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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Survivors look to curb domestic violence

Recent GW graduate Melisa Pardes knows all about domestic abuse.

When she was 12, her 17-year-old boyfriend raped her. Pardes also grew up with emotionally and physically abusive parents. Afraid to tell anyone about her rape, Pardes kept her problems to herself. With nowhere to turn for help, she plunged into alcohol and drug use and self-mutilation practices.

She had a string of abusive relationships – boyfriends would hit her during arguments. As peers learned of her reputation for a “wild” lifestyle, they began to treat her accordingly, expecting her to act in certain ways or “hook up” with any guy, Pardes said.

“(I) sought out abusive relationships because it felt right,” she said.

Pardes was a victim of a problem thousands of Americans face. President George W. Bush proclaimed October Domestic Violence Awareness Month last year and urged Americans to learn about what he referred to as a “social blight.”

Metropolitan Police received more than 19,000 calls of domestic violence in 2000, according to the D.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Domestic violence and emotional abuse are defined as behaviors and actions used by one person in a relationship to control another. Those involved may or may not be married, can be homosexual or heterosexual and can have many different relationships to each other.

Women who find themselves in abusive relationships usually make excuses to justify the actions of their partner, according to the Web site for My Sister’s Place, a local shelter for battered women. Many women convince themselves that incidents are their own fault. There are several danger signs that may point out a potential abuser, including jealousy, bad temper, displaced aggression, mood changes and a desire to rigidly control a partner. If a partner has a violent history from in home life or substance abuse problems, they may be prone to abuse others.

Pardes said if she dated someone who did not abuse her, she felt that she was not worthy of him. Her self-esteem was so low that she felt she deserved someone abusive.

My Sister’s Place also provides information regarding how abuse starts and escalates.

Abusive relationships often follow a regenerating violence
cycle highlighted by three stages. First, tension builds as the batterer
becomes increasingly agitated and angry. This tension eventually breaks with the actual incident of abuse. Afterward, batterers often feel badly about their actions and attempt to compensate by treating their victim well. This “honeymoon” period usually convinces the victim that the attacker has reformed; however, this usually reverts to more tension, which begins the cycle again.

Victims of domestic abuse can seek help on campus and in the District.

My Sister’s Place provides material and emotional support for victims.

“Our goal is to empower each woman to help herself. We merely provide a stepping stone toward independence,” said Judith Bennet-Sattler, executive director of the shelter.

My Sister’s Place provides food, shelter and programs to help victims make steps to reach independence as many cope with the material hurdles of living away from their abusive partner.

At GW, domestic violence is an issue often dealt with by the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance.

Two and a half years ago, Pardes started a women’s support group on campus for vicitims of domestic violence, rape, incest, assault or other attack.

“(It’s) a place for survivors to speak about their experience,” Pardes explained. “You can come and talk, or just listen and meet people on campus who understand.”

There are no membership or attendance requirements for female victims.

The support group meets Fridays at 6:30 p.m. For more information, e-mail [email protected].

“(Domestic violence) affects all areas of society,” FMLA
President Jennifer Hoffman said. “Both men and women have to be educated. It’s not just a female issue.”

People need to take action if they see such incidents, Hoffman said.

“Intervene when you see (abuse) on a regular basis. Talk to victims, talk to people,” she said.

It takes victims an average of seven attempts to leave her abuser before they are successful, according to the My Sister’s Place Web site.

Fortunately for Pardes, at 16 she realized that she had to deal with her problems. She found herself having trouble with intimate relationships, her self-esteem remained low, she still was practicing self-mutilation and her health was deteriorating.

“I couldn’t get away with ignoring it anymore,” she said.

Two years of therapy gave her mechanisms to cope, strategies to recover and an environment to discuss difficult topics without being judged.

She said she still has relapses, a common phenomenon among former victims, such as bad dreams or trouble with intimacy. She said she still fears that friends, in fits of rage, will hit her during arguments.

However, Pardes has found ways to develop herself through outreach. She was involved in FMLA, a group that helped her discover the kind of person she wanted to be and how she could help other people, she said.

“Doing activist work has helped my healing a lot,” she said.

Pardes suggests victims of domestic abuse must take the first step and change their view of the relationship and themselves.

“It’s not your fault, ever. You deserve better, and better is out there,” Pardes said.

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