Domestic abuse is a crime. Let that sink in.
People need to understand this. Some would say it is arguably the most craven, sinister, and mean-spirited of crimes because an abuser is harming the person – a spouse or children or someone very close to him (or her) — who he professes to love.
When you hear stories of victims of spousal abuse and what experts say is happening, what happens over time is a calculating effort by the abuser to break down his spouse to gain total control and dominance of his spouse.
The pattern is almost always the same. There is a thrilling courting period, love-bombing that the abuser will employ to attract and draw in his spouse. In this phase, domestic abuse survivors say the abuser is charming and show no blatant signs of abuse. But they also say, in retrospect, if you pay attention enough, there are, in fact, warning signs. But they are subtle.
Then in the next phase, when the abuser is certain he can show his true self because a relationship is firmly established, these subtle red flags become much more pronounced. So begins the psychological and emotional abuse stage that is mostly characterized as verbal abuse intended to diminish the abused self-esteem.
The love bombing stops and suddenly the abused can’t do anything right in the relationship as the abuser complains about everything and hurls constant insults. No matter what and how much the abused spouse will give to her abuser husband (or wife) – money, attention, love, even what he most desires, control – none of that will ever be enough.
Then the abused starts to believe she is the problem, something that is commonly heard among domestic violence survivors. “It’s my fault that I didn’t prepare the food on time. It’s my fault that I questioned why my husband didn’t come home last night. I’m the selfish one.” – the self-loathing script and confusion now deeply set for the next stage, physical abuse.
By the time physical abuse kicks in, the relationship is toxic. The abused spouse is just a shadow of her former self before she met her abuser. Her self-confidence is gone, and she feels trapped. She thinks she cannot survive on her own and that she has no option but to stay in this toxic relationship.
Trauma after trauma, physical and emotional abuse keeps coming, a barrage of merciless abuse is piled on top of each other and soon the abused reaches a crossroads: she can either stay in the relationship and sink to lower depths of misery, and potentially be killed in the process; or she can leave and rebuild a new life.
The choice for most people is a simple and obvious one. But after years of dependency, gaslighting (a manipulation strategy that has the abused doubting one’s own reality), and having been minimized, blamed, and ridiculed — for the domestic abuse survivor most of them will always say leaving was frightening and difficult. This is how much control an abuser has over his victim at this point.
For those who make it out from an abusive, toxic relationship, they often say the trauma endured will take years to recover from. They are engulfed with doubts of oneself, have a hard time trusting people or even being open to any future relationship.
And in cases where the abused has isolated herself from family and friends – a control tactic abusers typically use – the domestic abuse victim must rebuild relationships, if possible.
Clearly, the scenarios detailed here, the sequence, frequency and intensity of abuse, will vary in relationships. For some domestic abuse survivors, their situation could have been worse; for others, less severe.
Filipinos and domestic abuse
Filipinos in Hawaii are overrepresented in the state’s overall reporting of domestic abuse in the state and have the highest domestic abuse fatality among all ethnicities.
We know that this overrepresentation is not isolated to Hawaii but is common in other Filipino communities on the mainland, studies show, which suggests there could be socio-cultural factors we were raised with and are accustomed to that make us more prone and susceptible to domestic abuse.
Within our community, some of us will say it’s our patriarchal society, especially among the older generation, that makes some forms of domestic abuse acceptable. It’s just the way it has been and some within the Filipino community will accept it, of course, in mild and rare abusive situations.
A mild example would be in the Philippines making fun of a spouse’s physical features is more in jest and that can be common. But in the U.S., that same joke about a spouse’s weight, for example, and repetitive use of it, could be seen as verbal abuse.
Another explanation that Filipinos will say that could open us to domestic abuse – something that social scientists haven’t even mentioned but Filipinos know this to be true – is that Filipinos look to marriage as a sacred lifetime commitment. Many in our community believe that once we’re in it, we must make it work, even if it means forgiving the unforgivable and enduring the impossible such as physical abuse.
There’s no study done to correlate this unwavering Filipino commitment to marriage to the high rates of Filipino fatalities due to domestic abuse. But it could explain why in situations where the most harmful and severe physical abuses are present in a marriage, that in these instances some Filipinos would still be in a relationship that poses potentially fatal outcomes.
This – sticking around in a severely abusive marriage – shouldn’t be acceptable, whether it’s our Catholic faith or tradition that keeps us in place.
If you are being abused, and you know deep down what’s acceptable and not, what’s healthy and not, get out of that relationship. Bring that abusive relationship to light and tell your family and friends about the situation who can then help you leave it before it’s too late.
You might think there is no way out, but there is always a choice.
Domestic abuse is a crime. Let that sink in.