By Krystal Chan
When I was in high school I was like most teenage girls who were in puppy love with their high school sweetheart. He was captain of the basketball team and I was in heaven. My heart melted every time he pulled up to my house in his shiny white car. However, somewhere between the dates to Baskin Robins and the many nights we stayed up on the phone together, I failed to realize that I was becoming the victim of an intimate partner violence relationship.
It started with subtle scoffs at what he deemed were attempts on my part of flirting with other boys that I tutored at the time. Little by little, his fuse grew shorter and my chances of having a healthy teenage relationship all but disappeared. I don’t know why I chose to ignore those early faint shoves which came with the screaming and name calling. Maybe because I felt like everyone had rough relationships like that in high school.
My own best friend dated a very aggressive boy who screamed and shouted so loud you could hear it from the building next door. His dad beat his mom, and at least he had never beat my friend…at least not yet. Maybe it was my own threshold for violence; one that I had created as a product of my environment that included many fights between a dominant Mexican macho father and his subordinate petite wife.
Soon enough the faint shoves became full on pushes from a 6’4 man towards a 5’2 girl (I use the terms man and girl for a reason, because we were just that, a 16yo GIRL and a 19yo MAN). One can only imagine the amount of air I caught, like Michael Jordan in an early nineties slam dunk contest. Still, I chose to ignore it. The shoves and name calling continued but he never really hit me, there wasn’t any real “violence” in our relationship, and of course the one that sums it all up, he never meant any of the things he said and did, he LOVED me!
Like most Latinas who had been protected from anything outside their homes and communities, I began to see the world in a different light after moving away to college. I started realizing, with indirect help from other strong, powerful and like minded Latinas, that this behavior was unacceptable. The first time I kicked him out of my dorm room for trying to pick a fight with me I had to hide for hours until campus security came and took him away. Little did I know that would be the beginning of the end. I had made a choice to leave this abusive relationship, which I still had not termed “abusive” because he had not yet punched me or sent me to the hospital.
What proceeded next were months of stalking, unexpected visits, hundreds of phone calls and many, many tears. I can still remember the night I went to pick up all my stuff from him, like it was yesterday. I walked into his empty house naively hoping to gather my things in a few seconds and be out. I was met by a grieving heartbroken man who was not ready to let me go. He was crying and pleading with me not to leave him. Of course we began to argue and I decided to get out of that place as fast as I could. He followed me outside, blocked my car and from there, we began to fight over my keys. I held on tight to them and he held on tight to my wrist. He pushed me and pulled me back into the house. I tripped over the furniture and he began to drag me all the way back into the bedroom. He picked me up and threw me onto the bed. We wrestled for a few minutes which seemed more like an eternity to me at the time. Thousands of thoughts raced through my mind and I decided to do the only thing I could: claw and bite my way out of his grasp. The first claw was met with a strong twist of my arm and then the unexpected, a powerful head butt to my forehead. That’s right a HEAD BUTT. The sound was so loud it froze us right into place. I could not believe what had happened. I ran to the bathroom to see about a two inch in circumference red ball on my forehead.
I was lost for words and was encountered by a man who wasn’t ashamed or remorseful for what he had done, but was afraid of going to jail. He quickly began apologizing, grabbed a piece of frozen meat from the fridge and walked me to my car all while begging me not to call the police. Of course I didn’t. Instead I chose to lock up that memory of the night and of our relationship deep down hoping it would go away. It took me months to accept and begin comprehending the events of that night, but it took me years to understand that I was a victim of violence. It has also taken me years to shed the baggage that I carried from that relationship; the insecurities, the mistrust of all men, but most importantly, the devaluation of my worth.
I am sharing my story because I think it is a very common story, especially among our communities of color. A quick search shows that youth ages 16-24 experience the highest rates of intimate partner violence of any age group. Another recent study found that 1 in 10 teens report to being physically hit by their significant other within the past year. That’s 2-3 teens in every high school classroom. Besides the immediate ramifications of domestic abuse like bruises and broken bones, we tend to miss some of the more long term effects that it has not only on the mental health, but the general health of the victim.
Earlier today I was inspired by a group of women at the UCDavis School of Nursing who are looking at the relationship between Latina survivors of domestic violence and chronic diseases. Yes, chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension and obesity! I found the subject very interesting because we are all aware of the more common things associated with domestic violence like post traumatic stress disorder, but I don’t believe we have any data that link it to chronic diseases. We also came upon an interesting discussion on the definitions of “violence” which can be very different across cultures especially within the subgroups of Latinos and how some may have higher thresholds for violence than others. In the end we all agreed that violence is not acceptable in any culture and that we must continue the long battle to help educate and empower our communities.
As a coincidence, March 8th (When this entry was orinally written. Sorry for the delay in posting.) is International Women’s Day. So let’s empower and educate by spreading the word (and links) to “UNITE to end violence against women.”
If you find yourself in a similar situation to the one described above, please don’t hesitate in calling 911! You can also find helpful resources at Sacramento’s WEAVE website: www.weaveinc.org. You can call their support line 24 hours a day at: 916-920-2952.