We Learned Something Post #1

A well-dressed, middle-aged couple walked into Starbucks Tuesday afternoon, as I sat with my computer and chai near the door. The woman entered first, with the man behind her. There was something subtle about his body-language. No swagger, or strut, or leggy man’s man walk. Just a trace of ‘his underwear is too tight.’ End of thought. I went back to my computer.

Minutes later, apparently having found no suitable seating inside, they went out the door to the patio. I overheard him saying irritably that he doesn’t LIKE to sit outside. But they did. As I worked I glanced up occasionally. She was cheerful, animated….but something was off there, too. His body language (back to me) was still different. Gut feeling, but what? Next glance, she was still cheerful, like “making nice” cheerful. The words for him? Testy. Malevolent. Well contained.

He stood up and began pacing. I watched her…wondering if she was smiling or crying. Until her face broke apart and she was sobbing, shaking,  hands to her face. He remained rigid, cold, commanding.

I started shaking, too.

They moved a few steps to the curb, where she sat, shaking and sobbing, as he first stood over her, then moved back a few steps. Stern. Hard faced. Then they were standing in the parking lot. Same. She was talking through sobs. He was talking, hard edged words I couldn’t hear, hard face.

My fingers didn’t work well, but I located the local domestic violence phone number, and wrote it on what I had available – a teabag. I went outside, greeted them both, and asked the woman if I could speak with her a moment. She looked at me, like she wanted to. He said, to me, “NO, we’re having a good conversation here; leave us alone.” I did. I didn’t want to place her at risk by making him angrier. Shortly after that, they were gone.

Since then I have attended two DV support groups. I related the incident, and got feedback from five professionals who work with DV. This is what I learned from their experience:

I should not have approached her.

It could make the beating she gets at home worse.

He will likely be angrier, and blame her.

It placed me at risk.

I may have validated her experience as inappropriate, and thereby given a little support. But with risk to her and to me.

Better response: Go out of sight and call 911 or Police Dispatch.

Because – the police, if properly trained, will separate them, which gives her time to think.

Because he will not like being embarrassed or focused upon or challenged.

    • Which may subdue him.
    • Which may make her beating at home worse.
    • Which may drive his behavior farther underground, less visible to others, still as dangerous to her.

BUT, the event will be documented, which may help her later to prove need of help, restraining order, etc.

If Police are properly trained, she may receive helpful information.

Each of these DV professionals had dealt with similar situations (they also seem to have the “radar” – one said she tunes into such interactions least once a week – usually in parking lots). This is what they related:

A woman fled into the ladies room at a restaurant. The DV counselor went into the restroom, made no eye contact, but put a DV hotline card on the sink. Then left the room. She said this is because the woman may be ashamed and unwilling to interact. She may utilize the information – maybe not today or for 5 years – but she knows the option is there.

Another woman in a public location was being berated. When the abuser looked away for a moment, the DV counselor slipped a card to the woman and whispered for her to put it in her shoe. They said that abusers often search phones, purses and clothing, but rarely check shoes.

Placing DV information, card, etc., where an abuser may find it can be dangerous. It is best to do nothing rather than being too indiscrete. One way or the other, you have no way of knowing the nature of the abuser’s response, the danger to the  victim, or the danger to yourself. You do the best you can, and hope for the best.

It takes a victim an average of seven tries to leave an abuser, for various reasons. A lot of fear, confusion and denial working.

I stopped shaking after leaving Starbucks. I’m shaking again as I write this post. I’m also learning that shaking is good – it is the body’s way of releasing trauma, whether primary or triggered. So, OK.

There is improvement. I responded better than to the man in my post “To Hell In  A Hand-Basket.” I hope I didn’t set this woman up for worse abuse. Hard to know. But at least you and I know a little more and are better equipped to respond in a way that actually MIGHT help, WHEN we encounter this again.

Please pass on what we just learned.


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15 thoughts on “We Learned Something Post #1

  1. russtowne July 15, 2013 at 8:19 pm Reply

    Excellent post! Thank you for sharing this vital information.

  2. […] One of our readers who goes by the screen name “ranthegauntlet” wrote this post on her blog and we are re-posting it with her permission.  The original post was titled on her blog We Learned Something Post #1 […]

  3. Barbara Roberts July 10, 2013 at 6:14 pm Reply

    This post is informative and evocative — thanks D!
    . I think we would like to re-blog this post on A Cry For Justice. Is that okay with you?

  4. Uzoma February 10, 2013 at 7:59 am Reply

    Such an informative post! I agree with all the points and observations you made. To add, It hurts to learn also that it takes quite some time before some of these victims (women) put an end to such relationship. I mean women who depend so much on their abusive male partners for shelter, clothing, and money. I’ve encountered a similar situation here where a woman vehemently denied that there was nothing wrong with her husband even after I saw all the bruises on her lips and marks on her hands.

    Sorry if I have strayed away from the topic. Thanks for checking out my blog. It’s a pleasure to follow yours now.

    • ranthegauntlet February 10, 2013 at 8:28 am Reply

      You are exactly ON topic! Yes, it is very hard for some women to leave, and very hard for others to understand why. From your comment I can tell you are aware of some of the reasons, and that is encouraging. With greater understanding of the issues is greater potential for creating change. So good to hear from you!! Blessings. Diane

  5. Lady Quixote February 8, 2013 at 6:22 pm Reply

    Thank you for sharing this potentially life-saving information.

    I want to stand up and applaud you for your amazing courage. You were so brave! You went outside and approached them and greeted them and asked the woman if you could speak to her alone — knowing that you were putting yourself at considerable risk of harm from a man in a full-blown rage!

    That’s not the only brave thing you have done with this situation. Posting about this on a public blog, and admitting that you have since learned from 5 domestic violence experts that your brave act was the wrong thing to do, is equally courageous! Most of mere mortals cannot bear to acknowledge, even in private, that we have “made a mistake.” Particularly in our western culture, we have been taught from childhood on that making a mistake means WE are a mistake. So the natural human tendency is to deny our mistakes, cover them up and forget about them, twist them around and make them into something else, make excuses for our mistakes, or say that the 5 experts were wrong and we were right because “they weren’t there, so they don’t really know.”

    But YOU, AWESOME WOMAN OF COURAGE THAT YOU ARE, have set your ego aside for the sake of the greater good. In posting about your mistake for all the world to see, you are potentially saving countless numbers of domestic violence victims.

    I applaud your generous spirit. You deserve a medal!

    • ranthegauntlet February 8, 2013 at 7:12 pm Reply

      Lynda! Thank you, but you are too kind! Truly, I need to learn to be less dangerous about such things. This overprotective thing I’ve got going needs to come down a notch. And mistakes…well, lets say I’ve had much practice!! 😀 But I really DO want to have a generous spirit, so thank you again….I accept your kind regards!!! Blessings!!! Diane

      • Lady Quixote February 8, 2013 at 9:10 pm Reply

        Diane, you are being much too modest… in my humble opinion. 😉

        But I do know what you mean, I have also been known to plunge in where angels fear to trod. There’s something about being a survivor of soul-annihilating verbal and physical bullying, that brings out the Mama Grizzly when we see it being done to someone else. You were most likely triggered by what you saw and heard, weren’t you? I know I would have been. I have been that eager-to-please and desperate-to-appease, publically humiliated woman, sobbing uncontrollably as the one I had given my heart, body, and life to, ripped me to shreds with the sharp-edged sword of his cutting words. Only a person who knows you very intimately, knows precisely where all the soft, sore places are. One finely aimed word or phrase can hit the bullseye and leave the victim so undone, she (or he) is rendered helpless, unable to defend, or even to walk away — at least, not at that moment.

        There is one time, though, when I waded into the line of fire, that I do not regret. It happened when I was in my early 30s. My then-husband was in the military, and we lived in base housing. One night, through the thin wall of our row house, I heard the screams, shouts, and curses of a verbal argument coming from next door. Suddenly the screams escalated, and I heard the loud crashing sound of objects, or perhaps bodies, being thrown. I knew this family, so I rushed out my front door, thinking I would knock on their door and hopefully stop the momentum of whatever was going on. But when I stepped over onto their front step, I could see everything that was happening through the wide open blinds of their picture window. The man and the woman were standing on opposite sides of the living room, throwing large heavy objects across the room at each other. I saw a huge potted floor plant being thrown one way, as a heavy table lamp was thrown the opposite way…. and, sitting on the floor in the middle ot the living room was a 2-month-old baby in his infant seat, and a 2-year-old toddler. The large heavy objects that were being tossed across the room were flying right over these little innocents’ heads, and barely missing them!

        The Mama Gizzly rose up in me then. I didn’t even have to think about it, I knew there was no time to run back to my place, call 911, and wait half an hour for the police to get there, because at any moment one of those helpless little ones could be seriously injured, or killed. (Although we were in base military housing, our housing area was located several miles away from the base, through heavy traffic, and we did not have military police on patrol. The civilian police never responded to our area, so it typically would take at least half an hour for the police to arrive, as I had learned when another neighbor called the police for an assault-in-progress.)

        I opened the door — thank God it was unlocked! — then I ran into the living room, scooped up the infant with one arm, scooped up the toddler with my other arm, ran back out, and took them into my row house, locking the door behind me. THEN, I called the police.

        My husband at the time berated me for what I did. But I would do it again in a heartbeat. And, guess what — the two who were fighting, later thanked me. Although almost 30 years have passed since this incident, about a year ago I found one of the “children” from that family through social media. I contacted her, and SHE thanked me for the help I gave so long ago. I told her she was more than welcome, and that I was only doing what more people ought to do. Too many people hang back, not wanting to “get involved,” the way no one got involved when I was growing up in an insane household. As a result, the unprotected innocents suffer — and then they grow up to carry the insanity into the next generation.

        Lady Q

        • ranthegauntlet February 9, 2013 at 7:33 am Reply

          Wow Lynda. I really love the way you write. I keep wanting to repost your comments! Yes, I was triggered. I never thought of it in those terms when I confronted the guy in the restaurant (Handbasket post) or this time either, until someone else used that word. Your use of the words appease and soft-sore places. Oh yes. Humble is good, but not that kind of humble. I am soooo glad you intervened with those kiddies, and that there has been appreciation from the parents and grown child. Did those parents get their relationship any healthier later? How neat you could reconnect!

          I feel so intensely about the passivity of people who see abuse and do nothing, but have been there and understand that somewhat, too. ESPECIALLY with children who have no voice. The thing of not believing them because what they say is too hard for their adults to hear and digest. My former friend (Hammer) was molested from age 3 to 11 or so by an uncle – she told at some point, but her parents didn’t want to destroy Grandma with the news, so chose to not believe her. 40 years and a couple of victims later, they admitted it and apologized to her. Several of my relatives and Peter’s saw bits of the behaviors, and commented TO ME that he was grumpy, or that he had told them what a b&*(^ I was, but never told HIM he was out of line. When victim’s voices aren’t heard, I think someone else ID-ing the behavior or intervening TO the perpetrator has more clout. But as I learn more about other’s situations (mine was very mild), I realize the backlash to the victim can be tough. Hard calls to make. I have a lot to learn about what, in general, works and what doesn’t.

          I always love your eloquent and insightful discussion. You’ve been through a lot and have such good things to share! Thanks!!! Diane

          • Lady Quixote February 10, 2013 at 12:41 am

            Aw, shucks, thanks for the compliments re my writing. I do enjoy the written word.

            You asked if the parents ever got their relationship any healthier… sorry I did not make it clear in my previous comment, but those were not “the parents” who were having that awful fight. They were young adult members of that family. The 20-something year old young lady who was tossing the potted floor plant was the unwed mother of the infant, but not of the 2-year-old, he was her half-brother. The big strapping 18-or-19-year-old young man who was tossing the table lamp at her was another half-brother. Their fight erupted during a time when their stepfather was gone to sea, he was a Navy man, and their mother was in the hospital, recovering from surgery for lung cancer. My sweet funny friend Pat… she only lived a few more months. I stayed with her all night at her side, every night, during her last week of life, holding her hand. None of her family could bear to be with her and see her like that, and she was dying alone. Near the end of all that hellish misery, Pat said, “Oh praise the Lord, I see Jesus!” ….I just got goose bumps writing/remembering that. After all these years. Her daughter, whom I found about a year or so ago via MySpace, was 12 or 13 at the time, hiding upstairs, I believe, as her adult siblings tore the downstairs apart. I can understand why they were coming unglued, they had just learned that their mama was dying. Grief hits people in different ways, that’s for sure.

          • ranthegauntlet February 10, 2013 at 5:53 am

            Yes, I see as I re-read that I just assumed the parenthood of the adults. And yes, what a tough situation for young adults! Step-dad out to sea, Mom dying. I understand how such strong emotion can remove all sense. And I’m so glad you were with Pat, for her and for you, as you were able to share the victorious part of her passing after living through the misery part. Thank you for sharing that with me, by the way, about Pat seeing Jesus. Blessings, Lynda!

  6. mybroom February 8, 2013 at 4:01 pm Reply

    Hi D,
    I will respond later today, I’m in the time zone for Melbourne, not sure what difference that puts between your waking hours and mine. Lots to talk about, cheers G

    • ranthegauntlet February 8, 2013 at 4:31 pm Reply

      17 hours! My today is your tomorrow! Time really ISN’T linear! Blessings.

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