Here's the telephone number:
Grab a pencil, write it on a post-it note, put it in plain view, memorize it. It's the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and if you're being abused, they can help you. They'll pick you up, they'll take you -- and your children, if you have them -- to a domestic violence shelter or to another kind of safe house. It won't be your parents' house or your best friend's house, because he'll know where that is, and you'll be putting those people in jeopardy, too. But the people on the other end of the line will help you. They know what you're going through, and they'll take you to safety.
"And that's where your life will start again," domestic violence expert Dr. Jill Murray, told me on Tuesday. "It won't be the life that you once had with the guy. You will be safe, you'll be alive and you'll be able to live the rest of your life and raise your children."
I had called Dr. Murray shortly after watching the sickening video of Baltimore Raven Ray Rice, knocking his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, out cold, last February in an Atlantic City casino elevator. Not surprisingly, the story has dominated the screaming headlines all week, ever since the video was leaked by TMZ.
"But there's really nothing new about this tragedy," Dr. Murray told me. "Nothing new at all. It's like all these guys read the same abuser handbook. They're not unique. They're just abusers, and they all do the same thing."
If you're being abused at this moment, you don't need to hear that each year 1.3 million women will be victims of domestic violence; and that one in four women will experience it in her lifetime. Knowing that is not going to stop that fist from connecting with your face. Or that knife from being held to your neck.
You're not interested in measuring your horror against some awful national trend. You just want to be safe.
So if you are experiencing violent abuse at the hands of someone close to you, someone you feel you can't escape, you need to read below what Dr. Murray told me. It could save your life.
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"Silly Woman Thinking"
"If you are in a relationship that's emotionally or verbally abusive and thinking, 'My boyfriend or my husband would never do that to me -- yeah, maybe he calls me names, but I can deal with that' -- it is just 'silly woman thinking' to believe that it could never turn physically violent. Because physically violent relationships start with emotional and verbal abuse. You watch that video of that woman being dragged out of the elevator and think, 'Wow, that's shocking and horrible, but it won't happen to me.' Well, she probably thought that, too."
"Love is a Behavior, Not a Feeling."
"Feelings of love can be anything, depending on what you want them to be. But if you think about love as a behavior, then you cannot stay in an abusive relationship. You can't say, 'He cheats on me, therefore he loves me. He hits me, therefore he loves me. He calls me names, therefore he loves me.' It doesn't matter how many times he says, 'I love you baby -- you're the most important thing to me.' Just look at his behavior, and that will tell you what love is."
The First Signs
"These guys usually start off charming and very attentive, maybe even overly attentive. They're very focused on you, which feels good. Then slowly -- and it's really in incremental steps -- they start being jealous, and then ridiculously jealous. Like, you're not allowed to have male friends -- not even talk to them. Many women believe at first that this kind of jealousy is cute; they think he's just being protective. But soon that morphs into accusations about men, and the woman is constantly defending herself. So the jealousy is one thing to look for right away. It's not cute -- it's abusive, and it's a sign."
Morphing Into Him
"Soon he starts isolating you from your friends, from your family, from your outside activities. He says he wants to spend all of his time with you. Or he always has some sort of crisis or something that you need to manage for him -- and you feel so important because he's depending on you. So as you stop seeing your friends and family and doing your own activities, you gradually morph into his identity -- the identity he wants you to have."
It's Not Romantic
"In the beginning, all of this feels flattering and romantic. Here's a man who says he just can't live without you. Maybe he even tells you that he loves you on the second date. Or maybe he starts giving you suggestions about how you're dressing. He's not saying you look horrible or look like a tramp (yet), but he starts picking out clothes for you to wear on a date with him, and you want to look your best for him. All of this feels normal and natural, even romantic. Well, it's not normal or natural or romantic. It's creepy, abusive behavior."
The Fear Factor
"A lot of people say, 'Well, you know, women stay in these relationship because of the financial benefit.' No, women do not stay in these relationships because of money. They stay in these relationships because of fear. I mean, a guy who can beat a woman senseless -- you better believe she's afraid of him. And the most dangerous time for a woman in a domestic violence relationship is actually when she leaves, not when she stays. 'How dare you leave me!' he says. That's because it's all about power and control, and now she wants to take her power and control back by leaving. That's going to make him really angry. So, no, she's not staying because of money. She's staying because of fear -- and she has a good reason to be frightened."
The Roller Coaster
"With women in abusive relationships, there's always a high-level of roller coaster ups and downs. After a big fight, there's the honeymoon period -- and that's always so wonderful. You know, 'I love you, I love you -- you're the best thing that's ever happened to me and I'm so sorry. I'll never do it again.' But soon enough, that moves to the tension-building phase, and then to the explosive phase. And that's when it all gets crazy again. And no matter what kind of abusive behavior happens -- whether it's verbal or emotional or physical or perhaps sexual -- it's always shocking for the woman."
Why Does She Keep Going Back?
"If you went out with a guy and he broke your arm on the first date, hopefully you wouldn't go back on a second date. But that's not how it goes in these relationships; there are a lot of good times before the bad times begin. So women do go back to abusive guys because of what I call 'nostalgia amnesia.' Think about it: if he was a 100 percent bad guy, no one would be with him. But she's probably hanging onto memories of things they did together. I worked at a domestic violence shelter for many years, and whenever these women came in, they were full of fire and brimstone -- upset, angry, devastated. But within a few days, they were into nostalgia. They had forgotten all the bad stuff and just remembered the good. So when they go back to the honeymoon phase, they think, 'Oh, that's the man I fell in love with; that's who he really is. So maybe if I do X and Y and Z, I can keep him like that all the time.' And in her mind, it becomes her responsibility. And if he doesn't keep acting nicely, she feels like she's failed."
Staying For the Kids
"A lot of women with kids stay with an abusive man because they feel their children need a daddy. Well, children need a healthy male role model. So you have to ask yourself -- and I say this to women all the time, and you can see them looking queasy -- 'If you had a 16- or 17-year-old daughter, and she started dating a man exactly like her father, would you feel like you did the best job that you could as a mother?' Or, 'If you had a son, and he ended up behaving exactly like his father -- exactly -- would you feel like you had done everything you could as a mother?' You can really see these women getting queasy. You can just watch the air being taken out of them. And there's a good reason for that: when children grow up in this type of environment, they're 25 times more likely to be an abuser or be abused.
So it's like you're taking out the best possible insurance that your children are going to be damaged. And don't think that your children don't know what's going on. I have counseled more than a thousand children in domestic violence relationships, and even when they're two years old, they absolutely know what's going on, every single one of them."
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National Domestic Violence Hotline