What Do You Do When You See Domestic Violence? Call. The. Police.
Save the dogs (and the women).
Sometimes I wonder if Cary Tennis is deliberately fucking with us with his advice column. I don’t know why people write him. The latest edition of his column has a letter that’s as horrifying as his response is glib. A bit of the letter:
I recently visited my best friend from college — we had not seen each other in three years and have been talking over Skype on a weekly basis until now. She is getting married on Friday to a monster I had the great displeasure of meeting this last week. On the first morning I was with her at her house, I noticed her 1-year-old dog had a problem with her eye, ear and back. I asked what happened and she responded, “I’m not going to lie, my fiancé beat the shit out of her.”
I was in shock. I didn’t know what to say to her until later in the afternoon when I said I was very concerned for her safety. She shrugged me off and said he has never been bad to her, he is very stressed at work, and then said, “That’s what battered women say, right?” When the violence occurred, she was not home — when she came home and found her dog blinded on one side and more than likely bleeding internally, she did not take her to the vet. Instead, she told her fiancé that if he ever hit the dog again, she would be gone. She has been afraid to seek help for the dog, who is obviously suffering.
The wedding is on Friday, and the letter writer tried to talk her friend out of it, with assistance from a domestic violence hotline. The woman, unsurprisingly, isn’t listening to reason. She says the boyfriend doesn’t beat her and made some excuses for this inexcusable violence against the dog. (My guess is he did it not because he’s “stressed at work”, but because with the guest list in, the flowers on their way, and the dress purchased, he figured the bride would feel she has to go through with the wedding. So he decided to test her boundaries by attacking her dog. If he is not already beating her, I predict it will start shortly after the wedding, possibly during the honeymoon. Increasing commitment often leads to escalating abuse, because abusers feel they can get away with more without losing the victim.) So the letter writer wants to know what to do. Should she call the bride’s mother and animal control?
Tennis does say she should make these calls, but then breezes past that quickly to tell her to—I’m not kidding—formally object at the wedding when the officiant asks if anyone objects. I’m guessing he hasn’t been to a wedding in a long time, or he’d know that most ceremonies these days don’t feature the officiant asking if people object. (It’s in some religious ceremonies, as a holdover from the era in at least English history where objections from people in the community could legally prevent a marriage.) But even if that’s in the ceremony, it’s more of a stunt than effective action. It’s more about making the letter writer feel righteous than anything else.
Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of bystander intervention, and this is a perfect example of a situation where a single person, by taking action, can make a huge difference. This situation shows how abusers manipulate not just their victims, but everyone around them, in this case by using social norms about trying to resolve our differences pleasantly to manipulate the letter writer to avoid direct action. But what she needs to do is simple: 1) Summon the police. Not animal control, but the police. Animal abuse is a crime in most places, and this man could be arrested. If he is, that will do plenty to derail the impending wedding. 2) If the dog isn’t dead yet from internal bleeding, take it to the vet immediately. Regardless of how the police handle the call, the vet will have more advice on what to do next. That’s their job.
No more tip-toeing around this monster, letter writer! I know you’re afraid your friend will never speak to you again, but if she marries this guy, you can bet that she’ll stop talking to you anyway, because he’s going to start isolating her even more from her friends. That’s what abusers do: Make sure that their victims have little contact with family and friends, so that they don’t feel they have people to turn to if they want to leave.
As a side note, you all will not be surprised that there was universal sympathy in comment for the dog, but a lot of people were attacking the bride-to-be. Abused animals get more love than abused women, cuz misogyny. In response to the inevitable victim-blaming, I offer this video from Leslie Morgan Steiner, who explains why it was so hard to get out of an abusive relationship, and specifically why she went forward with a wedding even after learning her fiance was abusive: