In Northside Baptist Church one recent night, 15 men and women were viewing the difficult images of Carolyn Thomas’ battered body.
The Texas woman’s life was changed forever in 2003, when her boyfriend, after years of abusing her, shot and killed her mother and then turned the gun on her. He put the gun to her face, pulled the trigger at point-blank range, and shot off half her face.
Incredibly, Thomas survived. She has since been on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” to share her story, and now travels the country educating people on violence against women.
Watching a slideshow of Thomas, the audience at Northside Baptist murmured, shifted uncomfortably in their seats, and uttered with amazement at her resilience.
The presentation was part of “Engaging Men and Boys: Prevention of Sexual Violence and Safe/Healthy Relationships,” a talk by Samuel Clayborn, a counselor with the Durham Crisis Response Center. Clayborn educates and conducts cognitive behavior therapy with men at the center.
Clayborn gave several examples of abuse during his talk. One was a classic example of “gaslighting,” a form of psychological abuse that causes the victim to question his or her reality.
He spoke of a couple where the wife would fill up her car’s gas tank every week. But then, after she went to sleep, her husband would get in her car and drive around aimlessly all night, so that when she woke up, the gas tank would be down to a quarter-full. When she would ask him what happened, he would pretend not to know.
“He wanted to make it so that he would be the one to rescue her,” Clayborn said.
Clayborn also gave examples of a man who beat his girlfriend because she looked at another man, and men who don’t contribute to household chores because they feel going to work is all they have to do.
The message was that abuse comes in all forms.
“You’d be surprised. Men with suits, shiny cars. They look good, but when they go back home, behind closed doors, it’s a different story,” he said. The women in the audience nodded at this observation.
“We have to dig in and reinvent what we think manhood is all about,” Clayborn said. “Competition, male machismo, this ego thing has gotten out of control. It’s time for us men to look at how we treat women.”
Nationwide, one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. One in six women and one in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape. The violence also trickles down to kids: Fifteen percent of sexual assault victims are under age 12.
Clayborn gave handouts that showed nonviolent behaviors on one side, and violent behaviors on the other. The Nonviolence/Equality side displayed behaviors such as “Negotiation and Fairness,” where both partners seek mutually satisfying resolutions to conflict, and “Respect,” to listen nonjudgmentally and be emotionally affirming and understanding.
The Violence/Power and Control side included the following behaviors: “Using coercion and threats,” making threats or carrying out threats to hurt her, threatening to leave; and “Using isolation,” controlling what she does, who she sees and talks to.
Many victims do not reach out to friends and family out of fear and embarrassment, which further amplifies their isolation and makes them vulnerable to attacks that can grow more lethal.
Annette Love, a minister at Northside Baptist, said during the talk that she is also a domestic violence survivor. Although she had a church community during her abuse, the shame of it prevented her from seeking help.
“I had no idea where to go. I didn’t have any place where I felt like I could go,” she said.
Love said she needed two years of solitude before she could face the prospect of another relationship. “I had to find strength to not blame every man for what I went through,” she said.
Ralph Tucker, a teacher at Lakewood Elementary School who attended the talk, is also a survivor of abuse. Tucker forgave his abuser, and he said it was forgiveness that helped both of them to heal.
“Psychological problems are not just individual, they’re social. Therapy has to be social in order for the individual to be healed. Both sides, the abused and the abuser, have to be healed,” Tucker said. “I think we have to address the pain and trauma on both sides. I think it can be done when the abused participates in the healing of the abuser.”