Nikki Lupino says she wore makeup to the first grade — Not because she wanted to feel like a princess, but because her mother told her to. Lupino often bore scratches and bruises all over her body from fights in her home the night before.
She was sent to school with a whisper from her mother not to tell anyone, or she’d be a disgrace to her family.
Lupino, who asked that her real name not be used, looked back on the non-stop fighting between her parents.
“I remember my mom would always try to leave when the abuse got really bad,” she recalled. “But then things would get better. They’d both calm down; everything was fine.”
Lupino, now 20 and a waitress in a Des Plaines café, is not alone. One of four women experiences violence from an intimate partner during her lifetime, according to a study released last year by the federal centers for disease control. Some studies show that 90 percent of all intimate partner violence in the United States is committed by men against women.
Experts say the violence follows a cycle, as in Lupino’s experience: Escalation and building tension, violence, followed by regret and apologies from the batterer. Then the cycle repeats itself.
Michael Feinerman, co-executive director for the Center for Advancing Domestic Peace in Chicago, said it’s more difficult to leave if the victim is financially dependent on a partner. Lupino said that was true in her family; her mother receives government disability payments, and her stepfather is from Italy where gender roles are strong.
“In Italy men have the mentality that women should cook, clean and stay at home,” Lupino said. “He gets mad if there’s no food on the table. He’ll take it out on me because I’m a woman and I should be following my role.”
Dr. Larry Bennett, who has a doctorate in social work from the University of Illinois Chicago, said abusive men often feel “entitled.” He said, “It’s about ownership in cultures that have male dominance. If you really want to change things, you need to change the culture.”
The cycle of violence often follows generations of women.
Lupino is in a relationship with a man who is abusing her.
“At first everything was fine,” she said. “Then he started putting me down. He would physically abuse me when he was drunk. He said mean things about my friends. I felt alone. Many of my friends told me to leave; they said I could do better. But I like to find the good in people. I thought I could change him.”
Many victims of domestic violence believe they can change their aggressor, Bennett said. After the abuse, batterers apologize and the victims feel a sense of security. They hope it won’t happen again.
Gwyn Kaitis, Help Line Director of the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network, said, “Hope is the hardest thing to destroy in a victim of DV. It’s a cycle of power and control. It won’t stop. It takes seven times for a victim to leave an abuser before it actually takes.”
Counting on her fingers, Lupino wore a blank stare when she pondered how many times she has gone back to the man who supposedly loves her.
“It’s hard to say,” she said, blushing. “We’ve probably broken up and gotten back together over 30 times in the course of three years.”
She said she stays because he has promised it won’t happen again. “We broke up once for a few months, and he begged me to take him back. I always thought because the abuse happened when he was drunk that he didn’t mean it. He said he would change, he’d do this, and he’d do that. He made a lot of empty promises. But I went back.”
The most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence is when she makes a move to leave her abusive partner. Sixty five percent of victims who left ended up dead, said Kaitis. “Just because you can leave doesn’t mean the violence is going to end,” she said.
Many victims in Cook County get an order of protection at Chicago’s domestic violence court. The order is supposed to prevent the abusive partner from getting near the woman. They are prohibited from approaching her home, work place or her children’s school or day care center.
Victims say the order makes them feel safer when they’re trying to leave. But Judge James Murphy, who has been a judge at Chicago’s Domestic Violence Court for more than five years, is not convinced that an order of protection is effective.
“It’s a piece of paper. If some guy wants to violate it, they’re going to violate it,” Murphy said.
The Chicago Police Department receives roughly 600 phone calls a day about domestic violence, According to Aileen Robinson, who oversees the department’s domestic violence program. It’s the most common call received by the department, she added.
Of those 600 calls, only 25 to 30 percent go forward in court proceedings, Robinson said. She said most cases get dropped because it’s a lengthy process, and defense attorneys know how to wear out the victim.
Several experts said the courts are not a good place to address the problem of domestic violence.
“Courts are about black and white,” said Bennett. “There’s no gray area in the court room.”
Bennett called for more early identification of potential abusers. He said common risk factors are alcohol abuse, past trauma or mental disorders like attention deficit disorder and post traumatic stress disorder.
Domestic violence has been publicly discussed for only 40 years. It’s still relatively new, and only four of 1,000 cases are reported, according to Bennett.
“We’re making baby steps. It takes along time to change people’s attitudes,” Kaitis said.
Lupino said her boyfriend’s family kicked him out of his home. If he wants to return, he must go to rehab for alcohol abuse, she said. Lupino thinks rehab will help with their relationship, but she’s tired of waiting for him.
“I’m just sick of giving him these chances and waiting around. I really want to forget him and just move on with my life,” she said. “Even though he’s treated me [so badly] and done so many hurtful and hateful things, I still care. That’s just how I am.”
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