He held a weight bar behind his back as he walked out the back door, in no rush but staring hard. Approaching the car, he veered the bar behind his head and swung as hard as he could. The blow shattered the windshield but just missed its mark as it failed to connect with human flesh or bone.
The car was already in reverse.
One night just more than a week later, he was in the bedroom. There was no time to think about when he took off his pants. He was already sitting on her chest, trying to force oral sex.
“That’s when the light went off.”
Pam Lowery was 20 when she started dating her future husband and abuser. They were together for 10 years before getting married, and she was almost 32 when she left him.
“It just seemed to get worse,” Lowery said. “It was slapping, hair pulling, pulling my collar. It was never a fist in my face, but there were threats. A lot of intimidation.
“I didn’t tell anybody about it because I knew better.”
When she left, she said she was in such a hurry she only grabbed the bare essentials from her Conyers home. Her jewelry, which were items her mother and grandma had passed down. She knew if she left them they would be pawned. Her income tax papers. Her cat. Her dog.
Her parents took her in with open arms, she said, but they didn’t know their daughter was a victim of domestic violence.
“I was more scared when I got away,” Lowery said. “When you’re there in it, you at least can brace yourself. I can say, OK, I gotta take my earrings off. But when he was out of sight, I didn’t know where he was or what he was going to do.”
Lowery is among hundreds of thousands of victims – men, women and children – of domestic violence in the United States. And that number only covers who reports their abuse. Some high profile, celebrity cases recently brought light to October’s National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but abuse spans across every type of person, regardless of fame, income, race, gender or age.
But what is domestic violence really? A black eye or a broken arm? What causes such aggression toward those supposed loved ones, and is there hope for victims? Why don’t people leave after the first act of violence?
Daniel O’Leary, a professor at Stony Brook University, has studied domestic violence since 1980. He was involved in a study that followed 400 couples across 30 months, beginning six to eight weeks prior to marriage.
About one-third of women and men reported they pushed, slapped, kicked, bit, etc., their partner in the last year. When revisited over time, 75 percent of those aggressive prior to marriage showed aggression at some later point.
“Once it occurs, it is not a given that it will necessarily reoccur, but it’s a very probable event. About a 75 percent likelihood,” O’Leary said. “If a person does hit their intimate partner, there is certainly a higher risk for hitting their kid, but it is also very much the case that there is a very large percentage of men who may hit their partner or women who may hit their partner but do not engage in physically abusive behavior to their kid.
“It’s a complicated issue, but that’s the simplest answer. A drinking history and verbal aggression make the likelihood higher.”
When people think of domestic violence they usually go straight to physical acts, he said, but verbal aggression if often seen by female victims as more detrimental than being hit.
“If he hits her, say, four times a year, that’s bad, but he may call her names all the time,” O’Leary said. “There is very little physical aggression against a partner that does not follow arguments. The single biggest predictor (of violence) is verbal aggression against a partner.”
The “vast majority” of physical abuse seen in domestic violence situations is “moderate.” Pushing, slapping, shoving, he said. Similar behavior is often engaged in by both parties. Verbal aggression often has worse consequences, “though often it takes a high level of physical aggression to report it.”
What we do know
As people age, O’Leary said, they are less likely to be aggressive. And there is a cycle of violence – however not absolute – meaning people who are aggressive to an intimate partner are more likely to have come from a home where they saw their parents hit or were hit as a kid. That’s true for men and women.
“While there is a correlation, the strength of that association is fairly weak,” O’Leary said. “If a person saw their parents hit, they are somewhat more likely than the general population to hit their intimate partner, but the association is small, and around 70 percent of people who do see that don’t go on to hit.”
But can it be treated?
“At moderate levels, there is quite good evidence it is treatable,” O’Leary said. “If someone is breaking someone’s arm, knocking their teeth out, no, there’s not clear evidence they can be easily rehabilitated.”
Pam Lowery’s husband pushed her down the court room steps as they met to get divorced. She changed her locks, put chairs under the doorknob, hung curtains over all her windows, installed an alarm system and got two roommates.
And a permanent restraining order. Not to necessarily stop him, but to have proof.
“If you don’t make decisions for yourself, someone else will,” Lowery said. “If I can do it, anybody can.”
What is domestic violence
Domestic violence is a person’s use of emotional, physical, sexual and/or financial violence or threat of violence to control his or her intimate partner, and it is a crime.
- 1 in 4 women (24.3 percent) and 1 in 7 men (13.8 percent) aged 18 and older in the U.S. have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime
- 1 in 3 teens experience dating abuse
- 331,078 contacts were received by the National Domestic Violence Hotline in 2013. 77,484 were unanswered due to lack of resources
- 95% of people reported emotional/verbal abuse (threats, insults, isolation, humiliation, etc.)
- 70% of people reported physical abuse (hitting, choking, pushing, etc.)
- 8% of people reported sexual abuse (rape, exploitation, coercion, etc.)
“Even with the generous support of the NFL (who recently vowed long-term efforts to the Hotline), we still need more resources,” said Brian Pinero, director of digital services for the Hotline.
Anyone can call the Hotline 24/7 to talk to an advocate. Special peer advocates are available for callers aged 16-24. You can even text a question. They’re there whether you’re trying to escape and get to shelter, learn about an issue or find out what resources are in your local community.
Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 to reach the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Visit thehotline.org or loveisrespect.org.
*Information provided by Lisa Lawrence, media relations support at the National Domestic Violence Hotline
Media and domestic violence
On Sept. 8, media outlets released a video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching and knocking out his then-fiancée. Since then, the National Domestic Violence Hotline has received a surge in calls every day, which Lisa Lawrence of the Hotline said has remained about the same to date.
- 612: calls received on Sept. 7
- 1,051: calls received on Sept. 8
- 1,131: calls received on Sept. 9
- 1,038: calls received on Sept. 10
- 1,022: calls received on Sept. 11
- 941: calls received on Sept. 12
- 716: calls received on Sept. 13
- 797: calls received on Sept. 14
- 1,198: calls received on Sept. 15
“(National Domestic Violence Awareness Month) is the opportunity to understand and gain a vocabulary if you’re a bystander,” said Brian Pinero, director of digital services for the Hotline. “It’s more than just physical abuse. This can help us learn how to help someone safely and why it’s so hard for someone to leave (an abusive relationship). For victims to be believed and taken seriously. To have an outlet even if you don’t have a friend or family member.”
*Information provided by Lisa Lawrence, media relations support at the National Domestic Violence Hotlin