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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I was appalled by the letter written by the retired therapist, "Dr. Howard Bott," who said that a victim of domestic abuse who confides in her friends is somehow responsible for the abuse. His suggestion that somehow the woman named "Sara" was playing a "game" for dramatic effect was unbelievable.

Women who are abused by spouses and significant others believe that they are powerless to stop the cycle of abuse. Friends and family need to show the victim that their love is unconditional, gather information about a "safe plan" from their local victim/witness or women's shelter, and assist her when she's ready to leave the relationship. They also need to be patient with the victim.

Ask any member of my family and they'll tell you it takes a long time for the victim to rebuild that self-esteem and to know she's capable of changing the situation. Our daughter was in a similar relationship for more than seven years. When she finally found the courage to leave, it was too late. He stalked and murdered her.

Please tell your readers that they should NEVER, EVER consider domestic abuse to be a "game." It's not. It has deadly consequences. -– BEEN THERE, SUPERIOR, WIS.

DEAR BEEN THERE: Please accept my sympathy for the tragic loss of your beloved daughter. In recent years, law enforcement and behavioral therapists have become more knowledgeable about the cycle of domestic violence -– and all agree that it is not to be taken lightly. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: I was shocked and angered at how much blame "Dr. Bott" placed on "Sara," the victim of domestic abuse.

I dated a young man for more than five years before we finally married. "Mike" had never laid a hand on me. Three weeks into our marriage, he started shoving me into walls, slapping me, dragging me around the house and throwing me down stairs. I believed it was my fault. "If only I had not made him so mad," "maybe if I had a second job so we had more money," "if only I had cleaned the house better," etc. I was convinced that I was a horrible, ugly, stupid human being, and I was too embarrassed to tell family and friends.

The people at work saw through my lies and made me admit what Mike was doing. I cannot describe the relief I felt. These wonderful people never failed to tell me every day that it wasn't my fault, that I needed to leave Mike.

One day I had a terrible bruise on my arm. "Jake" walked over to me, took my hand and told me that of all the people in the world this happens to, it shouldn't be happening to me because I was smart and beautiful. He talked for 10 minutes about what a wonderful person I was. I couldn't stop crying. Abby, no one had ever said anything like that to me.

That night, I went home and suddenly saw Mike for who he really was -– a sorry excuse for a man without a job, who couldn't get his life together, who drank and smoked pot –- and when he became disillusioned with a world he couldn't control, he took it out on me with insults and violence. I left him that night.

This September, Jake and I will celebrate four happy years of marriage with our beautiful 3-year-old son. It took counseling, prayer and love, but I realize that Mike had problems, and what he did to me was inexcusable.

Today, I am the beautiful, smart, confident woman I had always wanted to be. I thank God daily for the angels he sent to help me. Blaming the victims of domestic violence only perpetuates the cycle. Only when we become outraged at the abuser, when we make hitting your partner and your kids inexcusable, will we have a chance to stop this horrible epidemic. -– TRULY BLESSED IN NORTH CAROLINA


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