Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Common Fear Factor

by Susan Murphy-Milano

One of the major reasons women stay in abusive relationships is fear. They are afraid of what will happen to them and their children if they leave. Sadly, their fears are often justified; statistics show that a woman is at the greatest risk for injury when she announces her plans or leaves an abusive relationship.

To illustrate the danger, let's consider the case of Utah's Susan Powell, a wife and mother who has not been seen or heard from since December 6th. Hers is a familiar scenario, one that occurs in the majority of abused women cases across the country. If one takes a close look at the evidence, in my opinion, the most logical conclusion is that Susan Powell was murdered. 

Susan Powell was a stockbroker with two young sons, a devoted mother and likely the person in the marriage with a larger paycheck than her husband, Josh. Over time, the marriage reportedly turned controlling, with Josh insisting on knowing what Susan was doing when not under his radar. We've all seen the news reports, including that he demanded she tell him how much she spent on herself and for household goods and services. In this type of case, the fights build up from yelling to shoving. A bedroom door is slammed with greater frequency, and the couple drifts apart. 

Many abused women hope that having children will change the behavior of an abusive mate. They hope the abuser will turn his/her life around for the sake of the children and that the result will finally be a happy home life. In the Powell case, that didn't happen. Pregnant with her second child, perhaps under circumstances beyond her control (she could have been forced as some are in the marriage), Susan brings another life into a world three years later where anger and violent outbursts become commonplace. During this time Susan likely announces, the marriage is over. Perhaps making statements such as, "we need to divorce" or "this is not fair to the children and I can no longer go on living this way." 

There is a point for many abused women when they verbally announce the steps to end the abuse that lays the foundation for an abuser to begin thinking about a course of action. Around this time an abused woman begins confiding in co-workers or close friends. As we later learned from authorities, that is exactly what Susan did. 

For the alleged offender, I will use Josh Powell as an example. Now he is formulating a plan no different from the plans of other violent persons: one born of anger and desperation. Anger because the person is leaving and ending the relationship. Desperation over what he (the abuser) will be forced to carry out if the person with whom he is in a relationship cannot be persuaded to stay. 

This plan remains in the abuser's mind, of course, until he see signs of movement. In this case, perhaps Susan was whispering on the phone to someone, and when Josh walked into the room she quickly changed her tone or ended the phone call. Or he learned that Susan set up a bank account and believed she was hiding money so she and the kids could leave. 

The signs of movement spark Josh or any potential abuser to think of the next level. They think to themselves, Okay, she is going to leave me. I will not let that happen. He acts as though nothing is wrong but, when she goes to sleep, Josh rummages through her car looking for evidence of her plan, a bank receipt or an unusual transaction or charge. Maybe in her purse he checks the cell phone for any unusual numbers he does not recognize. Or goes through the computer and checks the browser to see her activity. 

He finds something and his anger is elevated, his heart is racing, but he remains calm and says nothing to Susan. A smile comes to his face because he "caught her," and he figures she will pay one way or the other at a later date. 

Around this time Susan begins sending e-mails about the abuse and threats she has endured by Josh to a trusted circle of friends. Maybe she keeps a detailed log with dates and times of the incidents. 

Now Josh does what I label the "smell change." Susan is acting strange and, like cologne,
Josh can literally (as with most abusers) sense when their environment has shifted. Perhaps Susan is verbalizing her unhappiness with greater frequency. Maybe she stands up for herself during a fight where months before Susan would have backed down and gone to her room without incident. 

It is very difficult for any abused women to hide that spark of empowerment from a clever abuser. They (the abuser) smell it as sure as a fox entering a coop filled with chickens.

It's now that most abusers decide to implement their plans. He has thought about it from the moment it entered his mind. The children are sleeping and the couple gets into a heated argument. At this point possible scenarios vary. Here is one example: Josh in his rage could have knocked her unconscious and carried her out to the car. Then, one at a time, he lifts his sleeping boys into the back seat. The family drives to the desert. Susan wakes up and gets out of the car. Josh and she are arguing and he hits or pushes her off an embankment and into a ravine. Josh drives back with the boys to the house where he is questioned by authorities. 

In many ways, the case of Susan Powell appears no different from the millions of cases of violence we never hear about, until women go missing and their bodies are found. Abuse victims often have no official documentation of the abuse because they were too afraid to contact police or obtain a court order of protection. Why? Because better than anyone they (the victims) know it would do them no good. It would only escalate the level of danger. 

The one thing an abuse victim knows for certain is the fear that has been planted in them over time by an abuser and the likelihood of imminent danger if it is discovered they plan to leave. I believe this is what happened in Susan Powell’s case;  she had only one opportunity to leave and somehow Josh Powell found out. 

On December 7, 2009, I, like a number of you, saw this case on the Internet or on a news broadcast. And, sadly, I bowed my head in prayer, knowing she would never again be seen alive.


Carrie said...

I was lucky; I managed to get out of an abusive relationship. But my heart goes out to all those women (and men) in abusive relationships that feel that they cannot leave. You're right; it's fear that keeps you in the relationship; some of the things that happened to Susan Powell happened to me, too. But, it has to come from you to want to leave. Sad story...

Anonymous said...

"Why won't you let me love you?" "I want my family back" and he's going to take it back. "You add color and meaning to my life" no meaning means death.

Children help keep them tied to the abuser but also makes the abuser jealous of the attention the victim gives to the children. He starts to beat the children. Ordering them to hug them when he's drunk. He drives too fast says, "What if we ran into the lake?"

He stops the mother from mothering by calling it vulgar names, You'll making him into a Pussy, he'll be a momma's boy.

An abuser is also neglectful. The mother sees this and knows she has to save her children. If she divorces him he'll get visitation and she's sure they'll end up dead. It's better for her to risk her life to save theirs. So she stays.

Hoping she can be good enough, do enough, be what he wants. He tells her it's her fault he beats her. He does everything for them. Works like a dog and what does he get? Disrespect? No appreciation? In reality this is mind control of her and the children. Many times the cycle repeats it's self. Many times it ends in death.

He often tells family and friends lies to cover up his abuse. She started it, you know how she loves to start fights. She's running around, he'll even try threatening family by saying he'll have to take the children. You don't know the bad things she has done.

He may have information of some wrong doing to blackmail her with. Or maybe he coerced her into taking nasty nude photos. Many abusers also demean and humiliate their wives calling them names and raping them.

Abusers abuse everyone. I've even seen them abuse the court. Look at Amy Leichtenberg case. And the court enable them by giving out OP's which mean nothing. Or worse giving them custody of the kids. The level of violence always escalates with time.

It's not love gone wrong it's a concentration camp! Look around you women and children are dying. It's on TV, in the papers, online, writers write about it in book. In this country, not a third world country, three women a day are murdered. When we will do something to STOP it?

Cassandra Cortez said...

Without a body these cases are difficult to prosecute. I agree with you believe her husband killed his wife.

As it says in the last comment when are we going to do something to stop it? As I have often heard you say until society see's this a crime the death toll will rise. Kuddos for your work and insight on this unsolved case.

Paralegal Sandy said...

It's not murder until someone is murdered. And after they are murdered they can't be brought back to life. Who is SOMEONE? And WHAT does SOMEONE need to do?

Fred said...

I have witnessed the "Someone" whom has kept victims alive and it only happens when the person in danger attends Susan's workshops, reads her books/manuals or receive's direct assistance from her. If we could clone Susan I believe we would not be reading about these cases.