Blog Post by Lil Corcoran, Associate Executive Director
In 1988 I remember watching a battered Hedda Nussbaum testify against Joel Steinberg, for murdering their daughter, Lisa, and thinking, “What is wrong with her?” Although I have come to a different understanding now, that is still the culture’s primary attitude toward battered women.
Twenty five years after the very public Nussbaum case we still ask battered women, “Why do you put up with it?” Interestingly, most folks know the name Hedda Nussbaum, while not as many remember the actual murderer’s name: Joel Steinberg. The domestic violence movement is just beginning to get some people to start asking some new questions…”Why does he batter?”, “Why is he abusive?”, “Why does he stay in a relationship where he ‘feels’ the need to hit his partner?”
The truth is, many battered women (and men) do eventually leave the batterer. Guess what? That doesn’t mean the abuse has stopped. Batterers, bullies by another name, don’t give up that easily. The sad fact is, many victims are finally free from the abuser only when he/she finds a new person to control/abuse. So victims leave and make changes, and batterers move on to their next victim. The domestic violence continues one way or another. Until society starts to seriously address the broader, more endemic issue, victims can and do leave all they want, but it will not stop the battering.
In the meantime, we help the victims. We support them in their leaving. And if we are really helpful, we support them when they are “staying” too. If you know someone is being abused, let her know that you will never turn your back on her and that when she is ready, you will be there for her. At some point she will want help, and if we have closed the door, who will she turn to?
This is very hard if the victim is someone you love; seeing her being abused is most painful, and for you to keep the door open for her, for when she is ready, you will need support too. There will be times when you just want to punch the batterer, or maybe even the victim. Don’t do it. Find a way to let her know that you care about her, that you hope she stays safe and can find help, and that you are willing to listen if and when the time comes for her to make a change.
Victims are often isolated, and you may be their only sane lifeline in an insane world. Get phone numbers for local domestic violence programs so that they are handy if and when she is ready to seek help. Leaving an abuser should not be taken lightly; it is not easy and can be dangerous. Try to get help, if the situation calls for it.
It’s hard to say if things would have been different in 1987, when 6-year-old Lisa was killed by Steinberg, if there had been enlightened folks to support the battered and abused in that family. But hopefully if I were watching that trial today, my question would be, “What is wrong with him? “Why did he do that?” and “What can I do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?”