Michelle D. Bernard is the CEO of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics, and Public Policy and author of Moving America Toward Justice: The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, 1963-2013.
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Naming the Sin
JULIE OWENS had no way of knowing that, within days of saying her marriage vows, she would become a victim of domestic violence. She grew up in a Christian home. Her father was a pastor. Her brother was a pastor. Her uncles were pastors. Her parents had a beautiful and enduring marriage. She was well educated. She was well traveled. And she was deeply in love.
During her honeymoon, Julie quickly realized that her husband now believed he owned her, a belief that would soon be followed by verbal abuse and, toward the end of their marriage, physical abuse.
The abuse began with an irrational jealousy. Then the name-calling began, along with accusations of infidelity. He isolated her from her friends and family. He showed up at the school where she worked as a special education teacher to “check on her.” Later, he started taking the car keys away from her. He even cut the spark-plug wires in their car so that he would always know her whereabouts. He threw dishes at her, disconnected the phone in their rural home, and threatened to harm her, their pets, friends, and even their unborn baby.
Three months into the marriage, Julie knew that his behavior was not normal and the couple separated.
Over the course of the next three months, she went to marriage counseling while her husband went to substance-abuse counseling. In search of help, she spoke with counselors, pastors, and others—yet not one of them ever uttered the words “domestic violence.” Instead, she was told that her husband was dealing negatively with “stress” and that he was “acting out” because he was raised in an abusive family.