It’s Your Health: Domestic violence on the inside

Pam Fadem
On recent CCWP visits, women have raised concerns about the issue of domestic violence by an intimate partner inside the prison walls. There are women inside who are already trying to address this problem. Here are some of the emotional and psychological aspects of domestic violence, some strategies for safety, and most important, to let our sisters know?you are not alone!
Domestic violence happens in all communities. It happens regardless of age, race or class, or whether the couple is a man and a woman, two men or two women. Prisons reflect the racism, sexism and anti-gay attitudes that the rest of our society does. Every woman knows that she is often not believed when talking about being abused, and women of color and immigrant women may have an even harder time getting help. And when abuse happens between two women, there are particular problems that the person being abused faces in getting help. The abuser can: threaten to ?out? a partner?s sexual identity; say that the violence is mutual or even consensual, especially if the woman being abused tries to defend herself; tell the woman being abused that the abuse is a ?normal? part of the relationship; or that it can?t be domestic violence because it?s happening between two women.
Violence against women by anyone is always wrong, whether it is a lover, friend, family member, or an ?official? like the police, an immigration agent or a prison guard. Abuse is not your fault. You did not cause the abuse to occur, and you are not responsible for the violent behavior of someone else. An important part of getting help is recognizing that you are being abused.
Signs of Abuse
If the person you love does any of these things to you, it?s time to get help:
watches what you?re doing all the time
criticizes you for little things
constantly accuses you of being unfaithful
prevents or discourages you from seeing friends or family, or going to work or school
gets angry when drinking alcohol or using drugs
tries to control what you do, including your use of needed medicines
humiliates you in front of others
destroys your property or things that you care about
threatens to hurt you or people you love, or does cause hurt (by hitting, pushing, shoving, strangling, punching, slapping, kicking, or biting)
uses or threatens to use a weapon against you
forces you to have sex against your will
blames you for her violent outbursts
If you are abused or have a loved one who is abused, get help.
Here are some things you can do:
First, believe in yourself and your feelings. You?re not alone. Many, many women are victims of domestic abuse.
Don?t ignore abuse. It won?t go away.
Don?t keep it to yourself. Get help.
When a woman in prison wants to get help, she is faced with even more limits than a woman on the outside. How do you ?escape to a safe place? when you?re already locked up?and maybe sharing the same cell? You may be afraid that you will be ignored or not taken seriously if you expose the abuse, or that it will lead to an increase in anti-gay attitudes and a crack-down on the many loving and supportive relationships inside. Can you work together with other women inside to make a network of support?people you can go to in an emergency?
We hope this is the beginning of a discussion, not the end of one. Please write to us and tell us what strategies you know of or have used that have been successful. Or just write to share your experiences or tell us what you think. Our power and strength comes in our building supportive communities. No one can do it alone.
Some places to get more information:
Free Battered Women
1540 Market St., suite 490
San Francisco, Ca., 94102
Phone: (510) 255-7036 x 320 Fax: (415) 552-3150
Web site:
California Coalition Against Sexual Assault
1215 K Street, Suite 1100, Esquire Plaza
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 446-2520 TTY/TDD: (916) 446-8802 Fax: (916) 446-8166
Web site: