One woman. One horse. 48 states for Domestic Violence Awareness

Check back often for the latest updates and stories from Meredith and Apollo as they journey 10,000 miles on a four year ride around the USA.

Domestic Violence is Also This - Sexual Abuse

This is part two of a series. It contains details of my own experiences and other potential ptsd triggers which may be disturbing to read.

The term “domestic violence” is in some ways misleading, the words themselves reinforcing the misconceptions and myths about this extremely common issue.  What do you think of when you hear the word “violence?” Probably the first word that came to your mind, as with most people - even many of those who have been abused  - is physical violence of some kind.  Hitting, punching, slapping, kicking, shooting, stabbing.  Something visibly violent.

But domestic violence does not start and end with physical violence, and many people have been victimized without having a hand laid upon them.  So many women (and men!) I have talked to have expressed the belief that they were in a “bad” relationship, but it wasn’t abusive because their abuser never hit them.  For this reason, I have come to prefer the term “domestic abuse,” which more easily is understood to include other abuses than just physical.  

It’s time that everyone understood that domestic violence, or domestic abuse if you prefer, is more than just physical violence.  It also includes financial, psychological, emotional, sexual, spiritual, and technological abuse.  For this October’s domestic violence awareness month, I will be discussing each one.  Most abusive relationships include a combination of several types of abuse; many of the types have overlapping characteristics.  Only one type is needed for a relationship to be called abusive, though; experiencing only one type is just as difficult and damaging as going through them all.

Sexual Abuse

For the longest time, even after I left my abusive husband and learned more about the cycles and types of violence, I did not think that I had experienced sexual abuse.  I, like most people, tend to think of sexual abuse being just another word for rape or molestation.  However, there are actually many other abusive actions that are categorized as sexual abuse.

These include:

* spousal rape (aka marital rape) - this is not the “classic” type of rape.  It includes any sort of sexual act without willing consent. Often there is an underlying threat of violence (verbal or physical) if the victim does not give in to demands for sex. For more on this, here’s a great article.
* prostituting the victim
* treating the victim in a sexually demeaning manner, which can be verbal or physical
* controlling the victims reproductive choices, including whether (or how) they use birth control, forcing an abortion, etc.

My Story

I never realized that what I was going through was called rape. To me, rape meant being held down and forced while protesting or drugged.  I never had that experience. But what I went through was just as bad, and actually quite common.  

The psychological and physical abuse I’d suffered had included sexual aspects which caused me to be submissive and to not protest anything he wanted.  My natural shyness also worked against me as I was uncomfortable talking about sex, about what I wanted or didn’t want, and so forth.  And he encouraged that, subtly.

 I had to submit whenever he wanted some, or else risk a fight and a beating.  I had to lay quietly and let him prod my vagina with his fingers (not so much a hand job as a routine, and never was intended for my pleasure) , and then lay quietly while he fucked me. Pardon the language, but there is really no more accurate term for what happened.  He was always quick about it, and never tried to give me any sort of pleasure. This eventually became a morning routine, and I could either go along with that or get more violence than a normal day.

And after he was done, I always felt dirty.  I would hurry on to the next thing, to get away from him before he could come back down from his natural high.

He insisted on me giving him a hand job almost daily as well.  He did not approve of oral, either to give or receive.  He said hand jobs were good for his health, and if I was to refuse him I was cruel and causing him physical pain.  It never occurred to me that he could give himself one if it meant so much to his health, but even if it had I wouldn’t have dared suggest that because such a cheeky comment would have gotten me another beating.

He also controlled our birth control methods.  Looking back, I am very lucky I never got pregnant, or an STD for that matter. We only used a condom once, before he decided that was awful and convinced me it would be better without one.  Since I was on the pill, why bother? He claimed he was a virgin too so no risk of infection.  Maybe he was.  He probably actually was, but I never asked him to do a physical first or anything like that.  Just accepted his word at face value because I was too shy to talk about that stuff.

I had been on the pill for quite a few years before he decided that he knew better than medical professionals and made me stop taking it.  That was the year the abuse had escalated to outright physical, no holds barred beatings.  I was terrified of him and what he would do to me if I argued, so I went along with it.  He had recently decided that all doctors were frauds who were out for money by writing unneeded prescriptions, and that all medical science was bunk that was created to support the doctors in their prescription-writing scam.

Instead of the pill, he said we would rely on a combination of pull-out and Chinese herbs.  Between those methods and the stress of daily beatings, I managed to avoid getting pregnant for the remaining five or six years of my marriage.  My life was already a hot mess of anxiety, and now I had the added stress of being at risk of unwanted pregnancy.  No matter what he told me, I never was convinced in the reliability of the herbs. But by then I was a prisoner in my own home and couldn’t have taken any other preventative actions even if I’d dared.

Shortly before I left for good, he started talking about children.  The decision to become a parent was also not going to be in my control.  He talked about having children as if they were a carrot on a stick for me.  If I was “good” and could “prove I was able” to be a parent by not “needing a beating” then we could stop using what little birth control we did.  He even had already picked the names - by himself, naturally.  If a girl, he would name it after his grandmother, and if a boy his uncle.  Although he never once seemed to realize he had chosen the names of relatives, and that he didn’t even like those relatives.

But I didn’t want children.  And I especially didn’t want to bring any other human into the crazy household I lived in.  This kind of talk scared me more than the risk of further violence, and was one of the key motivations for me to escape.

It took me many years to be able to even consider dating again, and when I did I began to realize how evilly twisted my previous sexual experiences had been.  It took some work and a lot of courage to be able to overcome the shame and fear I associated with physical touch of any kind.  Then to be able to look at sex as something to be enjoyed, to see myself as beautiful when naked, to speak my mind about what I want, to understand and to allow myself to feel why it’s called making love.

How to get help

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, contact your local shelter or the National Domestic Violence Hotline (visit their page here).  Support for survivors is also available. 

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