Abusive language: A prelude to physical abuse, murder

| October 17, 2013

Frost Illustrated Staff Report

Editor’s note: In last week’s edition of Frost Illustrated, we published a number of articles about the inordinately high murder rate for black women on a national level along with local data on the problem. The following article discusses the primary warning signs that someone is in a domestic situation that could lead to violence or even death, following up on this piece about local efforts to curb domestic violence.

FORT WAYNE—Most often, people, including neighbors, friends and family, express shock and surprise when someone in the community is killed in a domestic violence incident. But, according to one person whose life work centers around advocating for victims of crimes, warning signs leading up to such violence—and even death—usually are plentiful. And, she said, those signs manifest themselves long before those situations come to a dangerous and sometimes fatal end.

“Somewhere in a violent
relationship or in the
relationship of someone
who has been murdered,
there has been verbal abuse.
People have to dehumanize
you before for they
can be violent.”

As director of Victim Assistance for the Fort Wayne Police Department, Lynnice Hamilton has seen more than her share of the carnage domestic abuse leaves behinds—broken people, broken families, broken communities. While Hamilton said there are exceptions, she said the overwhelming majority of domestic abuse cases that end in violence and even murder are not the result of some one time emotional eruption. Rather, the pattern of abuse usually starts early in relationships and then escalates.

“It starts with the verbal abuse. It’s a rare occasion that people in an intimate relationship, do something violent to you without verbal, emotional, psychological abuse first,” she explained. “Somewhere in a violent relationship or in the relationship of someone who has been murdered, there has been verbal abuse. People have to dehumanize you before for they can be violent.”

“If people would look at how their intimate partners speak to them, it says volumes. If a person can look at you and dehumanize you by calling you everything but your name from a garden tool to a female dog, that opens the door to more violence,” said Hamilton.

Folk wisdom might tell people that “sticks and stones” might break bones but words are never harmful, but Hamilton says otherwise.

“Those are the warning signs we want to deny or make light of. But, words do hurt,” she warned.

She said people being subjected to such verbal abuse need to act.

“You need to get yourself to safety,” she said.

Hamilton said, people who have been psychologically abused often make excuses for abusive partners saying things like, “If I hadn’t said that he wouldn’t have done that” or he or she “really didn’t mean that.

“People want to minimize that and make excuses for that,” said Hamilton.

She said that is the result of the dehumanization that comes with being subjected to constant verbal abuse. A person begins to internalize those negative statements made about her or him and begins to feel worthless—and, subsequently, that she or he is not worthy of respect and dignified treatment.

But, said Hamilton there are some dangerous realities behind abuse and violent language because accepting it opens the door to even more abuse that often turns physical.

“If they say they’re going to kill you, if someone can look at you and say that, they mean it,” she said.

The fact that a person would say that to someone with whom they have an intimate relationship is a sign they already have crossed a dangerous line, added Hamilton.

“There’s no way you’re going to walk up to a complete stranger and say you’re going to kill them and if this is a person you’re in a relationship with, they have already gone beyond that relationship by speaking harm to you,” she explained.

Relationships should be about honoring, having dignity and respect for each other. When you lose that, the door is open for all kinds of abuse, from verbal, sexual and physical to murder,” said Hamilton.

Breaking that cycle, she said, means cutting it off at the beginning by not accepting the verbal abuse that leads to other abuse.

“Respect yourself enough to not accept verbal abuse. Your accepting that is saying, ‘I’m not worth anything and anything you do to me is acceptable.’ You woulnd’t expect a stranger to come up and speak to you disrespectfully, so why would you accept it from a loved one?” asked Hamilton.

Unfortunately, the problem is that violence—whether in speech or by action—has become ubiquitous and acceptable in American life.

“Verbal abuse is the norm in our society. Violence is accepted behavior in our society. Violence is a learned behavior and our society teaches violence very well. It’s in our music, it’s in our entertainment, it’s in our homes, it’s in our relationships,” explained Hamilton.

She said being constantly exposed to violent language and seeing violence desensitizes people and lulls them into accepting such destructive behavior. Hamilton said such exposure is particularly harmful to children who will grow up believing violence in society and relationships is normal. But, breaking that cycle of violence and death, which is seen not only in domestic abuse cases but also the shootings and killings that plague city youth today requires responsibility and change on the part of adults.

“We are the first teachers in our children’s lives. They learn about relationships from us. You wonder why teenagers are killing each other in the streets? They watch us kill each other slowly in the home,” explained Hamilton.

First, she said, we must learn to speak to each other with respect, even when we disagree. The verbal abuse that leads to other violence must stop. That, she said, means we must stop calling each other names and raising our voices at others.

“If you give respect, you get respect,” said Hamilton.

It also means parents have to be careful to what they are exposing their children.

“As parents, we need to take time to screen what our children listen to, what they watch on television,” said Hamilton.

That also means monitoring one’s self. She noted that too many adults ride around listening to music that portrays human degradation and violence as a norm with children in the car listening right along.

“If our kids are in the back seats and you’re bumping it, how can you tell them it’s wrong? It’s the same thing if you tell them not to smoke and you have them in the back seat while you smoke with the windows rolled up,” said Hamilton.

And, she said, parents need to stop dragging children into the streets to see the aftermath of the latest violence in the community. Hamilton talked of a recently killing where she witnessed adults dragging children outside to look at the scene—the body still lying out in the open.

“It vexed my spirit to see young mothers out their watching with their young children not protecting their children from death. We are so desensitized to violence that it’s frightening,” she said.

“If we want to save our children’s lives, we have to get back to raising our children,” she said. “We have to have dignity and respect. We have also have it in our relationships. If you truly love someone, you can’t look at them and say hateful things. It’s that simple.”

For those who really want to change, there’s plenty of assistance, she said.

“The help is there. It’s a matter of going for the help. Fort Wayne is very fortunate in a lot of ways. We have more programs and assistance here than many large cities. It’s about changing our own behavior—how we speak to each other.

“Parenting and self esteem help is available, but only that individual can decide that they’re ready,” she said.

For more information, call Victim Assistance at (260) 427-1205.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 16 print edition.

Readers may want to check out Hopeline, a program by Verizon that “connects survivors of domestic violence to vital resources, funds organizations nationwide and protects the environment.” 

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Frost Illustrated is Fort Wayne's oldest weekly newspaper. Your Independent Voice in the Community, featuring news & views of African Americans since 1968.

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