I have been a huge Billie Holiday fan for years now. There is one song she covered that has always left me feeling uncomfortable when listening to it. That’s her version of the song, “My Man.” The reason I shift around uncomfortably when listening to the song is that it includes the lyrics, “… but I love him. I don’t know why I should – he isn’t true – he beats me, too – what can I do …”
I understand the song reflects both the times in which it was composed and the reality of one woman’s relationship. No matter how much I love Billie’s rendition, it has always bothered me. I view those words through the prism of a 21st Century understanding of intimate partner violence. But also, through my connections to this form of violence.
As a court social worker to which I was assigned numerous intimate partner violence cases, I have sat with both victims and perpetrators, listened to their stories, and (hopefully) assisted them with finding resources to better and improve their lives.
More personal than that is the intimate partner violence in my wife’s life.
My mother-in-law’s partner murdered her after she endured decades of intimate partner violence, never seeming to be able to break away from the dependence she felt with him. I witnessed the huge toll this violence created and the traumatic and post-traumatic effects for my wife. She had a conflicted relationship with her mother due to the years of abuse her mother endured and patterns of behavior she was unable to interrupt. I saw and felt first-hand the anguish of my wife having to claim her mother’s remains. In the immediate period afterward the murder, my wife’s grief at times could not be voiced other than through sobbing and repeatedly asking ‘why?” No amount of my holding her and trying to be rational in (repeatedly) responding to her question could alter this reality.
Sure, the intervening years since have eased the deep grief. But let me be clear—the intervening years since my mother-in-law’s murder have never erased the profound sadness over this violence to our family.
What I have learned through our family’s direct experience as well as through the people with whom I interacted at court is how much more still needs to be done to address intimate partner violence. Actions such as delivering prevention and early intervention services for folks to readily access, especially in smaller/rural areas (my mother-in-law resided in a small town, far away from a major city with services, so as a result may not have been able to connect with programs that could have assisted her). Assisting the criminal justice system to appropriately respond to perpetrators with programs to better them. Educating folks on how to behave differently in stressful and anger-producing situations. And motivating all of us to care.
Through these and other actions, perhaps we can move toward a further line in Billie’s song that goes, “… the world is bright – all right.”
*We have changed the name of the essayist, at their request, to preserve the family’s privacy.
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