Living With Polio

Partner Abuse, Part 1

“Promoting Positive Solutions,” From Post-Polio Health (Volume 30, Number 4, pages 8, 9, 10). Part 1.

Dr. Olkin addresses male to female partner abuse in heterosexual relationships:

If you are being abused by a partner, I want to say two things to you right at the start: (a) You are not alone; (b) It is not your fault. And the third thing is that there is help and hope, but you have to take the first step.

Let’s back up and discuss what we know about partner abuse. There are early warning signs: he came on strong at first, with lots of romance; isolating you from friends and family; being suspicious of you and your whereabouts; getting angry over small things; calling you names or putting you down; speaking disparagingly of women in general and previous partners specifically; he is possessive and jealous; he does favors for you that put you in his debt; he pressures you or forces you to have sex; he treats you one way in public and another way in private; nothing is ever his fault. Abuse never stops on its own, and the level of abuse tends to escalate over time. Women are more likely to be killed by a partner than a stranger (this is not true for men).

There are many reasons women stay, though studies indicate that they do eventually leave, usually by a five-year follow-up. Why do they stay? When this question was posed publicly (#whyistayed) after press about the NFL, 121,000 women posted responses. In contrast, only 40,000 posted to #whyileft. Women stayed due to feeling powerless, for fear of further and worse abuse, because he swore it was the last time, because of the children, for financial constraints, because they loved him. And why do women leave? Because of the effect of witnessing violence on the children, because the abuse was now directed at the children, because the abuse was escalating, because someone offers a lifeline, because it’s no way to live.

Abuse carries specific risks for women with disabilities. She is more easily injured, injuries can take longer to heal, the sum total of disability plus injury can be more debilitating than without the disability. She may need assistance in activities of daily living, safe houses might not be wheelchair accessible, she may depend on the health insurance of her spouse. Additionally, there are types of abuse specific to women with disabilities, such as dismantling an automatic door opener, taking the battery out of an electric wheelchair or scooter, refusing to help her with necessary tasks, breaking assistive devices, removing car adaptations.

The main thing that allows abuse to continue is silence. It happens in secret. The woman feels ashamed, embarrassed, at fault. But see paragraph #1! Make a plan to survive: (a) Do not tell your partner you are leaving, as that tends to increase the level of violence and attempts to hold you at all costs. (b) Pack a bag with your important things (cash, keys, personal documents). (c) Share a secret safe word with those you trust to signal that you need help. (d) Get a restraining order. (e) Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799SAFE (7233) or 800-787-03224 (TTY for the deaf and hard of hearing).

About two weeks ago a female student shared for the first time that she had been living with an abusive husband for ten years. As she told me I could see the anxiety, the shame, the fear of my judgment. But yesterday she came back to tell me that sharing her story with me lifted a huge weight off her, that she was so much better, knowing she was moving on. This could be you.

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