Tiffany, a 15-year-old sophomore, had been dating Kyle, a 16-year-old varsity football player, for a couple of months and was completely enchanted by him. Eight months into the relationship, Kyle told Tiffany he loved her, and she returned the phrase with equal genuineness.
Kyle’s love deepened quickly. He started to become jealous, giving Tiffany the silent treatment if he saw her talking to male friends at school and getting upset when she wanted to spend time with her girlfriends. Tiffany figured this behavior was normal. Sometimes the intensity of his attention took a darker form, though. Kyle began to tell her she was worthless. “Nothing.”
Around the world, one in every three women have been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise physically or emotionally abused in her lifetime. The perpetrators of these acts are more likely to be victims’ intimate partners — husbands, boyfriends, family members or friends — than strangers. The rate of abusive relationships is highest among individuals ages 14 to 22.
Often, the initial warning signs of an abusive or potentially abusive partner are misinterpreted as indications of strong attraction or engagement. Some of the red flags that are visible first include a push for quick commitment, a declaration of love after a short period of time together, and mild expressions of jealousy.
Nine moths into their relationship, Tiffany and Kyle had been arguing a lot. During a morning break at school, Tiffany and Kyle argued yet again. Flushed with exasperation, Tiffany started to walk away from Kyle. From behind Tiffany, he reached out and grasped her forearms tightly in an attempt to keep her from moving any further away. Tiffany had never felt a touch so aggressive before.
When Kyle freed her arms, she walked off, beginning to cry when she was out of his sight. That night she inspected her sore forearms. This was the first time Kyle had become physically violent with her. Tiffany never showed him the black and blue ovals he had imprinted in her skin out of embarrassment and the feeling that what had happened was somehow her own fault.
It was prom night, and Tiffany had accompanied Kyle. By then they’d been dating for nearly two years.
Everyone scurried to throw his or her overnight bag on the comfiest bed in their shared hotel room, claiming it as theirs for the night. “Let’s hit up Denny’s,” one of the guys suggested. No one had been drinking, but Tiffany just wasn’t feeling well. She told them to go along without her, Kyle included. But Kyle insisted on staying.
It was 1:30 a.m. They were left alone. Within minutes Kyle was trying to convince her to have sex with him. “No,” she said, over and over again. She was too uncomfortable. She just needed to rest.
He prodded anyway, running his hand down Tiffany’s side and then touching her legs, bare save a pair of small cheer shorts. Tiffany sat up on the bed, placed her feet on the floor and stood. Kyle moved across the bed after her, grabbed her arms and pushed her against the wall with such force that suddenly Tiffany couldn’t breathe. She wasn’t scared, though. She was angry. Her instincts told her to kick him in the groin. So she did.
Kyle jumped backward with an expression of surprised irritation on his face. He collected himself quickly and looked at Tiffany more enraged than she had ever seen him. Then he punched her in the face. Her bottom lip split down the middle.
Tiffany grabbed her cell phone from the night stand and called her father right there in front of Kyle. Kyle sat on the edge of the bed with a vacant look, “as if he was not himself,” and said nothing.
Kyle remained in the hotel room; he did not follow her. When Tiffany’s dad arrived, he immediately asked what had happened to her lip, but she fabricated a story about one of her friends accidentally elbowing her in the face. Her father and mother bought it.
The circular diagram most often employed to explain the Cycle of Violence illustrates three stages that repeat themselves in abusive relationships. The first is the “Honeymoon” period (or the “I’m sorry” stage). This is the stage where all relationships begin.
Then comes the “Tension Building.” In this stage, criticism and anger present themselves through yelling or swearing on the part of the abuser. Coercion also becomes a factor. Professionals in the field often cite the victim feeling as if they are “walking on eggshells,” to try to avoid the abuser’s anger in the Tension Building stage.
The third and final stage of the cycle is the “Explosion.” At this point, the partner who is abusing will threaten and attack the other physically, emotionally or sexually. The circle then continues its sequence by moving back to the Honeymoon stage with apologies, gifts and promises that the abuse will never happen again. This cycle can repeat itself over several months or several years, but is always present in some form in a relationship between intimate partners that contains abuse.
Although Tiffany chose not to reveal Kyle’s violent outburst to anyone her torn lip was the last straw. She decided she wasn’t going to take anymore of Kyle’s abuse. Tiffany called Kyle the next morning, a Sunday, and told him that she couldn’t be with someone who didn’t respect her and that it was over between them.
After about two months, the ache for his company diminished. Kyle’s absence was now bearable. In fact, her vision had gradually cleared after she took the initiative to leave Kyle, revealing the “outright stupidity” of returning to a partner like him. And she knew ultimately he would pay for what he did. Somehow. At some point.
The scars left by Kyle were not the last Tiffany would endure. She became the victim of a second act of violence four years later.
She went to a house party with her best friend and best friend’s fiancé. Just as on the night when Kyle punched her, she had consumed no alcohol. Her friends had left the party without her and she had been trying to get in touch with them for the past hour to find out when they were coming back. She sat staring at the TV, alone and bored in the back room of a house whose owner she didn’t know. She felt slightly uncomfortable and desperately wanted to leave.
A short, muscular man who Tiffany would later find out was a trained MMA fighter sat down on the couch next to her. Before she realized what was going on, the man turned and pinned her to the sofa with his sinewy arms.
The man was too strong and Tiffany could not escape his grasp. She kicked and punched the best she could. The man pulled off her jeans and then her panties. She screamed, clenching her thighs together with all the strength she could muster as he unbuttoned and unzipped his pants. For an excruciating two to five minutes, the stranger forced penetration as Tiffany resisted beneath him. She was able to prevent the completion of more than half of his thrusting violations.
The owner of the house rushed into the room. He pulled the attacker off of Tiffany, threw him on the ground, and began punching him; blow after blow until the man’s face was a bloody pulp. The owner handed Tiffany her clothes and, after she dressed, sat with her as she broke down, raising her knees to her chest to rest her chin on them. She felt scared. Embarrassed. Weak. In the morning, she told no one — not her boyfriend, family or friends — what had happened.
The next day, Tiffany logged into her MySpace account and noticed she had a new message in her inbox. Her attacker. He ordered her not to tell anyone what had happened, or else pay an even higher price.
Impervious to his words, Tiffany disclosed the rape to her boyfriend and parents, who advised her to take the message the man had written to the police and report the crime. Tiffany did so, and the man was ultimately put in prison for the rape of not only Tiffany, but also two other women.
The number of women who report being abused compared to those who have experienced abuse is drastically low for varied reasons. The victims may feel ashamed or at fault, or may be dependent on or still in love with the men who are hurting them. However these acts are glossed over or the blame is shifted, responsibility never lies in the hands of the victim.
The worldwide one in three statistic translates all too perfectly to the rates of violence against women in the United States: 30 percent of Americans say they know a woman who has been physically abused by her husband or boyfriend in the past year. And on average, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends every day in this country. Whether they have disclosed it to you or not, someone you know is a survivor of sexual or intimate partner abuse. It could be your roommate. Your classmate. Your sibling. Your mother. As I realized when I really started listening, it could be your best friend. Or even you.
If you or someone you know may be in an abusive relationship, there are many people, locally and nationally, who can help. Please see the listings below.
UCI Campus Assault Resources and Education: (949) 824-7273; www.care.uci.edu
Human Options (949) 854-3554; www.humanoptions.org
Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN): (800) 656-HOPE; www.rainn.org
National Domestic Violence Hotline: (800) 799-SAFE; www.ndvh.org
On Apr. 21, 2010, Take Back the Night, a candlelight vigil and march to raise awareness about sexual violence and to honor survivors, will take place on the UCI campus. At the end of the march, participants journey through visual displays and artistic performances addressing the various aspects of violence, learning about and participating in breaking the silence and working toward to elimination of violence. You are invited to attend this powerful event on Apr. 21 at 7 p.m. at the UCI Flagpoles.
All names have been changed out of respect for the privacy of the subjects.