Spousal abuse – the path from passionate love to control to violence

Dorothy Dobbie

A man, a bit rough looking and perhaps on the younger side of middle age, was the only person in the local produce store, except for the clerk and the owner. As I browsed the fruit, I could hear him loudly proclaiming, “I’ve gone 185 in the city plenty of times.” He repeated himself a couple of times, going on to outline the reasons for his declaration.

He was blustery and assertive. The women said very little. Finalizing his purchase, he burst out the door. The clerk drew in her breath and said, “I wanted to punch that guy in the nose!” The owner quietly agreed. Why, I wondered. I’m sure you could easily travel 185 km in the city in a single day, so I asked, “Why?”

“He was a complete jerk,” said the clerk. You should have heard how he was talking to his wife on the phone, yelling at her and calling her names.”

“And who does he think he is?” chimed in the owner. “He’s going to kill someone going that fast in the city – or anywhere!”

“Ooooh,” I thought. So “going 185” meant travelling at that speed, not the distance. But my companions’ anger and disgust was about the verbal public abuse of the man’s wife. “He probably beats her,” continued the owner. “I feel so sorry for the poor girl.” She went on to tell me about another customer who, years before, used to come to the store with his wife twice a week. “He would grab a handful of peanuts and eat them, one by one, dropping the shells on the floor,” she said. “His wife was the sweetest thing, but he verbally abused her in front of everyone. One day, he went to the car leaving her to pay for the groceries and I just couldn’t help myself. I leaned over and whispered, ‘You don’t have to take that.’”

“Good for you,” I said.

“No,” she replied. “They never came back. I am so sorry I said anything.” She was thinking that perhaps the wife talked back to her abuser and who knows what happened to her. “It was none of my businesses,” she said sadly.

But whose business is it, I wonder, if not ours? And why shouldn’t we speak up and say something to the abuser, if not the abused? Why should we let them get away with bullying and beating and crushing the spirit of their spouse? If we don’t speak up for them, who will?

I still regret not saying something or offering help to a friend who, from time to time, came to work with bruises on her cheek visible under her make up. It was always the same cheek, except for one day when she appeared with a fat lip – a cold sore, she said – but there was no sore visible. I longed to say something to offer support, but I didn’t, worried that I would shame her by doing so.

Why do we feel this way? The only one who should be ashamed is the jerk dishing out the abuse. Yet we in society let these things pass, turn our heads, pretend not to see. It’s time to speak up for anybody we realize is being abused.

I think of Kevin Klein, the owner of MyToba, who recently re-told the world the story of his mother’s murder by an abusive spouse. The last time Kevin saw him, Robert Munroe was in a parole hearing hoping to get out of jail. Parole was granted. He now lives free and clear in Windsor, Ontario and you can be pretty sure he has done it again – abused and beaten other women, who may not know his record. All accounts point to spousal abuse as being a serial event, even after imprisonment or counselling.

At this man’s parole hearing, Kevin wrote, “The parole board asked him to talk about what happened and what caused it. They revealed his past abuse of partners, which we weren’t aware of. Each time, his abuse became worse — it started with shoving a girlfriend, then pushing his first wife, then punching her. That relationship ended but his pattern continued until finally he took a life … my mom’s life. I learned that day she previously had called the police about his abuse. She had even gone to a shelter on a few occasions for some peace when my brothers left the house for a weekend or a school trip. She never told us but then again we never asked. We, like most of society, were blind to the signs, or simply ignored them. My mother was living in fear, just as thousands of women are doing right now.”

At the parole hearing Robert Munroe convincingly pled remorse – they all do and society feels sorry for them. How unimaginably perverse. The abuser won. Kevin and his brothers were left to suffer the lifelong consequences. Even the inheritance from their mother went and was squandered by Munroe while he was out on bail. The boys got nothing. Kevin, only a young adult himself, looked after his younger brother.

We need to take spousal abuse more seriously. Not only women are in danger; sometimes, the abuser’s anger extends to the kids who are also killed. Regardless, the children’s lives are filled with horror and dread while it is all happening and they are left with misplaced guilt after it is all over as they wonder if there wasn’t something they could have done.

It’s not your fault, dear children of these relationships. It’s the fault of all of us who turn a blind eye. We must change this and take responsibility for the victims, because in spite of what the abusers always claim, it is definitely not the victim’s fault!

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