Monday, February 7, 2011

Fear Factor

One of the major reasons women stay in abusive relationships is fear. They are afraid of what will happen to them and their children if they leave. Sadly, their fears are often justified; statistics show that a woman is at the greatest risk for injury when she announces her plans or leaves an abusive relationship.

To illustrate the danger, let's consider the case of Utah's Susan Powell, a wife and mother who has not been seen or heard from since December 6, 2009 Hers is a familiar scenario, one that occurs in the majority of abused women cases across the country. If one takes a close look at the evidence, in my opinion, the most logical conclusion is that Susan Powell was murdered.

Susan Powell was a stockbroker with two young sons, a devoted mother and likely the person in the marriage with a larger paycheck than her husband, Josh. Over time, the marriage reportedly turned controlling, with Josh insisting on knowing what Susan was doing when not under his radar. We've all seen the news reports, including that he demanded she tell him how much she spent on herself and for household goods and services. In this type of case, the fights build up from yelling to shoving. A bedroom door is slammed with greater frequency, and the couple drifts apart.

Many abused women hope that having children will change the behavior of an abusive mate. They hope the abuser will turn his/her life around for the sake of the children and that the result will finally be a happy home life. In the Powell case, that didn't happen. Pregnant with her second child, perhaps under circumstances beyond her control (she could have been forced as some are in the marriage), Susan brings another life into a world three years later where anger and violent outbursts become commonplace. During this time Susan likely announces, the marriage is over. Perhaps making statements such as, "we need to divorce" or "this is not fair to the children and I can no longer go on living this way."

There is a point for many abused women when they verbally announce the steps to end the abuse that lays the foundation for an abuser to begin thinking about a course of action. Around this time an abused woman begins confiding in co-workers or close friends. As we later learned from authorities, that is exactly what Susan did.

For the alleged offender, I will use Josh Powell as an example. Now he is formulating a plan no different from the plans of other violent persons: one born of anger and desperation. Anger because the person is leaving and ending the relationship. Desperation over what he (the abuser) will be forced to carry out if the person with whom he is in a relationship cannot be persuaded to stay.

This plan remains in the abuser's mind, of course, until he see signs of movement. In this case, perhaps Susan was whispering on the phone to someone, and when Josh walked into the room she quickly changed her tone or ended the phone call. Or he learned that Susan set up a bank account and believed she was hiding money so she and the kids could leave.

The signs of movement spark Josh or any potential abuser to think of the next level. They think to themselves, Okay, she is going to leave me. I will not let that happen. He acts as though nothing is wrong but, when she goes to sleep, Josh rummages through her car looking for evidence of her plan, a bank receipt or an unusual transaction or charge. Maybe in her purse he checks the cell phone for any unusual numbers he does not recognize. Or goes through the computer and checks the browser to see her activity.

He finds something and his anger is elevated, his heart is racing, but he remains calm and says nothing to Susan. A smile comes to his face because he "caught her," and he figures she will pay one way or the other at a later date.

Around this time Susan begins sending e-mails about the abuse and threats she has endured by Josh to a trusted circle of friends. Maybe she keeps a detailed log with dates and times of the incidents.

Now Josh does what I label the "smell change." Susan is acting strange and, like cologne,
Josh can literally (as with most abusers) sense when their environment has shifted. Perhaps Susan is verbalizing her unhappiness with greater frequency. Maybe she stands up for herself during a fight where months before Susan would have backed down and gone to her room without incident.

It is very difficult for any abused women to hide that spark of empowerment from a clever abuser. They (the abuser) smell it as sure as a fox entering a coop filled with chickens.

It's now that most abusers decide to implement their plans. He has thought about it from the moment it entered his mind. The children are sleeping and the couple gets into a heated argument. At this point possible scenarios vary. Here is one example: Josh in his rage could have knocked her unconscious and carried her out to the car. Then, one at a time, he lifts his sleeping boys into the back seat. The family drives to the desert. Susan wakes up and gets out of the car. Josh and she are arguing and he hits or pushes her off an embankment and into a ravine. Josh drives back with the boys to the house where he is questioned by authorities.

In many ways, the case of Susan Powell appears no different from the millions of cases of violence we never hear about, until women go missing and their bodies are found. Abuse victims often have no official documentation of the abuse because they were too afraid to contact police or obtain a court order of protection. Why? Because better than anyone they (the victims) know it would do them no good. It would only escalate the level of danger.

The one thing an abuse victim knows for certain is the fear that has been planted in them over time by an abuser and the likelihood of imminent danger if it is discovered they plan to leave. I believe this is what happened in Susan Powell’s case; she had only one opportunity to leave and somehow Josh Powell found out.

Susan Powell was last seen at her home, 6254 W. Sarah Circle. She is 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighs about 130 pounds, with brown hair and blue eyes. Anyone with information on her whereabouts is asked to call the West Valley Police Department at 801-840-4000.

Susan Murphy Milano is with the Institute for Relational Harm Reduction and Public Pathology Education. She is an expert on intimate partner violence and homicide crimes. For more information visit She is the author of "Time's Up A Guide on How to Leave and SurviveAbusive and Stalking Relationships," available for purchase at the Institute, and wherever books are sold. Susan is the host of The Susan Murphy Milano Show, "Time's Up!" on Here Women Talk is a regular contributor to the nationally syndicated The Roth Show with Dr. Laurie Roth

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Another intelligently written article, thank you for sharing your experience and expert analysis.

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