Just What Does a Victim of Spousal Abuse Look Like?

By Tracee Lee Holloway


In four words, she looks like me.

It was in the time of the OJ Simpson trial. It was that belief that if HE couldn’t have me, then no one could have me.

“He said he’d never let me leave him.  He loved me too much to ever let go.  If I were to leave him, he assured me it would be the last thing I’d ever do.  He’d rather see me dead, than to have to live without me…”

What I can tell you is trying to leave an abusive relationship is dangerous; it is.

A hot-tempered man who goes berserk when he cannot control his partner and erupts in complete rage if she tries to leave. Leaving can, and often will, escalate violent behavior.

Fear for your safety is real.  (Despite what they tell you.)

A man who strikes his partner will be distraught over a breakup and could resort to murder as a last, desperate act to hold onto a relationship. It is no secret that there are, and have been, Women who are killed by recently estranged husbands and boyfriends consumed with jealousy.  Spousal violence has been consistently identified as one of the most common forms of violence against women in Canada.

My relationship looked good on the outside.  Others had no idea.

In my case, I was suffering from complicated grief following the death of a sibling.  Our family system was broken. Had always been broken, no solace nor support was there for me then. I was vulnerable and being terrorized. My family (the people we usually turn to for love and support), sided with my abuser.  If I were to survive or escape, help had to come from outside sources.

He would want to know where I was.  Ripping the covers off me while asleep to ensure I was in bed.  His insecurities made him paranoid and angry.  He tried to restrict my movements, kept me from my friends and job.

He was always rushing me and shushing me.

I wanted a partner who was big and strong; someone who could protect me.  I was ill prepared to even begin to know how to cope when this happened to me.

When it did happen to me, there were not many resources available to support a woman leaving a man who beat her.  Despite having the requisite restraining orders, non-harassment and non-communication orders.

Silencing women

Statistics.  There’s plenty. I was often told that it’s not society’s problem.

It was my problem.  I brought him into my life, my family, my core group.

Most people were afraid to get involved. They were afraid of the threats to have their homes burnt down, their pets killed or have something terrible happen to one of their kids on the way home from school.

Being basically on my own, my tenacity and survival instincts steered me to the internet. I read books and tried to research what other women did in situations like this.

I was lucky.  I did not give up finding the resources and the support that would help me.  It was complicated.  It was often emotionally devastating.  I learned who I could trust and who I could not.

I found Elizabeth Fry Society, Victim Witness Protection, Interval House, Inasmuch House and the Hope Haven.  These programs helped me.

Then versus now:

Today we have Call display.

We have sensitivity training for law enforcement.

There are anti-stalking legislations.

We’ve come a long way but…

It’s still not enough.

Violence against women is always the responsibility of the abuser.

Still it falls to the victim to get it to stop.


Understanding the cycle of violence is key to surviving.

Abuse is about the need to control.

Being beaten, bruised and threatened by someone is spousal abuse,

it is most certainly not love.

Recognize the signs and how to identify a potential abuser.

Recognize the connection between control and fear.

Establish boundaries. Know the abuser’s triggers when you are being shamed.

You are absolutely able to assess risk factors on your own.

Listen to others, the stories they tell you, and the ones you tell yourself.

Overcome the blame, as if “ I made him this way”.  Hardly.


Escaping domestic violence requires careful planning.

Get information from someone at a shelter.

Please get help.  This is something you cannot and must not try to do on your own. Get help from agencies that work specifically to help victims of domestic violence. Find an advocate, someone that knows/specializes in getting free and seek out ongoing support.

If you are living with an abuser do not surf the internet at home.

Do not make phone calls to friends or shelters about your abuse at home.

Use the public library so there is no possibility of being discovered frequenting websites with domestic violence information.


Empower yourself to make choices and learn to trust yourself again.

Only when you understand the cycle of abuse and breaking that cycle will you heal and move forwards towards creating an abuse free future.

Locate resources and tools, and find counselling.

Get supportive counselling.

Continual abuse erodes your self-esteem in increments,

so you become paralyzed by fear.


When you feel you have no voice, know that you do.

*Title Image credit to Alison Sawatzky – http://alisonsawatzky.com/


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