The Invisible Way Guns Keep Women In Abusive Relationships


Nicole Beverly, a clinical social worker living in Ypsilanti, Michigan, hadnt committed her husbands gun much thought until the nighttime he pressed it against her head.

It was 2009. Before that, her husband, a former police officer, had never threatened her with his pistol. It sat in a box in their bedroom closet, virtually forgotten. Over the years, she said, he had abused her in other styles: Calling her epithets, shoving her to the ground, hurling objects in her guidance. But the artillery never made an appearance.

Once it did, everything changed. From then on Beverly, then 36, couldnt stop thinking about the weapon, she said. She was acutely aware of its exact location in the house at any given time, in fear of when it might be brandished next.

But he didnt have to take it out again.He merely needed to mention it and Beverly would diminish. He often threatened to kill her, she said, telling her he knew exactly where to killed to paralyze her. He told her he would disfigure her face, she said, and that she would never see it coming.

It took five months after the incident for her to amas the gallantry to leave. And when she did she took the artillery.

I didnt feel safe leaving the relationship knowing he had it in his possession because he was threatening me with it on a regular basis, Beverly told The Huffington Post by phone on Wednesday. Once it was introduced into the equation, it became a tool of intimidation and anxiety.

While the artillery in her home was never allows one to injure her in a way that was physically observable, living in constant anxiety took a steep toll on her mental health and made it far more difficult for her to leave.

Beverly represents countless women whove found themselves in similar posts where a pistol becomes a symbolic weapon of mass destruction in their relationships even when the trigger is never pulled.

A new analyse published in the Journal of Womens Health by Susan B. Sorenson, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, is now shedding light on the psychological impact of artillery apply in abusive relationships.

Working with the police department in Philadelphia, Sorenson investigated 35,000 domestic violence cases incidents that occurred in the city in 2013, the most recent year in which complete data was available. She studied the role of guns in domestic incidents, and look back what impact they had on victims.

In the incidents during which an external physical weapon was use, one-third involved guns. When a artillery was present, it was rarely fired, Sorenson said.

More usually, 69 percent of the time, it was used to threaten or compel the intimate spouse, much like Beverly described her husband undertaken in order to her.Guns is no more than fired 10 percent of the time.

I was interested in this topic because so much were concentrated in womens deaths, I thought it was important to look at guns in womens lives, she said.

Though victims who had a artillery use against them were less likely to have visible harms compared to victims who reported the use of other weapons, like knives or at-bats, she said, the latter are far more likely to experience high levels of anxiety.

That chronic anxiety can be extremely harmful to person or persons physical and mental health, said Julian Ford, a prof of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and Law.

If a person does not seem safe inside their own home and belief they could be injured or killed at any time, they will go into a survival nation, he said, describing it as is available on a constant fight or flight mode but having nowhere to go.

It is tremendously hard on the person psychologically and on the body physically, he said.

Experiencing trauma of this kind can make a person more susceptible to medical illness, Ford said, as well as a wide range of emotional and behavioral difficulties including depression, nervousnes and sleep problems.

The full range of life is affected because the person cannot really let down their guard, he said.

For Beverly, it was debilitating back pain, recurrent shingles and depression. She said she learned to shut off her emotions to bide safe. If she hollered or demonstrated anxiety, her husband would become enraged, she said.

A person living in constant anxiety is more likely to be controlled by it, and subsequently their abusive spouse. That overwhelming anxiety could reduce a victims willingness to leave or terminate the relationship, Sorenson said, thus promoting chronic abuse.

You dont necessarily need to hit a woman to get her to do what you crave, Sorenson said.

Thats the concept of coercive control, apattern of ongoing behavior allows one to predominate a partner, she added. It can include psychological, verbal abuse and stalking, and aims to isolate the victim. Firearms can play a big role in helping an abuser to maintain control over his partner.

Injuries and murders are just the tip of the iceberg. Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action

For Beverly, the mere presence of the artillery generated sensations of helplessness, she said.

Any reference to it would attain me comply, Beverly said. I knew if he was going to kill me that would be the most likely way he would do it.

She said she feared her husband would try and kill her the moment she left. It took months to create a programme with her mom in which she belief she could leave safely, without being hit or worse.

Beverly had good reason to be afraid. Most victims who are killed by intimate partners are slaughtered while attempting to leave, Sorenson said. Her findings illustrate just how powerful firearms are in trapping women in abusive relationships.

If you have an intimate spouse who has threatened you with a artillery, leaving is incredibly difficult, she said. A person might decide to stay there and stay alive.

Women are far less likely to fight back when a artillery is present, she said, and are more likely to do what the abuser says to stay safe.

Sorensons findings demonstrate the real need to remove guns from abusers. Domestic violence victims are five times more likely to be killed if their abuser has access to a artillery, according to one study. And they frequently are. Every 16 hours, a woman in the U.S. is killed by an intimate spouse wielding a artillery.

Under federal law its illegal for convicted domestic abusers to own or buy firearms. But in practice, many governments absence enforcement mechanisms to divide abusers from the guns they already a own.

Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, which is part of Everytown for Gun Safety, said Sorensonsstudy provides so far proof that gun violence and family violence doesnt ever look like someone being shot.

Injuries and murders are just the tip of the iceberg, she said. We may be missing many common styles that guns are being used to perpetuate abuse, whether its physical or mental.

Its been 8 years since Beverly left her husband. Shes still living in Michigan, and her ex-husband is currently in prison on exacerbated stalking charges. She said she is still scared of him and what could happen if he gets out on parole.

I know how easy it is to obtain a artillery legally and illegally, she said. I take all of his previous threats very seriously.


Melissa Jeltsen coverings domestic violence cases and other issues related to womens health, safety standards. Tips? Feedback? Send an email or follow her on Twitter.