Commentary

Saunders: Heed signs of potential domestic abuse

bsaunders@newsobserver.comDecember 5, 2012 

Ask any expert and they’ll tell you: there are always warning signs before domestic violence kicks off in a relationship, before a man starts beating on a woman he claims to love.

Or before he kills her.

The warning sign for Jaisun McMillian occurred the first night she went out with the man she eventually married and who would abuse her for years.

The sign was literally right in her face. It was his fist.

“It happened on the first night, the first date,” McMillian told me Wednesday when I called to talk to her about recent instances of fatal domestic violence in the area.

I first interviewed McMillian, a Durham resident and former member of the world-famous Motown girl group Martha and the Vandellas, a few years ago. She had written a book about her experience as an abused spouse and made a film about domestic abuse. I thought of her again after six women in Wake County have been killed by husbands or boyfriends since May. And statewide, there have been at least 60 domestic violence deaths this year.

Abuse began on first date

Now, about that first date: McMillian said she’d been invited by the dude to a celebrity basketball game in which he was playing. After the game, she said, another man started talking to her while her date was basking in the adulation of fans. “He came up and snatched me by the arm and said ‘Let’s go.’

“We got in the car and that’s when I got the fist to the face,” she said.

And you married him anyway? I asked, incredulous.

“And I married him anyway,” she said. “Ain’t that something?”

I called InterAct, a domestic violence agency in Raleigh. Those women set me straight really quickly after I asked what — besides a fist to the face —women should look for as a warning sign before abuse begins.

Leigh Duque and Kathy Johnson, InterAct’s executive director and associate executive director, respectively, told me that jealousy, possessiveness and controlling behavior are things women should be on the lookout for.

Johnston also wasted no time letting me know that “the question we should be asking is ‘What should the abuser look for in himself before he starts abusing?’”

Duque added: “The question isn’t, ‘Why doesn’t she leave?’ It is ‘Why doesn’t he stop?’ ”

Right on, fellas. Why don’t you stop?

Signs for men

Compiled by Johnson and culled from “lethality assessments” and victims, here are some of the signs that men should monitor in themselves to determine if they need to get help before becoming a physical abuser:

• Following a woman.

• Spying on a woman.

• Saying anything such as “If I can’t have you, no one will,” “I have a gun – and I’m not afraid to use it” and “I have no reason to live without you.”

If a man says or thinks any of that to himself, he should run to a professional for help.

If he says it to a woman, she should run. Period.

Of course, Duque and Johnson say a woman’s chances of being hurt or killed increase by 75 percent after she makes the decision to leave. “They need a safety plan,” Duque said. “That’s what we do here at InterAct.”

InterAct’s phone number is 919-828-7740.

Every time I write about domestic violence, I wonder what ever happened to Debbie, a woman at whom I pitched a lot of woo in my 20s. She was, as was just about the entire female population of the planet at that time, totally immune to whatever charms I had. Worse still, she was in love with Ulysses and was enthralled by his jealousy. She thought it was cute and a sign of true love.

She called one day to tell me not to call her anymore. I could hear him ranting in the background. They left town together soon afterward, and I’ve always wondered if she still thinks his jealousy is cute.

I doubt it.

I’ve been writing about males –one should be loathe to call them “men” – beating and killing women for more than 30 years. In all of that time, I’ve learned one immutable fact that every woman needs to understand: if he hits you once, he’ll hit you again. Unless, Kathy Johnson said, he admits he’s got a problem and seeks professional help.

“Unless they own their behavior and the fact that their behavior is abusive, it’s not likely that it’ll stop after one time,” Johnson said. Acknowledging that one has done wrong “isn’t something that comes naturally to any of us.”

So ladies, ignore the snot and tears, the anguished letters, the pleading and the promises to never do it again. It’s not that he doesn’t mean it. He probably does.

Until he does it again.

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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