Never overlook family as potential abusers

Oct. 31, 2011

Sara Horton
shorton@uccs.edu

Although the end of Domestic Violence Month is imminent, there is sadly never an end to domestic violence itself.

If we don’t hear about it happening to someone we know, there is almost always a cautionary tale in the media from which we can learn.

Perhaps the most pertinent example revolves around the recent suicide of Russell Armstrong, the estranged husband of “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” personality Taylor Armstrong.

After Russell’s death, Taylor alleged that her husband had abused her. She said that he beat her multiple times and, at one point, grabbed her by the throat while she was pregnant and held her against a wall.

As someone who is nauseated by reality television, I initially did not pay attention to the story.

I only started to read into it after Laurie, Russell’s sister, entered the picture and consequently instigated a needless debate that highlights almost every common misconception that we as a society have about domestic violence.

Laurie rejected Taylor’s allegations of domestic abuse because she didn’t think her brother would ever lash out at her.

However, she somehow thought that she did know Taylor well enough to deem the allegations false.

Laurie described herself as suspicious of Taylor. She recalled when she first saw Taylor’s house and complimented her on it. Taylor supposedly replied that, while the house was beautiful, it was still not “$60 million beautiful.”

Regardless of what Laurie may think about her former sister-in-law, people such as her have no right to say what did and did not happen inside someone else’s marriage.

While Laurie constantly claimed that it wasn’t in her brother’s nature to be abusive and wanted people to know the “real” Russell, she doesn’t recognize that abusers can easily act one way around their families and another around their spouses.

Even though there is no way to tell whether or not Taylor is being completely truthful, there is also no telltale way to identify an abuser.

Women who allege domestic violence should not be dismissed in order to preserve their spouses’ reputations.

Laurie’s supposed justifications for doubting Taylor include the absence of police and hospital reports, which battered women are typically too frightened to file. Yet she still demanded these reports for proof of her brother’s wrongdoing.

She also referred to an incident where Taylor was injured, blamed the injury on her daughter, but later recanted and blamed it on Russell.

Although Laurie seems to think that this is evidence of Taylor being a liar, the excuses are also typical for battered women.

Fearful for their lives and of angering their abusers, they invent stories about getting bruises from falling down the stairs and running into doors instead of admitting they’re unsafe at home.

Laurie also wanted to know why Taylor began to speak out and write a book about imbalanced relationships only after Russell had died.

While Taylor’s actions could be seen as questionable, the reason for her silence could also be the same as why she may have lied about her injury: fear.

Fear is what controls battered women until their abusive partners die, they escape or, in the worst possible scenario, they die before they can do so.

Before we deny that a family member could have ever harmed someone else, we need to stop and remember than an abuser is always someone else’s loved one.

Although it’s hard to accept, we may not know everyone in our family as well as we would like to believe, and their abusive capabilities may not be obvious.

We should never allow ourselves to become so blind that we can’t even bring ourselves to consider the possibility that an abuser may be in our own family.

Disbelief that stems from the unwillingness to accept an inconvenient reality will only discourage victims of domestic violence from seeking help and speaking out against their abusers.

If there is any one lesson to learn from Domestic Violence Month and the Armstrong media frenzy, it’s that an abuser knows no role.