MAXWELL:  Choosing not to be abused

3/10/1996 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


St. Petersburg resident Nancy Rawlins, like millions of other women nationwide, followed the spousal abuse trial of Warren and Felicia Moon with great interest.

And last year, she, like millions of other women, also followed the murder trial of O.J. Simpson, not for its exploitation of the rich and infamous, but because evidence also suggested that O.J. had abused his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson.

Rawlins was disappointed but hardly surprised when Felicia Moon, a 120-pounder, recanted her earlier statements that her husband, the quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings, had battered her repeatedly. Nor was Rawlins surprised when Felicia Moon said that she, not her husband, a powerful 200-pounder, had instigated the couple’s fights and that she, not her husband, had thrown the punches that prompted her calls to 911.

Rawlins, 60, who considers herself a “survivor,” knows well the game of denial that Felicia Moon and Nicole Brown Simpson played, the game of being controlled and demeaned by an abusive spouse. “For about 30 years, I was pummeled, choked and slugged,” Rawlins says. “But I eventually found the key to freedom from my abusive, addictive relationships. In my own way, I have succeeded in turning my life around.”

How she transformed her life, conquering what she calls “a spirt of helplessness,” is chronicled in her book, Silent Rain.

Overcoming spousal abuse, Rawlins says, must begin with victims themselves. “It is imperative that we realize that we have choices, that we are responsible for ourselves,” she says. “One of those choices is to reach out for help _ now. Nicole Brown Simpson did not choose to listen to the experts. She fell into the trap of staying in an abusive relationship and lied to herself to justify the abuse.

“When Dr. Susan Forward (author of the best-seller Men Who Hate Women & the Women Who Love Them) told Nicole she should break all ties to O.J. and move on with her life, Nicole replied, “I can’t do that. It would hurt O.J.’s feelings,’ ” Rawlins says. “Victims like Nicole must choose to get out of a bad relationship. Love does not mean having to live with abuse.”

Women must love themselves enough to choose to take aggressive, positive action _ even leaving _ the first time physical abuse occurs. Most women stay in abusive relationships too long, Rawlins says, because they do not know the facts about their predicament.

Here are some of the facts, as Rawlins sees them: Although some men (and women) who commit domestic violence are mentally ill, many others are psychologically stable. Those in this group may be the most dangerous over time because their goal is to control and to manipulate.

“They become more controlling, more demeaning and more ruthless the longer they’re around,” Rawlins says. “One of the reasons that we stay with them after being abused is that they know our weaknesses so well. They can pretend to be exactly the men we want them to be. They turn on the charm. They have mastered the art of seduction. They manipulate our vulnerabilities and keep us “hooked’ in the relationship. They convince us that we are to blame, that we are deficient or inadequate.”

Because most victims have low self-esteem, Rawlins says, they let their emotions rule their choices. As such, victims strive in vain to be seen as good partners and good people. By trying to be understanding and forgiving, victims perpetuate their own hell. “If you’ve been slapped or knocked down one time, it’s one time too many,” Rawlins says. “Stop the merry-go-round of pain, misery and suffering _ or worse, your death.”

Rawlins argues that too many victims, like Felicia Moon, protect their batterers. Even worse, though, many victims are unable to face reality, thus blaming themselves. “We say, for instance, “Oh, I’m so clumsy. I tripped and ran into a door.’ Or, “He really loves me. Maybe I can be more careful from now on. If I do things the way he wants, maybe he won’t get mad at me again.’ This is the biggest lie of all. Don’t lie to yourself. Battering is not only a physical crime, it is also a crime of the heart and soul.”

If they intend to escape the abuse, Rawlins says, victims must choose to be honest about the behavior of their partners. “Honesty leads to freedom,” she says. “Women must learn that they are not responsible for the behavior of the other person. An abuse victim needs to step back and look at her batterer as if he were a stranger, picturing him beating another woman. Then, the victim can clearly see that her abuser needs to get professional help. Only a professional can help him. Women must choose to know this.”

Rawlins believes that both partners are responsible for creating a wholesome, long-term relationship. But she believes also that women, because they are the most frequent victims of abuse, have to triple their responsibility. When advising other women, she always quotes Dr. Forward, who wrote: “The most wonderful gift that you can give to yourself and any man you become involved with is your sense of self-worth and, with it, your expectation of love and good treatment.”

Anything less, Rawlins concludes, invites an abusive relationship.