It may begin as an insidious or innocuous comment. It may seem like it is something you merely imagined. Perhaps he was just in a bad mood when he called you “stupid” or “lazy” or hurled epithets your way. Perhaps his boss gave him a hard time at work today and he is just letting off some verbal steam.
Or, in other cases, you may think that your husband did NOT intend to hurt you as he grabbed your arm to get your attention. Or, that WAS a “love pat” on my cheek…wasn’t it?
But then, it got worse. Things began to escalate and grow exponentially. What once was an occasional insult to your face became a series of demeaning and derisive comments at the Shabbat table in front of the kids and the (now, uncomfortable) neighbors. Or, now you found yourself walking on eggshells so as not to raise his ire, lest he hit you.
It is to you, women who have been victimized verbally and or physically, that I address these words. If any of the above, or following scenarios, seems all too familiar to you, the chances are that you are reading this far away from the prying eyes of your husband and planning on deleting it from your browser history. (If you are not sure how to do that, please click here)
Verbal abuse is the excessive use of language to undermine someone’s dignity and security through insults or humiliation, in a sudden or repeated manner. Physical abuse is an act of another party involving contact intended to cause feelings of physical pain, injury, or other physical suffering or bodily harm.
Let’s get one thing straight from the outset, ANY abuse, be it physical, emotional, mental, sexual or anything in between, IS NOT YOUR FAULT. There is NEVER an excuse for one person to be abusive to another. You may be scared, you may be confused, you may feel trapped and you may feel angry. All of those feelings are valid and need to be addressed.
But also know that there is a way out and that there IS help out there. I will get back to that soon. But first, a few words of encouragement and hope.
Yes, hope. There is hope. Sadly, studies show that the average woman remains in an abusive relationship for a year and a half before seeking help. Among Orthodox Jewish women that number is closer to seven years. Some of the reasons given for waiting so long to seek help include the “shanda” factor–the “shame” of being labeled an abused woman. While remaining in that relationship, not only is the mother a victim but the children are as well, whether directly or indirectly. It is a situation that affects the entire family.
How many times has your husband hit you or demeaned you verbally (in front of others or “just” in the privacy of your own home) and then PROMISED he loves you and will never do that again? How often have you had to wear longer sleeves or higher-collared clothing to hide bruises? Do you find yourself holding your breath as he walks into the home? Has he taken control of your life by wanting to know where you are, with whom you are, checking you cell phone history, reading your emails? What about the night you come home from the Mikveh? Will it be a night of sadness and pain, maybe even a night where you are totally ignored and degraded beyond words?
While I could list so many other questions, these can begin to give you a sense of ways in which a woman may find herself in an abusive relationship. In her mind, she may feel she is doomed to live like this until the day she or her husband dies; perhaps secretly praying for that relief.
While it will take tremendous courage and willpower to take that first step, whether it is a phone call, going to a shelter, running to a friend or a therapist, it is that first step that will give you the first movement in the direction to begin to heal and save yourself. (These are real life and death issues. Don’t be convinced by anyone, even a trusted rabbinical figure, to return to your husband and try to “work it out” on your own)
You owe it to yourself. You owe it to your children. You owe it to your future.
There are many resources out there to assist you. Below are just a few among the many. These resources deal with Jewish women and (in many cases) deal specifically with Orthodox women. That first call may seem like one that is impossible to make. The truth is that staying in an abusive relationship is itself an impossible and untenable situation.
In the United States, a national task force can be contacted at 1-888-883-8383 or 718-337-3700 or visit them online at www.shalomtaskforce.org . In addition, the national task force (NOT exclusively dealing with Jewish women) can be contacted at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
An example of a community help center and shelter catering specifically to Jewish women is located in Chicago. SHALVA can be contacted at 773-583-HOPE (4673)
In Israel, the organization to call is Bat Melech and they can be contacted at 1-800-292-333.
The Israel Rape Crisis Center in Israel can be contacted at 02-673-0002
Finally, for those in Israel, here is a link to an awareness and fundraising event for Bat Melech coming up that deserves your attention: https://www.facebook.com/events/297434793800178/?source=1
You are not alone! There are people out there to help you. In most cases, there are friends or relatives who already are aware that you are in this situation. Make the call with your friend holding your hand. Make the call with them on an extension. But, make that call. It may be the call that saves your life.