency and a “Jekyll and Hyde” personality, which describes an oscillation between pleasant and aggressive demeanors, according to the handout.
Reid said domestic abuse is a serious problem in Waco. The center sees upwards of 600 unduplicated, or first-time, clients each year, she said.
“Weekly, if not daily, I go to the front door and open it to someone who is shaking – sometimes with the police there or children in tow – who’s terrified,” she said. “We give her a safe place to go.”
The Waco Police Department has received about 400 to 500 phone calls reporting arguments or violence between family members in the past 30 days alone, but that’s just the beginning.
This number does not include the number of calls that are made for other reasons and turn out to be cases of domestic violence,.
In reality, 500 calls is a conservative number, Ashworth said. Many instances of domestic abuse never find their way to the ear of an officer because victims often hide it.
“Half of the people who go out to the Family Abuse Center have probably never reported it,” Ashworth said.
Ashworth said males tend to hide abuse more than females, meaning a large number of unreported cases involve male victims.
Reid said victims are traditionally female, but can come from any racial or economic background. The Family Abuse Center has had clients from the wealthiest parts of Waco to the poorest, she said.
Ashworth said many victims in violent relationships do not know their aggressor is abusive until well into the relationship.
“There’s a cycle,” Ashworth said. “It starts out with the honeymoon phase when they’re nice and pleasant, and then it goes on to where things get violent. It then builds up until an assault occurs.”
Rather than allow victims to escape the violent circumstances, aggressors often promise to stop hurting the victim, Ashworth said.
As this cycle of violence continues on, the violent outbursts generally become more and more aggressive, Reid said.
“It’s not just a flat circle; it’s a spiral,” she said. “The tension builds and the honeymoon phase is smaller each time, and sadly there’s a lot of minimizing that occurs.”
Minimizing is a practice that victims and aggressors both use to justify domestic violence. Aggressors will blame outbursts on the provocation of victims, and victims will blame an aggressor’s actions on things like anger problems or substance abuse, Reid said.
Ashworth said this unwillingness of some victims to leave their abusive homes is just as big of a problem as an aggressor’s forceful retention of a relationship.
“They don’t want their loved one to get in trouble. They just want the abuse to stop,” he said.
Victims who have only ever seen abusive relationships modeled by their parents or guardians often think that is the way relationships are supposed to work, Reid said.
“They get themselves, very easily, into these relationships,” she said. “It’s very different from someone who grew up with a strong mom who was a role model for good decision making.”
Other victims are bound by the inability to fight off an aggressor, whether it is because they do not know they have the right to defend themselves or they do not have the physical ability to do so, Ashworth said.
“People are in shock when these things happen,” he said. “They don’t know what to do because they can’t believe what’s going on.”
Psychological abuse is just as powerful as physical abuse, Reid said. Victims who face this type of abuse are often broken down by a lack of self-esteem after years of being verbally demeaned by an aggressor, she said.
“The women tell me all the time, ‘You break your arm, you break your leg, it heals,’” she said. “But this is lasting stuff.”
Other victims feel trapped in relationships because of financial dependence, Reid said.
Because domestic abuse is most prevalent among lower-income families, victims do not always have the educational background or financial means to support themselves or their children.
Although domestic violence has made its way into some Waco households, hope has sprung up across the city.
The Family Abuse Center is one of the most prominent domestic violence centers in Waco. Located at an undisclosed location, it generally offers refuge for men, women and children, Reid said.
Ashworth said the center, which is one of the best places in the Waco-area to seek relief from an aggressor, does an excellent job of getting victims connected to the necessary resources.
“You don’t have to go to the center to take part in the programs they have,” he said. “They have a lot of out-clients that have never stayed a night in the center.”
Reid said the center works in tandem with other organizations around the city to get clients connected to programs that offer things like GED classes, financial planning, drug rehabilitation, child and adult counseling, housing and legal services.
Reid said working in her field has changed the way she sees American culture and the world.
Creating a world where females “expect respect” and males realize masculinity does not equate to power or control would help with the issue of domestic violence, she said.
“I’d love for us to stop talking about how short her skirt was and start teaching our sons that non-consensual sex is rape,” she said. “I’d like for us to hold people accountable, and to raise our children to not be victims and not be offenders.”
Victims of domestic abuse looking for help can call a 24-hour hotline at 1-800-283-8401. Bilingual services are available.
*Names were changed to protect the identities of those involved.