Prison camp mentality keeps domestic violence going

Cabot Star-Herald/May 14, 2005
By Ed Galucki

Beatings, injuries, rape, fear - even death. Bad enough on the streets, but it appears that a growing number of persons in Lonoke County have these as part of their home life. Why does someone stay in the face of such danger? The answer has its roots in prisons, concentration camps and brainwashing.

The relationships in domestic violence are complex, and are the result of careful manipulation by the abuser, Charlotte Carroll, founder of a battered women’s shelter at Stuttgart, said. Carroll gave her own account of domestic violence at a public meeting sponsored by Lonoke County Safe Haven.

In a long-term relationship, simply leaving is possibly the most difficult option, Carroll said. “It’s just not that easy,” she exclaimed.

Lona McCastlain, Lonoke County prosecuting attorney, said it is likely every person in the county knows someone in a violent relationship. “You see it, but you really do not put a face to it… Death is not uncommon,” she remarked.

Her office deals with large numbers of domestic violence cases each year. There were 217 domestic violence cases last year, that includes everything from misdemeanor violation of protective orders, to battery, to rape, to murder, McCastlain said. “The need is here,” she declared.

It is not a simple family argument, Carroll said of her 23 years in a violent relationship.

People need to realize that there are reasons victims choose to remain in a violent relationship, Carroll said. Most victims are in conditions very similar to those used in concentration camps — reduce victims to submission, she said.

“It is all about control,” Carroll said. Superficially, a person appears to be very confident, but in reality is very insecure and needs to control, she said.

“I have been battered, beaten, ridiculed; I have had a 30.06 put in my mouth, a knife put to my throat; I have been kicked with sharp-pointed cowboy boots; I have been whipped with a belt,” Carroll recounted.

“I never understood why [the beatings occurred], but it was my fault,” Carroll said. Other women who shared experiences repeated that, she said.

“They thought it was their fault. ‘If I hadn’t have done this, then you wouldn’t done that - I made him do it,’” Carroll said of a victim’s reasoning.

Carroll said she becomes upset with officers who question a victim about what she had done to provoke an attack. “She didn’t have to do anything to make him do that; it is his problem,” she exclaimed. An attacker’s reactions are his choices, Carroll declared.

More upsetting are comments that a woman should just leave, or, worse, “She must like it or else she wouldn’t stay,” Carroll exclaimed. “Let me tell you, leaving is not easy,” she declared.

First, a woman is, “Scared to death,” Carroll said. “He has already proven that he can hurt you, and he can hurt you bad.”

Second, if there are children involved, a mother is not going to leave, Carroll said. “You are not going to go out that door and leave those kids behind,” she declared.

The longer one stays in a relationship, the harder it is to get out, “Because you have so much invested in it...You have to get to the point that nothing else matters but your and your children’s sanity and safety,” Carroll exclaimed.

Examples abound of how far the victim’s mindset can allow the conditions to continue. One woman, new to the Stuttgart shelter, cried because she was told she could fix whatever she wanted for a meal. “She had never been able to do that,” Carroll said.

Until then everything was determined by husband; what she was to do, what she was to wear, where she was to go, what time supper was to be ready, and what was supposed to be fixed, Carroll recalled. “If it was not done the exact way he told her to do it, she got beaten,” she said.

Carroll said she was 19 when she first met the man she later married. Actually, she did not like him at first; “I thought he acted like he had a ‘chip on his shoulder,’” she recalled. But over time he won her over and she fell in love with him, she said.

Looking back now, she can see the warning signs that she could not see at the time; it is said “Love is blind.’ “It also makes you blind, stupid and deaf,” she remarked.

“He would get upset with me when I didn’t do the things he wanted me to do,” Carroll said. “But he wouldn’t tell me why he was mad at me.”

Questions about what was wrong would not get a clear answer, Carroll recalled. “He’d say, ‘You know what’s wrong,’” she said.

Nurturing women, those who wish to please, are most targeted; not women who would say, “Well, forget you,” Carroll said.

“I was going to be the perfect wife, perfect mother,” she said. “We were close. Went everywhere together, did everything together. I liked it that way, I thought, ‘He really loves me because he can’t stand to be away from me,’” she recalled.

But he restricted her visits to family, she said. Later, a move from Georgia to a home in the Arkansas countryside only ended up isolating her from friends and family, she said.

When he was gone for lengths of time, questions about where he had been would be rebuffed; she was not to ask where he had been, Carroll recalled.

Carroll recalled an incident when she had gone fishing with friends and was not home when he came home, when it seemed the treatment became worse. So began a cycle of beating and remorse, when she would get almost anything she wanted after being beaten.

Carroll said conditions were chillingly parallel to those described in Biderman’s Chart of Coercion, which outlines tactics also used in concentration camps and brainwashing.

“One night he put me outside on the porch. It was freezing cold and I was in my nightgown. I stayed outside, in the carport, in the corner. I was too ashamed, I didn’t want anybody to see me, and so I wouldn’t even go to a neighbor. The next morning, he opened the door, and said, ‘You think you can behave now?’” Carroll recalled.

“But it gets to the point that he will kill me if I stay, and kill me if I go,” Carroll said. The scariest time was when she finally drew up the courage to leave, she said.

However, at the time, there was little help for a victim trying to break free. When he attacked her, for the police it was simply a matter of an argument between husband and wife.

She was asked if she was in the process of getting a divorce. When she said, “No,” the reply was that without a protective order, there was nothing the officers could do.

She filed for divorce and got a protective order, but her husband violated it and attacked her. “He held a knife to my throat, even cut me,” she said.

“I called the police, and they asked if there were any witnesses,” Carroll recalled. “When I said, ‘No,’ they said, ‘Well ma’am, you could have done that,” she said.

But she stood by her decision to leave, nothing he used to get her back before worked anymore. The final battle was custody of her daughter, and when that was over, there were new problems, and she had to face them alone.

Crucial to the “escape” is a place to go, but a woman often has nothing, no car, no money, no job. Carroll said. “Make a plan of escape, have your bags packed, have money hidden, get spare car keys made, get all your important papers together - birth certificates, driver’s license, shot records, social security cards, anything,” Carroll advised.

“Keep it all in a safe place, at a friend’s house. Get together anything of value to sell, you will need the money because the first thing that will happen is that he will tie up all the bank accounts,” Carroll said.

It takes an average of seven attempts for a woman to leave a violent relationship, Carroll said.

McCastlain said eventually women cannot stand to see the children tortured any longer, or the woman realizes they will lose their life if they stay. “They are going to have to have a place to go, that is why a shelter is so important,” McCastlain exclaimed.

Lonoke County Safe Haven is a local group trying to establish a refuge, a Safe Haven, for women fleeing from a violent, potentially fatal, relationship.

Safe Haven is at its earliest stages and help is needed; both volunteer and with donations, J.M. Park, one of the members of the Safe Haven steering committee, said during the meeting. But domestic violence in the county has to be dealt with, and people need to know of the alarming incidence of it, he said.

The goal is a shelter, but the first step is going to be a 24-hour help line, staffed with volunteers, he said at the meeting.

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