This is a post on a group called “Abuse and the law” on goodreads. We are reading “Torn from the inside out” by Sara Niles, a true account of a woman in a marriage plagued by domestic violence. This post discusses how law enforcement deals with domestic violence situations. I will invite all of you who are concerned with domestic violence to join the group on goodreads.
I have been moving slowly through Torn from the Inside Out but have been able to pick up speed and have gotten to the point in the book where I had planned to begin posting. Up to the point the story has been a very poetic rendering of a young girl’s upbringing, which, while it has its dark moments, is a somewhat idyllic tale of a young girl’s life in the rural south. It establishes Sara as a normal, somewhat sheltered, young woman by the time she meets her abuser. While no one is prepared for complete chaos of domestic abuse, the Sara in the book is not a street smart, worldly young woman which makes her ugly introduction to the insanity of a sociopathic abuser all the more disturbing.
Since we are on Goodreads I feel obligated to speak about the book itself. It is well written with a poetic style that is not overly florid. I am always a sucker for a large vocabulary which Sara possesses. The story is paced well and doesn’t bog down in literary flights of fancy or tangents. Through the book I have gotten a good feeling for the flavor of the time, the region and the culture that Sara was immersed in as a child. The book is very evocative.
While this group is about “the law” I feel that it is extremely important to define what the law should be charged with mitigating which is the psychological aberration of domestic violence. I will emphasize the term “psychological aberration” because this defines the need for harsh laws. Domestic abuse is a personality disorder and the result of psychosis, worthy of a listing in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) which is a listing of recognized metal disorder that are addressed by mental health professionals. While a mental defect such as pedophilia is considered a mental disorder and generally considered to be incurable, a propensity for domestic violence is not. While vigilance regarding pedophilia is considered necessary by law enforcement and a number of specific laws and legal remedies are part of our body of laws, domestic violence is viewed as a personal, family issue. It is a moving target in terms of our legislature and the laws pertaining to domestic violence are highly variable, as is the enforcement of those laws.
If domestic violence were viewed as an incurable mental illness, with predictable horrific outcomes, we would be forced to regard it as a the plague it is, much like pedophilia, and our laws would reflect it. That is what this group is about.
The reason that I’ve chosen this book as our first read is because I knew that, as a true story of domestic violence, it would touch on law enforcement and the courts and their perception of abuse. Early on in the evolving cycle of abuse, Sara runs from her abuser, fearing for her life. She chronicles her thoughts are she is running down the streets, barefoot, considering her options. As she considers reporting her abuser to the police she immediately concludes that there would be skepticism on the part of the police that anything serious had actually occurred. She muses that they would ask her what she had done to “tick him off” and if she had made him angry by” burning his dinner”. In other words, while fearing for her life and hoping to preserve it, the young Sara immediately eliminates all of law enforcement as her first and best resort.
This is significant in that law enforcement really is the only entity in our society that is capable of effectively and permanently protecting someone from a violent offender. A family member or friend who tries to enforce justice is likely to break laws and become criminals themselves.
What we are discussing is the only legal line of defense that any of us has to preserve our safety and our lives. And the young Sara, understandably, dismisses law enforcement immediately. The inability of the law and its agents to effectively protect domestic violence victims and their children is the reason that an average of four women die each day at the hands of abusers in our country (this statistic from a study distributed by the police department where I live). Essentially the first line of defense victims have is often completely ineffective. And that is how the disaster of domestic violence begins for most women.
My wife, a domestic violence victim herself, recently told me that she had once called the police when her abuser was showing signs of becoming violent. The police asked her, in front of her batterer, if she was “okay”. Of course, with her husband standing right near her, her answer was, “Yes”. Recently, she spoke to a group of police cadets about her experiences and told that same story. They had asked her why she hadn’t called the police more often and that was her answer. Though Sara’s ordeal began in the ‘70s and my wife’s in the ‘80s, thing have not changed much. Police are often unaware how to handle domestic violence situations and the same questions (“Why didn’t you just leave”, “Why didn’t you call the police”) are still being asked.
I thank Sara for being brave enough to tell her story. I invite others to read her book and contribute to this group.