Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a hidden epidemic that affects all of us. While IPV may include physical violence, it includes many forms of devastating abuse such as physiological and economic abuse, and social isolation. Emotional abuse can leave long-lasting hidden scars.
Below are personal stories of faculty, staff, and students at UCSF who bravely shared stories of their surviving IPV and other forms of abuse.
Role in UCSF: I was a resident at UCSF 1997-2000, then a full time faculty member 2000-present.
I met and married my husband outside the US before moving here with him in 1997. I was not a US Resident at that time and had a green card. We had a "normal" courtship, engagement and marriage. My husband had lied to me about some significant circumstances, for example, he told me he had been married once before me and it turned out that I was wife #4. The uncovering of about four lies happened at about 6 monthly intervals. My then spouse was also a sailor and insisted that I go sailing with him at least once per week. I did not like going with him on the boat, especially on my own, because he would become verbally abusive. (He went beyond shouting instructions and would swear at me and at other boaters for very little reason; he also would not move out of the way of other boaters, even when it made sense to do so, if he had "right of way"). I went to see a counselor before marrying him because of my concerns, I spoke to my parents and friends and they all told me that the "boating behavior" was normal, all men who sailed did this and it should have no bearing on my life with my husband. I did not share all the lies with family and friends, it was too embarrassing.
After moving to the US, my then husband took charge of all the finances and insisted that only one of us should be in charge, it made sense for this to be him because he had the mind for it, as well as the time. I initially refused to do this, but because we always ended up arguing endlessly at pay time, I finally agreed to do this. He would give me $20 at a time and then ask how I had spent it (and did not reciprocate with information on his side). Although I realized that I was not in a really good marriage, I felt that I had married for life, no one in my family had been divorced and I felt that I had made this life choice and needed to stay with it through thick and thin.
I was 38 when I got pregnant, I felt that this was my last chance to have a child and leaving my then husband was not something I wanted to do. Three months into my pregnancy, my spouse's behavior began to change; he became extremely angry over very little things, how I stacked the dishwasher for example. When he was not happy, he didn't just argue, but would scream obscenities at me for about half an hour, then he would leave and go downstairs. (Against my wishes he kept loaded guns in the house, downstairs, and I would always be listening to see if he was going to get one of them). He also started to be verbally abusive in public, never hitting me, but screaming at me so that everyone in the store would turn and stare, obviously concerned that he might hit me.
At this time, he started to behave dangerously, when driving in traffic he would drive very dangerously, too close to other cars. I refused to go on the boat with him because his behavior terrified me so much but I would often use work as an excuse.
When our son was born, his bad behavior became so much worse, he lost his temper with no cause at all, and he would hear something on the news and would rant for 30-40 minutes. He started screaming at our 3 month old son and started hitting him when our son was 6 months old. I learned never to leave our son alone with him, even if I needed to go to the bathroom, I would take my son with me. On the rare occasions I left them alone together, (eg to run upstairs and grab something), within seconds I could hear our son crying and would return to find his Dad had hit him for "being bad", eg dropping food on the floor. Dangerous behavior continued with various boating incidents (eg, he tested our son's lifejacket by dangling him over the side) and driving situations (he drove our car head-on at another car and slammed the breaks on at the last time, claiming the other driver was an idiot).There were numerous incidents of him allowing our toddler son to wander into the road (19th Avenue) and climb onto the top of the house; putting our son into a bath and shutting the bathroom door and then trying to prevent me from going in to take care of him, insisting that he could prove that it was not dangerous; our son was 2 at the time. The screaming at both our son and me continued and he would hit our son whenever he could, I was forever picking my son up and taking him into another room.
I left my then husband when our son was 2.5 years old, the screaming and hitting was almost daily. At the time that I left him, I knew that our son would be spending time alone with his Dad; probably unsupervised (the courts do not recognize the described behavior as abusive).
I knew that if I did not ask my former husband for money, he would probably leave our son with me, and that is what happened. He paid extremely little in child support (I have the debt to prove this) and although he had 50:50 custody, he continuously gave up opportunities to be with his son. (In addition, in the divorce I "left money on the table" just to get out). I learned to communicate with my ex by email alone, on the phone he could not stop shouting at me and we could not get anything resolved. (In addition, I could keep a written record of our conversations).
Our son is now 12 and happy, his Dad elects to see him once per month for two days, and he is married for the fifth time. I have learned to walk "between the devil and the deep blue sea" and I have also learned not to rely on friends and family (even therapists) for advice.
One of the most important lessons for me is this: As a mandated reporter of child abuse, it is critical that the reporter have ALL the information at their disposal, they need to talk to the parent (or guardian) on their own to find out what is happening. Making a report about child abuse at a time when the non abusive parent is not prepared to leave can have fatal consequences. Although there are some merits to a restraining order (nearly filed by me on numerous occasions), I know that this can have the opposite effect, the children and non abusive parent can be more at risk for dangerous abusive behavior. (How many news reports do you see, where soon after a restraining order has been taken out, the person against whom this was taken out returns to kill). Even now in retrospect, I do believe that my life and that of my son was in danger, the most dangerous time being when I left and for the next year.
I am so grateful to those people who helped me: Faculty and Staff Assistance Program UCSF, the Bank Clerk at the local Wells Fargo who helped me to open an additional account after I was locked out of the joint account, the manager at Park Merced condos who allowed me a very cheap apartment for 6 months until I could get on my feet, a number of counselors who helped me parent in a positive manner under difficult situations, Judy Einzig, Rose Gupta and Edie Walden were all great. I am also grateful to the faculty at UCSF who allowed me time off work, sometimes at short notice, to deal with the legal/psychological issues surrounding my divorce and custody.
It is my greatest wish that my son does not develop the same anger issues that his Dad has.
Role in UCSF: Sshool of Nursing student
I hadn’t spoken to my father in eight months, not since he broke through the window in my house, knocking over the potted plants and me. Then, I told him, this is really it. We’re done. Now, I’m watching him skip the crew bleacher steps two at a time, towards me, smiling, happy for this reunion. I had suggested we meet here, and I chose this very highest seat overlooking the lake as I waited for him.
I had tried to rehearse this moment, but because of how many years I’d just assumed this conversation was impossible, I didn’t get far. I couldn’t comprehend this meeting ever happening. This is when I confront my dad about him sexually abusing me when I was a little girl.
But he doesn’t get it, and never will. He has this personality disorder. He’s emotionally stunted, incapable of normal compassion. But I feel compassion for him. I think about him after my mom left, watching internet pornography for hours alone, rarely eating, six hour walks on his days off from the Post Office. It makes me so sad.
One day back in college, a therapist gave me permission to never talk to him again. For a while, as his e-mails about conspiracy theories bounced back, I savored being the punisher. Thoughts of him came and I felt the anger in my jaw and throat, clung on tighter against him. By ignoring him, I hoped he hurt just a fraction of how he’d hurt me.
At some point, I discovered that painful rigidness wasn’t making me feel any better. I don’t want to be angry forever; I want to feel better. I want to stop crying in self pity when I think about my friends with good relationships with their dads. So we start talking again, as if our relationship could ever be any different. But then he broke into my house. And eight months go by. And I’m ready to try something different.
“Do you know why I haven’t spoken to you?” I ask. And then I just tell him what I remember from years ago. It took about fifteen seconds.
He heard me and said, “That never happened. Any parent who would do that to their child doesn’t deserve to be a parent.” He paused for a couple seconds.
“I don’t know where you dreamed that up. It never happened”
Now I pause. What if I did dream it up? What would that mean? I had no idea.
I ended that conversation by telling him I loved him and that even though Mom left him and I’m moving to San Francisco, he shouldn’t feel abandoned. I invited him to call me any time he felt like he needed. Then we walked around the lake and he bought me a sandwich at Whole Foods.
These days I call my dad once a week to make sure he’s okay. I don’t know what else to do.
Role in UCSF: Professor
We often think of IPV as related to physical violence; psychological and emotional abuse also constitutes IPV, and frequently is overlooked because they rarely leave physical scars. Several years ago I was married to a person who became increasingly intolerant of my relationships with other people, and began to sabotage my relationships by telling people lies about me, and at one point, contacting my supervisors at work and telling them I was mentally unstable. I could easily have lost my job, my livelihood, and my professional licensure. Fortunately, I was able to seek out excellent professional help, but it took several years for me to recover.