DEAR ABBY: I work in a domestic violence/sexual assault center in Pennsylvania. After reading the letter from "Sick and Tired of Voluntary Victims in Oregon," may I offer some facts?
Women who are in abusive relationships are not "stupid." Abuse is sinister and can sneak into a relationship. Getting out is difficult because many women have strong emotional attachments to their partners, and don't want to acknowledge that they are being abused. Abusers are highly manipulative. They may repeatedly promise never to do it again, threaten suicide if the woman leaves, threaten to harm the kids if she leaves, or not allow her to hold a job so she cannot save money to escape. They also may deny her access to transportation.
Sometimes the abuse begins when the woman becomes pregnant. Many women in abusive relationships have no choice about whether to use birth control, especially if the man controls the finances and doesn't allow her enough money to purchase birth control. Also, women in abusive relationships may not have the option to say no to sex.
As for the women who manage to leave -- a few statistics:
Studies in Philadelphia and Chicago reveal that almost one-fourth of women killed by male partners were separated or divorced and 28.6 percent of the women were attempting to leave the relationship.
According to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 75 percent of domestic violence homicides occur AFTER separation. Also, women who call police may encounter responses such as, "Be a better wife and he won't have to hit you."
Abuse is about power and control -- keeping the woman from having freedom of choice. I suggest that "Sick and Tired" look into the issue. Go to the library and check out the women's studies section. It will provide current information about violence against women. Better yet, call your local domestic violence shelter and volunteer. -- IN THE TRENCHES IN PENNSYLVANIA
DEAR IN THE TRENCHES: I agree. Volunteering in a shelter would be an excellent way to learn firsthand about the fear, intimidation and self-esteem issues that thousands of women are facing, usually alone with no support. I received a barrage of responses after "Sick and Tired's" letter and poem appeared in my column.
About 20 percent were from individuals congratulating the writer for having "told it like it is," regardless of the political correctness of her opinion. The other 80 percent came from women who had experienced domestic violence, deploring the judgmental and insensitive attitude of the author.
According to Haven House in Pasadena, Calif., the first battered women's shelter in the United States, 21 percent of all women who use hospital emergency surgical services are battered; 6 million American women are beaten each year by their husbands or boyfriends and 4,000 of them are killed. Battering is the single major cause of injury to women -- more frequent than auto accidents, muggings and rape combined.