Power and control; nice to have, but dangerous when it belongs to an abuser.


Stephanie (not her real name) told us that her partner began abusing her before her daughter was born six years ago.  She said the abuse greatly increased during and after her pregnancy.
For some victims of domestic violence, their abusers use food as a way to assert power and control. They might limit and control what their partner eats or shame them for their food choices. Stephanie, a survivor of serious abuse became so malnourished that she ended up in the hospital with a feeding tube.
“As he took control of the grocery shopping and the budget, I began noticing comments he would make while we were in the grocery like “You don’t need that” even if it was something I enjoyed eating. Of course, he always made sure he could afford “daddy’s food”.  He regularly bought pizza and cookies for himself and would eat them in front of me and my daughter.”
Food wasn’t the only abuse Stephanie endured. As is so common with abusers, he convinced her to break off all contact with her family and then pressured her to leave her job as a teacher.  As the abuse increased towards her, he also became violent towards their dog.
“At times, he presented himself as my protector and provider, but then he became my torturer. I thought I could make him a good-hearted person because I loved him so much. However, he used my love to abuse me even more.”
Sometimes he would tell her that he would take care of her and give her what she wanted.  At other times he would withhold all food from her. That pattern of coercion and punishment changed over time, but it definitely got worse. Within two years, Stephanie was experiencing signs of malnutrition: rashes, bruises and hair loss while her weight dropped from 125 to 93 pounds. She was so sick couldn’t keep food down anyway. Her abuser kept her and her daughter away from mainstream healthcare providers so no one would see the pattern of abuse.
Last year, Stephanie fell down and was so weak she couldn’t get up. Her daughter immediately called 911. The EMT asked if there was something going on and Stephanie admitted she was trying to get away from her abuser. After being admitted to the hospital her abuser tried, unsuccessfully, to get her to return home. She briefly fled to a local shelter with her daughter until she had begun to heal. She is gradually returning to good health.
Despite the physical weakness and illness that compounded the challenges of leaving her abusive situation, Stephanie encourages women in this type of situation to talk to their own physician or their child’s pediatrician. They know how to find a trained domestic violence advocate who can help victims develop a safety plan.
Today, Stephanie has regained her power and control with a new job and a new and safe life with her daughter.
If you, or someone you know is in an abusive situation- Crisis Services can help. The services are free and confidential. Call 256.574.5826 OR the Crisis Line at 256.716.1000 24/7.

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