Bridging the Gap Between Domestic Violence and Chronic Illness

Guest post on The Business of Me.

For too long, the link between domestic violence and chronic illness has gone crucially unnoticed. Unsightly scars, bruises and swellings are all too palpable and easily attributable to physical abuse, but most victims of intimate partner violence will tell you that that’s not where it ends. For a survivor who’s managed to get out of an abusive relationship, nursing her scars until they disappear is just one piece of the puzzle. What lies beneath the surface of visible blemishes, however, is a whole other animal waiting — often in vain — to be tamed.

Just ask Leslie Morgan Steiner, a survivor and author of the 2009 New York Times Bestseller,Crazy Love. As a young woman in her early twenties, Leslie entered a brutally abusive four-year long marriage. The beatings started five days before she and her husband tied the knot, and they continued until the day she left him. Now, at the age of 48, she is still trying to grapple with the long-term effects of the attacks she endured nearly twenty years ago.

But in Leslie’s case, as with so many other survivors of domestic abuse, “grappling with” is not the same as “being aware of.” More often than not, victims of domestic violence suffer from chronic illnesses that they don’t even think to hold their abusive history accountable for. Leslie herself experiences short-term memory loss and arthritis in her shoulders, joints, wrists, hands and ankles. What’s more is that had it not been for the groundbreaking research recently done by More Magazine and The Verizon Foundation, she would still be simply chalking her ailments up to nothing but old age.

“During that whole time, it never once occurred to me that I might be suffering from long-term physical damage due to the violence I experienced in my twenties, until I was contacted by More Magazine and The Verizon Foundation for this incredibly important study,” Leslie said in aninterview with MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts in observance of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The study that Leslie refers to is referenced in “A Hidden Cause of Chronic Illness” by Alexis Jetter – a riveting, in-depth article in the November 2013 issue of More Magazine that explores the connection between domestic violence and chronic illness.

According to the article, in 2008 the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the annual medical care costs for health issues related to domestic violence range from $25 billion to $59 billion. This equates to approximately 20 percent more money spent on health care by women who are in abusive relationships than those who aren’t. These are extremely startling numbers when you take into account the fact that much of this expense is for women who have long since left their abusive partners and started their lives anew as best they could.

But no definitive amount of years or visits to the doctor can put an end to the damage that’s already been done. There is no timeline that can characterize how long after a woman has been free from physical, mental and emotional abuse that she’ll be able to bounce back to her “normal” self as if nothing had ever happened. Contrarily, sometimes it’s not until the woman tries to reinvent herself that symptoms even begin to surface, and by the time they do, it’s hard to tell where they stem from — until now.

A big part of the problem lies with disregardful doctors who dismiss the notion that any chronic illness could be the result of past intimate torment. It’s not enough to know that 81 percent of abused women also have a chronic disease, or that most of these women suffer from more than one illness at a time. It’s time to put these statistics to use and acknowledge the fact that these illnesses are not coming out of nowhere; they’re occurring because at some point in these women’s lives, often for years at a time, they were abused by their partner. Thanks to the analyses of More Magazine and The Verizon Foundation, however, this message is finally gaining valuable momentum. Last January, theU.S. Preventive Services Task Force proposed that doctors should screen all women of childbearing age for intimate partner violence. This is a huge improvement considering that a mere 24 percent of respondents in the study reported that they were ever asked about their relationships by their doctor. Chances are that an abused woman isn’t going to volunteer this information on her own, so it helps that such an incentive is finally in place. Besides, in the fight against domestic violence, and when it comes to coping with the incalculable destruction it imprints on its victims’ lives, knowing is only half the battle.

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Stand-Your-Ground-Law Fail: The Marissa Alexander Case Resurfaced

Guest post on The Business of Me.

Meet Marissa Alexander: A Florida mother of three who fell victim to domestic abuse by her estranged husband, Rico Gray. The couple had only been married for four months when an argument-turned-physical-fight led to Alexander firing a warning shot at the ceiling in self-defense. Two years later, it was Alexander who was sentenced to a minimum of 20 years in prison, and not her abusive husband.

Alexander’s story of surviving domestic violence is much like many other women who have suffered from their abusive partner’s jealous streaks: In September 2009, Alexander obtained a restraining order against Gray after he beat her so badly that she had to go to the hospital. By July of the following year, they’d reconciled, got married and had their first child. It was during this time, when they were having breakfast one morning, that she showed him pictures of their newborn child on her phone, and he spotted text messages from her ex-husband. This sparked a verbal disagreement between the two, which then turned into a physical attack against Alexander. That’s when she ran out to her car, grabbed her legally-owned handgun, and fired a warning shot. No one got hurt, nor was anyone killed — the shot was just to let Gray know that she wasn’t having it anymore. Yet, Alexander is the one behind bars.

This sends a shameful and highly disreputable message to anyone who’s in an abusive relationship. It projects the idea that it’s perfectly fine for a man to commit domestic battery, because if ever she tries using some aggression of her own to fight back, there’s a law that’ll protect him and make him the victim instead. And, just to add a little salt to the proverbial wound, this law will also put her in jail for a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years. The Stand Your Ground Law is supposed to protect victims (of any kind of violence) from incarceration in the event that they use deadly force to stave off their aggressor, if they are in fear for their life. This law particularly gives the victim the right to choose not to escape the scene, even if they have the wherewithal to do so, if they’d rather use such deadly force. So, there goes the prosecution’s argument that Alexander should have left the scene for good when she, instead, went to get her gun; because according to Florida laws she had every right to go back into the house.

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because just three months ago, George Zimmerman walked away from court as a free man after going to trial for shooting and killing Trayvon Martin, using the Stand Your Ground law as his defense.

Let’s look at the facts:

  • George Zimmerman had a history of violence prior to his incident with Trayvon Martin — so did Marissa Alexander’s husband, Rico Gray.
  • By stalking and following Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman made himself the initial aggressor — Gray was the aggressor for physically attacking Alexander at the time of their confrontation and throughout their relationship.
  • George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin in the chest and killed him — Marissa Alexander shot at the wall and did not hurt anyone.
  • George Zimmerman is found not guilty under Florida’s stand your ground law — Marissa Alexander is found guilty after trying to plead self-defense under Florida’s stand your ground law.

What a smack in the face. The tragedy that is Marissa Alexander’s narrative turned into a travesty when the verdict in Zimmerman’s case came back ‘not guilty.’ People across the country and beyond are outraged over the injustices done at the hands of this so-called “law.” After getting the NAACP involved, it was announced on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013 that Alexander’s trial will be renewed. However, due to ramifications involved with Florida’s self-defense laws, which state that she could have fled the scene instead of firing her gun, an appeals court ruled that Alexander would not be allowed to invoke a “stand your ground” defense specifically. What she will have to do is prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she fired her gun in self-defense. At the very least, if successful, her sentence will be reduced — a sentence that was excessive in the first place. Judges are bound by mandatory minimum sentences; add that to a complicated stand-your-ground defense, and Alexander automatically faced an unwarranted 20 years of jail time.

It’s high time that lawmakers start thinking about justifiable minimum sentences and making amendments to controversial laws. What Marissa Alexander needs is intervention and the benefit of the doubt, not two decades in captivity.

Domestic Violence Goes to Work

Guest post on The Business of Me.

Domestic violence is a harrowing, yet prevalent issue in today’s society. Partner abuse affects nearly 35.6 percent of all women in the United States. This means that whether it’s in the form of rape, physical violence, verbal/emotional abuse or stalking, millions of women have experienced intimate partner violence at some point in their lifetime. But, what goes on behind closed doors doesn’t always stay there. It’s not unusual for a victim of domestic violence to carry their troubles with them wherever they go – including their workplace. The effects of domestic violence transcend the atmosphere of the home by disallowing the victim to work efficiently; and when this happens, it becomes a threat to the well-being and prosperity of the employer. [Read More]

Responding to Domestic Violence in the Workplace

Guest blog post on The Business of Me.

Having a career involves more than dedicating yourself to work in exchange for a paycheck. The amount of time that people spend interacting with their coworkers and building relationships with them is significant. In this age of “suing the deep pockets” the employer is the ‘deep pockets’ and will probably be part of a lawsuit if it comes to that. Therefore, facilitating workplace rules and regulations that protect staff members, and make them just as much of a priority as the services provided to customers, is essential and beneficial to all parties. [Read More]

Bystander Intervention

Guest blog post on The Business of Me.

It has been some time since The Daily Mirror released photos of Nigella Lawson being attacked by her soon-to-be ex-husband, Charles Saatchi. On June 9, 2013, the couple were dining at Scott’s Restaurant in the luxurious Mayfair section of Central London, when Saatchi broke out into a row of neck-grabbing assaults against Lawson. Several other diners were in attendance at the restaurant. Most, if not all, of them were in plain view and witnessed the attack first-hand. Yet not one person took it upon themselves to intervene. [Read More]