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Women Escaping Violence

Empowerment through Narrative

Elaine J. Lawless

Publication Year: 2001

The statistics are alarming. Some say that once every nine minutes a woman in the United States is beaten by her spouse or partner. Others claim that once every four minutes a woman in the world is beaten by her spouse or partner. More women go to emergency rooms in the United States for injuries sustained at the hands of their spouses and partners than for all other injuries combined.

Shelters for battered women are filled beyond capacity every single day of the year. Despite the overwhelming evidence that violence in our homes is a daily reality, most of us are not willing to acknowledge this private violence or talk about it openly. Women Escaping Violence brings women's stories to the attention of the academy as well as the reading public. While we may be unwilling or unable to talk about the issue of battered women, many of us are ready to read what women have to say about their endangered lives.

Considerable scholarship is emerging in the area of domestic violence, including many self-help books about how to identify and escape abuse. Women Escaping Violence offers the unique view of battered women's stories told in their own words, as well as a feminist analysis of how these women use the power of narrative to transform their sense of self and regain a place within the larger society.

Lawless shares with the reader the heart-wrenching experiences of battered women who have escaped violence by fleeing to shelters with little more than a few items hastily shoved into a plastic bag, and often with small children in tow. The book includes women's stories as they are told and retold within the shelter, in the presence of other battered women and of caregivers. It analyzes the uses made of these narratives by those seeking to counsel battered women as well as by the women themselves.

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, "My Birthday"

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pp. 2-11


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pp. xi-13

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pp. xiii-xiv

MOST IMPORTANT, I MUST thank all the women who made the writing of this book possible. Sadly, I cannot name them here, but I thank them all, in my heart, and name them silently. I thank my family for nourishing my soul and providing for me a safe and loving space in which to live and work. Sandy Rikoon, Jessie...

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Prelude: Reflections on a Monday Morning at the Shelter

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pp. xv-xviii

MONDAY MORNINGS ARE DIFFICULT. I come into the shelter office and read the staff log and the “action cards” that have been filled out over the weekend.Weekends are always bad. Fridays, people get their paychecks and go drinking or worse. Some start Friday afternoon and drink or shoot their way through the entire weekend, pausing only late Sunday night in a futile attempt to face a bleak Monday...

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Prologue: Putting Things into Perspective

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pp. xix-xxi

SPENT TODAY IN my office at the university. I worked with my deluxe computer, talked with my colleagues, and met with my graduate students, all of whom have been missing me, they say. I’ve been gone from them. For months, I have been actually only a few blocks away from this academic world, a mere five minutes by car, across Main, over on Butler...

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Introduction: Gathering Stories

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pp. 1-20

I WANT TO TELL you about the stories in this book, and about the person who is your guide through this tricky terrain. As the author, I want to serve not as an “authority” on domestic violence, but as an educated and spiritually motivated guide. I do not undertake this responsibility lightly. As a researcher and as someone who learns by listening carefully to the voices...

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1. Safe and Unsafe Living

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pp. 21-34

THIS MORNING I WAS at the shelter by 8:10. I had an interview set up to tape record a resident’s story. This is maybe the fourth or fifth appointment I have had with this particular woman. It has been difficult to get her to commit to a time and date. She keeps saying she will; she tells me she wants to tell me her story. She understands her story has a kind of power...

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2. Powerful Words

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pp. 35-54

ONLY A DAY OR TWO after I began answering the hot line at the shelter, I took a particularly disorienting call. At 9:30 one morning, I answered the phone and could barely hear the small, young voice on the other end. The line was crackling, thin, far away. The woman’s voice was breathless; she was nearly in tears; I could hear the sounds of babies in the background...

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3. Describing the Unspeakable

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pp. 55-72

LATE ONE AFTERNOON A police car pulled up to the door and a young officer helped a rather well-dressed woman out of the car. He rang the bell indicating that I should let them in. I did. And he proceeded to bring the woman, Charlotte, into the office for the third time in three days. She had arrived first on Thursday evening with numerous bruises all over...

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4. Hearing Silence

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pp. 73-98

THIS BOOK HAS BEEN extremely difficult for me to write. By the time I arrived at the more articulated stories of violence against women by their partners, I was exhausted, drained. I thought perhaps I could not type one more story, one more account of pure horror. But as I reflect on the writing of this book, this chapter...

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5. Looking Back

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pp. 99-120

IN THE PREVIOUS CHAPTERS, I have sought to discern how women talk, or do not talk, about the violence in their lives, how they tell their stories to receive services, how their life stories reveal the debilitating effects of early molestation and sexual abuse, and how the stories show the ways the development of a healthy “self” has been thwarted at every turn...

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6. Turning Points

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pp. 121-154

MOST OF THE WOMEN in this study married young and realized almost immediately that their marriage was a bad mistake and they were now in a binding relationship with a raging, abusive man. Their words can convey what the first years of their life away from home were like better than anything I could say. These are sad, sad stories of young lives in despair...

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Conclusion: Coming Home to Shelter

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pp. 155-160

EARLY IN THIS BOOK I explained that I had begun this work suspecting that the “cycles of violence” narrative that all professionals in the field and even the victims of domestic violence know well needed to be revised, or, at the very least, revisited in terms of how violence is approached from the point of view of the woman who is being...

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Some of the Stories

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pp. 161-186

THE STORIES I CONTINUALLY hear in the shelter are protected stories— told in the safety of the office, the kitchen, the living room, the support group, the smoking porch. I cannot tape record those stories for good reason. The safety of the women in the shelter is of paramount importance, and I would protect their right...

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Sherry’s Story

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pp. 162-173

WELL, I ’LL START. My earliest memory is, I was, I’m going to call it three, and—this is a screwed-up first memory—I witnessed my father get murdered by my uncle. This is my earliest memory. My mom was a drinker and so was my dad. And they got into it one night and my uncle came in and shot my dad. From there I moved...

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Margaret’s Story

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pp. 174-193

YOU KNOW I REALLY don’t remember a whole lot about my childhood. I think that’s really odd, because when I talk to other people they can tell me incidents that happened in their childhood, and I’ll sit back and I’ll think and I just don’t remember. I don’t remember having a happy childhood...

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Teresa’s Story

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pp. 194-211

[ Q : THINK ABOUT WHERE your first memories are and start from the very beginning.What was it like growing up?What do you remember?] That’s easy. Growing up in my house—I came from a dysfunctional family, very abusive, my dad and my mom fought morning, noon, night, and day. He was a farmer. I grew up with four other brothers...

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Cathy’s Story

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pp. 212-231

MY EARLIEST MEMORIES ARE of an uncle that I had who, I guess, spent a lot of time with our family, although I don’t know why. He was actually abusive. To the best of my knowledge, that started about the time I was three or before, but that is the first memory that I have of it. And I can remember when it used...


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pp. 233-236


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pp. 237-244


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pp. 245-248

About the Author

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pp. 249-274

E-ISBN-13: 9780826262677
E-ISBN-10: 0826262678
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826213198
Print-ISBN-10: 0826213197

Page Count: 273
Publication Year: 2001