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Not In My Universe

Have you ever heard the acronym "NIMBY?" It means "Not In My Backyard." Usually this phrase is used to refer to homeowners who are angered at the idea of a landfill or prison being built near their houses. At the first whiff of the possibility of trash or inmates being dumped near their castles, NIMBY is the cry heard all the way to City Hall. In other words, "Don't Mess With My Space." Numerous community activists have actually succeeded in preventing the dreaded strip mall or strip joint from being constructed in their "backyard." If only these same people could put pass ordinances against a horror which (according to a UNICEF report released in May of 2,000) is occurring in 20% to 50% of the households across the planet -- domestic violence directed at women and girls. When it comes to any sort of abuse, whether it be physical, emotional or spiritual, directed at women and children, I'd like to see the phrase NIMU become standard: Not In My Universe.

As a son, husband and father who deeply loves and respects all of the women in my life, it's impossible for me to comprehend how a man could batter a person he's supposed to care about. My instinctual reaction is to want to grab the brute and give him a taste of his own medicine. Bear in mind that this is not really what I would do, but this feeling is born out of my own frustration at these fools. I'd like him to know what it's like to be fearful, to experience the shame and humiliation his victim endures. Intellectually I can understand that the batterers probably grew up in dysfunctional families, perhaps have some chemical dependency, or just plain don't know how to communicate. But as a guy, I tend not to have any sympathy for the sob stories of an abuser.

Although I am not a medical expert or counselor, unexpectedly enough, I have over the last four decades come in contact with hundreds of women who have been beaten by their mates in one way or another. Sadly, I'm often called upon to conceal the black-eye on the well-known blonde TV star, or take the curse off the bruised cheek of the stock broker hiding out in the women's shelter. Their batterers seem to come from all sorts of backgrounds, and cross all financial and educational boundaries. The lady waiting in her trailer to finish her next scene isn't any safer than the woman watching ER in her trailer park. It can happen to anyone. The women on both sides of the spectrum likely share a common trait, though, their unwillingness to breathe a word about what happens behind the tightly shut closed doors. A successful abuser depends on the hushed complicity of his silent victim. If she talks, his sick game will quickly be over.

When a man batters a woman, he has ceased seeing her as a person. She's just his property to deal with as he sees fit. The two people become a bit of an oddly matched set, however, as the woman usually stops seeing herself as a person as well. I have volunteered extensively at women's shelters, trying to help women rebuild their shattered self-esteem by styling their hair and showing them how they can apply their make-up more attractively. It's a modest, but meaningful contribution to a woman who has had every ounce of self-esteem literally and figuratively knocked out of her. If she can look in the mirror and feel better about herself in some small way, that's an important step in her road to recovery.

Once a woman reaches a shelter, it's because she's hit rock bottom emotionally and sometimes financially, and has nowhere else to go. Ironically, some women need to take that dive before they can ascend. Some dive more than once, and the shelter's doors become revolving for them. I remember meeting one woman in particular who had quite an impact on me. She had incredible intelligence, was well-educated, and came from a good family. With all that going for her, she still lacked belief in herself. Her husband had knocked her teeth out, broken her jaw, and he'd locked her in a closet for hours several times. She had two children. I asked her point blank why she stayed for as long as she did, and why she finally left. She told me that she didn't care so much for herself, but that she didn't want her children to be abused. One kid had gotten old enough to fight back, and had. This lovely woman wept openly as she described her hasty exit from the family home, with little more than the clothes on their backs. It broke her heart how her husband had treated the child. Still, she didn't seem to value her own life, but valued theirs. She's just now learning that she needs to have some respect for herself before she can teach her children how to stay out of the vicious trap she fell into. I find myself praying for her welfare often.

My wife and I put a lot of effort into trying to teach our own daughter that she has choices, and that she is in control of her life. One of the most important ways women can have that control is to have some sort of financial independence. Unfortunately, some women stay in abusive relationships because they are afraid they won't be able to support themselves. If the abuser controls the bank account, leaving can appear to be nigh impossible. She might be afraid she couldn't afford the legal fees needed to keep custody of her children. I say it's better to rent a studio apartment, with the kids sleeping on the floor in sleeping bags, and wait tables at a 24 hour diner than to tolerate one more second of abuse in the cushy four bedroom house in suburbia.

Luckily in numerous cities around the United States there are places for victims of abuse to hide out. Tragically, as illustrated in an article we're featuring in the July issue of LamasBeauty (Women Under Siege), that is not so in other countries. In fact, in many parts of the world, women's shelters are unheard of. Abuse issues vary from country to country as well. For instance, in India, some men who are dissatisfied with their fiancees' dowries will often kill or disfigure (so no one else will want them) the young girls who are offered to them. Again, to these selfish men, the girl is not a human, but a means to a new TV or car. She is disposable. In some countries in Africa, genital mutilation is still common. Honor killing (where the woman is murdered because of some perceived "dishonor" she has brought on her family) is condoned in various parts of the Middle East. Here in the United States, some men feel they are entitled to rip the clothes off young women attending a city wide celebration, and harshly fondle them (while the police look the other way).

In an ideal world, men and women would treat each other and their children with the utmost love and respect. Many people have created for themselves this ideal world, while many others fall from this ideal onto the doorsteps of a battered women's shelter. I would prefer to see the cycle of violence and hatred end forever, so that I could say with much joy, that shelters are NLIMU (No Longer In My Universe).