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Book Review: Torn from the inside out by Sara Niles

“Torn from the inside out” is a non-fiction account of a woman who spends thirteen years in an abusive marriage. Synthesizing an entire book down to that one sentence robs it of the true horror that this book represents.

The book follows Sara from her life as a child to her life as a battered wife. What I expected and found in this book is the horrible, repetitive, numbing nature of domestic abuse. In doing only that, Sara has done a service with her book. For those of you not familiar with domestic abuse, you’ll find that Sara expertly guides the reader through the unfortunately well-worn path and progression of this pathology. Starting with the initial disbelief and ending with a numbness and acceptance of repeated, awful terrors, Sara weaves a tapestry of pure evil and hopelessness.

Sara has a fine evocative touch with her pen. The story begins with a rendering of an almost idyllic life in the rural south during the nineteen-sixties. Poetic and flowery without being cloying, Sara’s style is highly evocative. Almost immediately the reader finds themselves immersed in the culture and the period of Sara’s youth. Slowly, throughout the book, the tone changes to fit the events and people that become a reality in the life of a battered woman, fighting for the survival of her and her children. Sara’s narrative expertly fits the events in her book.

Sara has done her job, leading the reader as she was led, into the psychopathy and lies of abuse. The question becomes, for the reader: Why read a book that is disturbing and terrifying and, worst of all, true to life? While the book is a “good read”, it also has elements that are shocking and raw. The answer to this question lies in Sara’s assertion that we are entrusted with the well-being of others, especially the children who are put into our care. Consider first that thousands of women are killed each year due to domestic violence. Consider also that the children who witness endless and senseless violence from a father who is a sociopath, have their world-view warped and their self-image twisted. Often this leads to substance abuse, mental health issues, and, often, to becoming abusers themselves.

If this were only true in even a hundred cases a year, a reader might consider this a marginal problem. What is true is that there are thousands of women abused ever year which represents thousands of families and thousands of children whose lives are essentially ruined for the years that they are witnesses to abuse and, quite often, for years after.

This book is worth your time. If nothing else it will make you think. At best it will sensitize you to an issue that affects society, and the reader, in ways that have only begun to be examined by law makers, police and mental health practitioners.


Abuse and the law: Law Enforcement.

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. 


Child abuse and 911 as themes in the book “The Railroad”

Neil Newton: Author of the novel “The Railroad”


Two years ago I was lucky enough to have book published: The Railroad. While it is fiction, I have a more personal connection to the story than might be apparent to anyone who reads it. The story was inspired by 911 or, more specifically, my experiences on September 11, 2001. I am a New Yorker and was working a few blocks south of the Twin Towers back then. I found myself in the subway only a block and a half from the World Trade Center as the towers went down. I emerged into a false night as the dust covered lower Manhattan. Eventually I was fortunate enough to walk north to my home in Chelsea, cheating the death that had met so many that day.


The memory of 911 is fading, something that is disturbing but something I consider to be part of the healing process. There are things left to remind us of what happened: positive things like the the new World Trade Center and negative things like first responders who have succumbed to respiratory illnesses that our government is just beginning to admit are a result of breathing in the toxic soup that came out of 911. If there are true heroes of 911, the police, fire, and medical rescue workers are certainly the best examples.


It’s hard to explain the sense of loss that followed that day; an oppressive hopelessness on a surreal stage. In the months that followed I thought about loss and pain and transformation. Out of that came the book, “The Railroad”. The book incorporates child abuse as a theme, something that fit, in my mind, with the experience of watching the world fall apart. I have found that, as time has passed, I have spent less time trying to sell the book and have used it more as a platform for making people aware of child abuse and domestic abuse. I am still working in that direction and have not marketed the book in the traditional way.


One of the realities of writing is that you often don’t know why you’ve added certain elements to a story. In “The Railroad” the book touches both on 911 and more substantially on the issue of child abuse. I had to ask myself why both these topics became part of the book, almost as if they were connected. There is nothing necessarily profound about writing. An author has incidents and issues jumbled up in his or her head and often connections appear between things that may not seem obvious on the surface.


911 and child abuse? It was the horrific shootings in Colorado that made me understand why these two things seemed connected to me. The issue is theft.


We are all given so many resources: so many years of life in an unknown quantity, so many opportunities to make our dreams a reality, so many chances to form relationships that are important in our lives. In the weeks after 911 I had to grapple with what I’d lost. Fortunately it wasn’t the loss any loved ones or even acquaintances. In the end it was the loss of my home town .Of course, New York didn’t disappear that day; the area affected by 911 was geographically small.


It might be hard for all of you to believe a New Yorker would see his or her city as the same safe haven that someone in a small town would. Certainly there is more danger in day to day life in New York. But I never would have thought that my city, large and imposing as it is, could be as vulnerable as it was on 911.


I remember telling someone only days after 911 that I thought that someone had stolen my city. In the wake of the destruction, the predatory news crews from all over the world, the disconcerting break in our routines, I felt more like a freak in a sideshow than I did a New Yorker.


Child abuse, physical and sexual, is a theft of another kind. For victims of child abuse, there is often no safe haven to lose in the first place and the assumptions of trust that act as a foundation to being human are ripped away. The aftermath of child abuse can be even bleaker than the original theft of trust at the hands of abusers. The issue here is the slow, insidious way that the dysfunction of child abuse leeches the sense of purpose out of life. It separates us from our fellow men and shrinks our view of the world until we can only see a few feet in front of us. Every person I’ve known or people I’ve seen interviewed who were victims of abuse always talk about the parts of themselves they have lost. While some people have taken the awful lemons of abuse and made lemonade by helping other victims and telling their own stories, there are many more who suffer in silence, who may never learn to be dancers, musicians, teachers. Whatever dreams they might have normally pursued are barred to them in ways that even they can’t understand. This is theft in its most basic form; it’s a theft that is built into the fabric of someone’s life and it can make loss and failure seem inevitable. For many abuse victims, their problems become a moving target that often defies both understanding and healing.


Is it so hard to understand why some people are so zealous about removing the blight of child abuse from our society? All of us carry fears from our childhood that make us less than we could be. For a victim of child abuse those fears and constraints become constant companions limiting the scope of what they can do. Our prisons are filled with victims of child abuse and medicating the beasts that live within us has become a thriving industry.


The loss to our society is incalculable and it’s one that I believe we have been willing to bear because a solution seems so far out of reach. It shouldn’t be surprising that there are dozens of agencies and organizations dedicated to attacking the issues surrounding child abuse, domestic violence, bullying and countless other social problems. I have come to believe that avoiding these issues will cripple our society in ways that we can’t imagine.


People have expressed these ideas far more eloquently than I can. This quote comes from a poem, “Maud Muller”, by John Greenleaf WhittierFor of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: “It might have been”. If we take these words to heart the awful consequences of child abuse of any kind becomes all the more tragic.



Is Domestic Abuse Terrorism?

Domestic abuse is terrorism.

I can hear laughter or, perhaps gasps of incredulity. How can domestic violence be terrorism? Terrorism has a face in America. It is that face of foreigners with dark agendas. Or it is the face of mentally unbalanced young men who have a point to prove and a weapon?
How could it be someone’s boyfriend or girlfriend? How could it be someone’s husband or ex-husband? Or someone’s ex-wife?
What prompted this blog is news coverage of what is nothing less than a tragedy. This is the story of Carie Charlesworth. It is also the story of an untold number of battered and abused woman. It is likely you know one of them though you don’t realize it. For me it is the story of my wife in the early part of her adulthood and several friends and their daughters who have had their lives taken away from them to be replaced by an obsessive fear. The details are so similar that it is eerie and sickening. The fact that the legal system has had this epidemic on it’s radar for years and has just now gotten around to passing legislation to control stalking and domestic abuse is mind-boggling. The fact that these laws are enforced inconsistently and often without any real teeth is criminal. For those of us who know and love some of these women, the situation is terrifying and infuriating.
Let’s return to the story of Carie Charlesworth. It’s not a unique story. And, as it is for many women, the outcome is decided by more by our apathy and disbelief than by an application of measured American Justice. Despite our claims to this being a “just” and free” nation, there is no remedy for Carie except the roulette wheel of our legal system and a gamble on a lawsuit she’d prefer not to pursue.
Recently this mother of four lost her job as a 2nd grade teacher in a Catholic School in San Diego. Earlier this year an incident occurred that sparked the whole situation. At that time Charlesworth’s ex-husband showed up in the school parking lot, forcing a ”lockdown” . At first Carie was given a leave of absence. But in the end, it was finally decided that Ms. Charlesworth was too much of a liability and the school decided to take the safety of their students seriously. She was fired, essentially because she and her children, who also attended the school, were targets of her ex-husband. This made the rest of the students and teachers at the school targets as well.
No one can blame the school for its decision. Even those of us who feel that we need to make a stand against the long time pandemic of domestic violence could ever entertain involving children. Carie’s ex-husband is a psychopath and, by virtue of being a psychopath, he is unpredictable.
As might be expected, she is suing the school, her only remedy. It’s likely the case will drag through the courts while Carie and her children watch their savings diminish. We can only hope some brave soul gives here a job. As it is, any business that might hire her or any school who might accept her children as students could become possible future targets. Abusers don’t ignore anyone who defies them.
And this is where the terrorism connection starts to become clear.
In essence Carie’s ex-husband has been rewarded for being a violent psychopath. He played the system and as often happens when someone has the advantage of surprise, he came away with a win he didn’t deserve. Though he was arrested for violating Carie’s protection order, he still was able to control his wife’s life. For the rest of us it might be hard to understand that for an abuser, control is the only goal. For a man like this, there is no penalty that will make him stop.
I asked my wife, herself a domestic abuse victim decades back, why it seemed so hard for people to see the epidemic proportion of domestic abuse and domestic violence. She smiled and repeated the prevalent philosophy I had heard as a child in New York: It’s a family matter; it’s nobody’s business but the family’s; it has to be solved behind closed doors.
I thought back to those times, halcyon, dreamy days when things were different and I saw good things on the horizon. It was the 1960s and, in my parent’s small circle of friends, I knew of no wife beaters. There was no domestic abuse as far as I knew. That kind of thing didn’t happen in middle class Queens among my parent’s extremely educated peers. Or did it?
Confronting the issue of Domestic violence, in my case, has been long in coming. I realize that I haven’t been the only one with his head in the sand; I have many companions in that regard. It seems that we are taught to ignore unpleasant things whenever possible. The balm for our conscience, one I’ve heard mentioned many times, is the fact that people blame the victim for becoming involved with the abuser in the first place and that makes it their fault.
Now, looking back, I remember men who were my parent’s friends who abused their wives. They didn’t use fists as far as I knew because they didn’t have to. Sharp words, embarrassment in front of friends, isolation, control, gas lighting, all of these are quite effective tools. They can strip a life of any meaning and any potential. They can ruin the lives of children who are forced to watch the barrage of ugliness until it eventually manifests itself in their own lives in one form or another, perhaps in depression or substance abuse or even in becoming abusers themselves.
What else had I been missing? The situation is far worse than I had ever considered.
Here are some statistics that might clarify the situation. They come from my local police department and are attributed to Murray Strauss of the University of Durham, N.H. with the note: “Recent research from American Psychological Association confirms this study”. I have chosen a few of these numbers to portray the situation in its stark epidemic reality:
. 14% of all American women acknowledge having been violently abused by a husband or boyfriend
. 75% of domestic homicides occur after the victim has left the perpetrator.
. Violence against women in the home causes more injuries to women than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.
. Every day, 4 women are killed by their intimate partner.
This last statistic is, of course, the most chilling. As large a nation as we are, the loss of four lives per day is appalling. Why? It would seem that 1460 deaths a year is worth a national dialogue of its own? There is nothing random about this problem and it’s effects are far worse than many of the other social ills that dominate the news media and spawn special interest groups dedicated to changing our laws.
But is domestic abuse a form of terrorism? Do we need to confront it with the same type of laws that are used to punish terrorists? Let’s begin with a definition. Terrorism is defined in the on-line Miriam Webster dictionary as:
The systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion.
For a domestic abuse victim, life is both a waiting game and an obstacle course. Whether the victim lives with the abuser or has managed to get the abuser out of his or her day to day life, they have to proceed as if they were walking on glass. An abuser’s stock and trade is unpredictability. What exactly will bring on a barrage of fists, threats or harsh words is never known. The cause can be anything from the victims choice to put on the “wrong” clothes to a delusional perception on the abuser’s part that the victim is flirting or sexually involved with a third party.
Waiting for the other shoe to drop. That is what the victim experiences and, like any human being living with constant stress and fear, their life is compromised. When will I get beaten again? What will bring on the anger? Will I die the next time there is a beating? Can I go to the store to buy sunglasses or will that bring on another episode of violence?
If I go to a friend’s house, will I be followed and will the ensuing argument embarrass me?
When will the next nasty text reach my phone? Should I leave and where can I go? What will happen to my children if there is another blowup? Will they be the next victims?
I can almost hear the words, as if it was me saying them years ago, before I got the see the true nature of this beast. Why don’t victims contact the police? Why don’t they just get an order of protection? Surely if enough people know about the abuser’s behavior, something will be done, wouldn’t it?
Why don’t victims call the police? The answer is simple. Calling the police, in the long run, simply gives the abuser more ammunition for abuse. The police coming to the door, asking if the victim (and perhaps the victim’s children) are okay; this is the full extent of most domestic violence visits. Sometimes the abuser is arrested if there are clear signs of battery. But any relief that brings doesn’t last long. Remember, once the Police have processed the call, they are out of it. Their ability to re-visit the situation, follow up, keep the situation under control on an on-going basis is non-existent.
And that leaves the victim, alone or living with the abuser, within striking distance of an enraged mentally ill terrorist. Another call to the police offers a reprieve from terrorism only as long as the police are present. Which is a minuscule sliver of the time an abuser has to take revenge.
And then there is the victim’s most powerful weapon: the order of protection.
It would seem that the very fact that most states have enacted such laws demonstrates that American legislators are aware of this brand of domestic terrorism and have taken steps to wipe it out. That would be true if these laws were enforced consistently across the board. Like most of us, I have been made aware of cases where repeated violations of an order of protection has resulted in sentences as long as fifteen years. I have also seen situations where the enforcement of these laws have been weak and inconsistent, effectively aiding and abetting the abuser in a campaign of terror that can last years.
The laws themselves often contain enough loopholes that the abuser can play the system and continue the terror if law enforcement is not vigilant. Often there are stipulations that an abuser can’t come within a certain distance of a victim; this can lead to a standoff with the abuser standing within feet of the legal limit but still visible to a victim.
But the real weakness of an order of protection is its lack of teeth. Abusers often ignore orders of protection, coming within feet of the victim to terrorize them even further, only to run before the police can be called, essentially nullifying the “protection” aspect of the order of protection. If they are arrested…well consider that we are dealing with obsessive psychopaths who need to maintain their sense of control and will do anything to preserve it. How much do they really care that they might spend a year in jail when they are compelled by their psychosis to maintain control at all costs?
As Carie Charlesworth told the press the day of the lockdown, her abuser, an ex-husband, had given her and her children “a bad weekend” just before his appearance in the parking lot of the school she worked in. What this amounts to is the fact that he appeared near enough for her to be alarmed several times in one weekend. And then he appeared in the parking lot of the school she worked in just to drive home the point that he could.
And so Martin Charlesworth was able to punish his wife for not allowing him to engage in frightening, irrational behavior and control her and his four children due to her order of protection. Though he didn’t speak directly to the school officials, it seems obvious that he was hoping to cause as much harm to his wife as possible and it was easy for him to meet his goal. It was also his decision to scare all the school children and teachers in that school . Though they might be considered collateral damage to a monomaniac like Charlesworth, he certainly would not pass up any lever he could find in his quest to persecute his wife. Since his children were also attending the same school, he was able to disrupt their education.
Martin Charlesworth is not a puzzle for the legal system. There have been many years of “vetting” his status as felon and abuser. There is no doubt that he is a repeat offender. We have gone well past the point where our system needs to protect his rights by ascertaining whether he was falsely accused or whether he is a serial offender.
Consider this: Martin CharlesWorth is a terrorist. His coercion is complete, even going beyond his family to an entire school full of teachers and children. He was able to make them dance to his tune and could clearly repeat the act somewhere else. His targets may be fewer in number than a “standard” terrorist and he doesn’t quite have the truly evil and iconic presence of a Timothy McVey. But he is a terrorist non-the-less.
Why have we taken so long to enact even the most basic laws to deal effectively with domestic abusers. Are Americans basically callous and unconcerned? The evidence tells a different story. Currently in this country we are experiencing a fierce battle over the use and possession of guns and what legal measures can be used take to control gun use. This question has come about for reasons that need no explanation. We have had a number of shootings that were random as they were horrific. People understandably want answers and they want options. No one is willing to sacrifice any more of family members, friends, or neighbors to random and senseless violence. Both side are galvanized and they are girding their loins to fight for what they believe is right. No one on either side is willing to let this issue fall by the wayside.
Down the spectrum of horror several hundred notches is another scourge, one far less spectacular and heinous than physically attacking an intimate partner. Would you consider car theft an evil on par with violence and terror, enough to divert the vital and inadequate resources of law enforcement from other problems such as drug sales, sex trafficking and, yes, domestic abuse? Obviously someone thought so. Currently the reality show “Bait Car” is one of the most popular on television. The premise is simple: attractive, late model cars are left on the street in high crime neighborhoods, full of “extras”, such as high dollar CD players. The police in several jurisdictions use various ruses to leave these cars unattended, with the keys in the ignition. And then they wait while cameras roll. When an unsuspecting car thief becomes interested in a Bait Car, the entire process of the car theft is taped. In the end the cars are shut down and locked from a remote location with the thieves locked inside. Just as the thieves realize they’ve been played, police swarm around them with guns drawn and the felons are rounded up and taken to jail.
Good entertainment value, certainly. And criminals taken off the street. Good work, all in all.
How can we be understandably outraged over car theft not be equally outraged over violence toward men, women and children in record numbers? What disconnect drives us to ignore one horror while we are passionate about another? How can hundreds of thousands of dollars be spent in the enforcement of auto theft laws and the filming of a reality show when women and children die daily at the hands of abusers?
I asked my wife one more time how these things could be true. And why women being beaten and killed are ignored. She gave me her usual cynical smile and told me, “There’s no money in it. Who’s going to care?”
My wife is smarter than I am; I know that she’s right. The fact is that while the gun control conflict rages on, the whispered story of domestic abuse remains a blip on the radar.
Our answer is clearly to create legislation that is as harsh as any other set of laws that is developed to handle crimes that involve violence, coercion and far more homicide than is acceptable. We have a patriot act that has recently handed down sentences of 30 years for environmental activism and arson. We need to meet domestic violence and stalking crimes head on with laws that carry escalating penalties. Like many of our drug laws, it should start with eight to ten year sentences. A second violation should bring a sentence of thirty years. If there is third offense We need to implement laws where a domestic abuser is a “three time loser” who will likely die in jail, sacrificing a life of freedom for crimes that test the moral code that our nation is based on.
We’ve seen an upsurge in interest in fighting domestic abuse. The crowning achievement is the recent PSA by Kiera Knightly. It’s clear that things have changed since I was a child when domestic abuse was seen as a personal issue, something that needed to be kept behind closed doors. Our job now is to make Americans aware of what is happening right next door and to ask the question: Are you willing to have this happen in your country?
Those of you interested in facing the monster and protecting families should go the the following website to find out what you can do to change our laws:

National Newtork to End Domestic Violence

Neil Newton: Author of “The Railroad” on Amazon