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Locked up with a tyrant: how to protect yourself from domestic violence during a pandemic

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, complaints of domestic violence have skyrocketed around the world. At the start of the pandemic, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for the prevention of violence against women and listed the countries facing this problem. IN list of includes Turkey, France, Australia and other states, including the United States. Separately about the problem of increasing domestic violence during the epidemic they say and Russian human rights defenders. How to recognize signs of incipient abuse (abuse), and how can you protect yourself when you find yourself in "self-isolation" with the abuser?

Photo: Shutterstock

American tragedy

Elena Johnson she met her future husband Brian in Moscow when she was only 19 years old. It turned out that at one time the American studied Russian, served in the army, and then, after retiring, decided to take a look at Russia with his own eyes. He studied at Moscow State University, returned home, and then came to Moscow for the second time and found a job as an accountant in an audit company.

«He courted me very gallantly, behaved quite modestly. It was evident that he felt like a guest in Moscow, tried to speak Russian. At the same time, he was 15 years older than me, he had seen a lot in life. Of course, he was interesting to me. We went to Bulgakov's House together, walked along the Arbat. Thanks to him, I was able to see Moscow with different eyes. These were wonderful memories", - says the woman.

At that time, Elena could not imagine that, having moved to the United States and married her, Brian would first start to bully and then physically beat his Russian wife. Today she is trying to remember what warning signs women should pay attention to in order to recognize the rapist in time, and why it is important to seek outside help if the relationship has reached the point of assault.

«I remember once he got into a fight with other guys, and it jarred me. Sometimes in companies he drank. But we were young and it seemed normal. Moreover, after all, no one explained to us how everything should be, what attitude towards a woman is considered acceptable, and what is dismissive."- Elena recalls.

Brian's behavior changed immediately after moving to the United States.

«I immediately felt that he now had power. This instantly changed his behavior. We had a big age difference, and it is logical that I had my own interests. However, Brian completely ignored them. But at that time, every new manifestation of his rudeness or disdain seemed to me too insignificant to react to them. This is like boiling a frog in a cauldron - everything happened very gradually. For my part, I tried to preserve the relationship as much as possible, and therefore I tried not to pay attention to things that, in my opinion, could still be tolerated", - Elena explains.

The next step was unreasonable scenes of jealousy and nagging, especially when the husband drank - and he began to do so more and more often. Once Brian even pushed his wife out of a moving car.

On the subject: Domestic violence in the USA and post-Soviet countries: how the authorities react

«Once the employees at work absolutely officially, at the reception, gave me an expensive present for my birthday - a pearl necklace. As a result, my husband made a scene for me, saying that I should only accept such gifts from him. Sometimes it happened that he could find fault with the fact that I did not have the right to sit with a sad expression on my face - even when I told him that the reason for this was that I did not greet me. But I still tried to justify him: he nagged, but he didn't shout, and if he shouted, he didn't hit, and if he pushed, he didn't hit. And when he did hit him with his fist, other mechanisms worked - a feeling of shame appeared. I didn't know how to tell people about this, how to explain what happened to my parents. I understood that I had to do something about this, but I did not know what exactly. At the same time, I was scared to change something, get a divorce, and therefore did not want to believe in the reality of what was happening", - says Elena.

The habit of violence

When the beatings became more frequent and more intense, the girl still thought about leaving her husband, and even tried to do it twice, but each time her husband managed to persuade her to return. He asked for forgiveness, promised to improve, and the difficult circumstances in the life of Lena herself - the illness and death of her mother - did not dispose to clarify the relationship. She decided to give her husband a second chance, which ended in unexpected consequences - pregnancy. After that, Elena became psychologically even more difficult to get away from the rapist.

«When you love, you forgive. You seem to understand what happened, but you really want to believe in the best, and in your youth, pink glasses are very, very strong", - the girl admits.

Elena decided to leave her husband with a small child only after a series of his infidelities, when she realized that her husband did not care not only about her, but also about her son.

«I could advise other girls to be on their guard already in the event of the first unreasonable nagging, screams and unjustified scenes of jealousy, and not to justify them with alcohol. I know that in some cases men try to discount everything that is dear to women and try to isolate them. In my case, fortunately, this was not the case, but these things are also a reason to be wary."She notes.

Leaving her husband, Elena did not know where to turn to, and was forced to live with friends for some time, and then combine work and raising a child in order to earn a living.

«Now I know that in the USA there are special shelters for victims of domestic violence. It is enough to drive in the name of the settlement and the words domestic violence or women shelter on the Internet. They provide free legal support - at least they can help you fill out paperwork, file a lawsuit, and even go to court with you as support. In some cases, they can find a lawyer to solve complex cases. An overnight shelter can be provided for women with small children. This is very important, because many women simply do not know how and where they can get away from their tyrant husband.", - concludes Elena.

How to recognize a rapist

A well-known Russian clinical psychologist who has been working as a life coach in the USA for several years Olga Podolskaya assures: the main sign of a future tyrant is not so much aggressiveness as the desire for control, which at the beginning may look like heightened care and strong love.

«Sometimes this manifests itself in the fact that the abuser seeks to isolate the victim as much as possible: he makes her quit her job, move away from friends, so that she is completely dependent on him. But even if this does not happen, and he allows a woman to have some formally unrelated spheres of life, such a person tries to control her behavior as much as possible. For example, it is important for him to know exactly where a woman works, what time her working day ends, he may insist on taking her to work and meeting her. At first, the victim may think that she is so important and significant to a man that he is interested in the smallest details of her life. Often it even flatters her. However, there is a big difference between interest and control. A tyrant needs not only to know that a woman is dating a friend - it is important for him to decide whether he will let her go to this meeting, determine what time she should return home, and so on.", - the psychologist explains.

Olga Podolskaya. Photo courtesy of the author

Olga Podolskaya explains: by agreeing to such "rules of the game", a woman herself transfers control over her life to an authoritarian man.

«If we think about the animal component of our psyche, or rather, about the animals closest to humans - primates, we will see that their society is very hierarchical. There is a rigid hierarchy in a herd of monkeys, and it is very important for them on what step in the structure of the herd their partner is. Primates are in principle sensitive to power, and our unconscious instincts mimic them in many ways. However, as a rule, the conscious part of the psyche is able to control them. But if a woman from childhood is accustomed to control or for some other reason the infantile part of her psyche takes over, she will not be able to control the instinct to submit to the power of the “strongest in the pack", - explains the psychologist.

The partner's desire for control can manifest itself in different ways. In particular, it can involve the "carrot and stick method" or the devaluation of anything the victim is interested in, including the people with whom she interacts. However, the psychologist emphasizes: in the case of only ridicule, for example, over the wife's friends, the relationship may never reach the point of assault, unless the partner seeks to limit the spouse's communication with these friends, in other words, to control her behavior, and not just comment on it.

There are also situations where depreciation does not occur explicitly, and control is really served under the guise of increased concern. However, even in this case, over time, this concern becomes suffocating and, as a rule, sooner or later a woman tries to get out of the obsessive care. It is then that the abuser sets up the first scene, which is not necessarily aggressive.

«He can demonstrate how terribly he suffered because his wife came home from work 15 minutes later than usual, and this makes her feel guilty. The second time, such a "violation of the rules" can cause a stormy scene with shouts and accusations, followed by a "reconciliation" with flowers and gifts. But each time there will be fewer gifts, less reconciliation, and more violence. Sooner or later, the situation can really come to assault.", - says Olga.

On the subject: How wives brought to the USA become victims of domestic violence

By this time, as a rule, the victim is already getting used to feeling guilty and believing that she herself caused the man's anger by her mistakes. After the first beatings, the woman sometimes tries to leave, but over time, rethinking the situation, she again begins to feel guilty and decides that everything depended only on her behavior. If such women have no friends and no loving and understanding relatives, they often return to the rapist, perceiving him as the only person who loves them.

Where to go for help

That is why Olga Podolskaya advises: if the situation is not yet dangerous to life and health, before deciding to leave her abuser husband, it is important for a woman to prepare mail for this in advance. This includes purely material things: money, provision of housing for the first time, documents, and so on, but most importantly - the psychological attitude and restoration of the lost support group from among loved ones.

«Of course, there are shelters and helping organizations, and as a last resort you need to go at least there. But, unfortunately, when a woman is not psychologically ready to make a firm decision about leaving the rapist, she can return to him even after contacting such an organization.", - the psychologist admits.

That is why Olga emphasizes: it is psychologically difficult to escape from a tyrant, and the first thing to do in the event of violence is to at least tell one of your friends what exactly is happening in your family, thereby regaining the lost “reference group” that can provide support ... If the tyrant cuts off all the possibilities of contacts (which is much easier to do in a quarantine situation), the psychologist advises to use purely female secrets - for example, “take time off” to a gynecologist or to a pharmacy.

«In the United States, when a woman comes to a gynecologist, she is obliged to be given a questionnaire about whether she is facing domestic violence, precisely because in the case when a tyrant controls her whole life, a gynecologist is one of the few specialists with whom the victim can stay alone. In France, such questionnaires began to be issued in pharmacies already during quarantine. It's pretty logical. Often rapists do not want children, and at the same time do not want to limit themselves to contraception, therefore they are quite positive about the fact that a woman herself begins to take care of contraception. In the event of a complaint, doctors or pharmacists can help the woman at least physically escape from the abuser", Says Olga Podolskaya.

In addition, if you have been a victim of domestic violence, it is important to know: regardless of your immigration status, there are many organizations and special programs in the United States aimed at helping victims of family tyranny.

First of all, there is program The US Department of Justice for Victims of Domestic Violence, which operates nationwide helplines:

  • 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
  • 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).

Here is given basic information about domestic violence. Comprehensive information about the signs of abuse and the possibilities to get help can be found on the website specially dedicated to this topic - National Domestic Violence Hotline.

In addition, many public organizations are helping victims of domestic violence. Their list with phone numbers and more detailed information is available here... Some organizations specialize in sexual violence, some focus on the nationality of the victim (Asian, Jewish, African American and other communities), and there are those who are involved in violence against children. Most of the organizations represented provide legal aid to victims, mediate with law enforcement agencies if necessary, and all of them, without exception, undertake to maintain confidentiality.

Religious charities such as the Catholic Church or Salvation Army.

Miscellaneous domestic violence advice Educational program

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