When I first moved to North Carolina in 1992, I served for a year as a court advocate for survivors of domestic violence. Again and again I watched women gather their courage to take out restraining orders against violent partners—and then go back into abusive situations. Among them was a middle-aged woman whose husband had chained her naked to the doghouse in the backyard one night, and a young one whose boyfriend had raped her with a gun, threatening repeatedly to pull the trigger.
Hearing their stories and witnessing the crumbling of their resolve to leave was heartbreaking. Most had been threatened with death if they tried to escape, and fear is a powerful motivator. So is economic insecurity. One woman explained what I knew was true for many: “I’d rather get beat up than worry about my kids starving on our own.”
That predatory male behavior and sexual assault have erupted in the forefront of our news in October, National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, is a tragic irony. The statistics remain staggering. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), more than 10 million people in the U.S., most of them women, are physically abused by their partners each year. Every nine seconds in this country, a woman is assaulted or beaten. One in five women in the U.S. has been raped. Nationwide, an average of three women are killed every day by those who claim to love them.