A Victim No More

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), August 9, 2004 | Go to article overview

A Victim No More


Byline: Bill Bishop The Register-Guard

Loud noises can catapult Arieona McKune into a breathless post-traumatic flashback.

Suddenly it's that Sunday night in February again. Her heart races. Her mind plays tricks. She smells alcohol, just as it was on his breath.

She feels a serrated steak knife pierce her left chest, her right shoulder, her abdomen. Then she relives running in the street, sticky blood on her hands, screaming, certain she is dying.

"Your mind goes back to that. I freeze wherever I am. I feel the knife stab again and again. I feel the pain," she says.

Her ex-boyfriend, Martin Manual Feliscian, 39, is serving a mandatory five-year, 10-month sentence for the February attack. McKune, 27, worries that he'll come after her again when he gets out of prison.

But lately she has begun to worry about even more deeply troubling questions.

Why has she ended up with abusive men in all three of her adult relationships? What is it about her? Can she change? Must she always live in fear of a lover?

Why, she asks herself, did she always keep believing her abuser cared about her?

"It's not that way," she says. "I learned the hard way."

So McKune signed up for Turning Points, a nonprofit program at Women- space in Eugene for women who have left abusive relationships. The yearlong program teaches women how to avoid future abuse, regain control of their lives, develop self-esteem and become independent.

About 40 women are enrolled. McKune is on a waiting list three months long.

While the program addresses a wide range of practical issues - such as getting food stamps, dealing with child custody issues, honing job skills and finding work - Turning Points really excels at helping women see "relationship red flags," the telltale signs of an unhealthy relationship, program manager Barbara Longo says.

In an evaluation of three dozen clients who used the program four years ago, 94 percent said the program gave them the understanding they needed to avoid another abusive relationship.

It's an understanding not taught in school and sometimes not taught at home, Longo says.

A person learns about intimate relationships from parents as a child, from trial and error as an adult, Longo says. Either way, women - and men - are vulnerable to abuse as adults if it was in their childhood home or if they don't recognize and take action when red flags appear in their relationships, Longo says.

"This is not about a woman going out and looking for abuse," Longo says. "If one grows up in an abusive household, if one's first partner is abusive, it becomes familiar. What you have is a certain vulnerability that abusers recognize and prey on.

"This issue can touch any woman who has an intimate partner relationship over her lifetime. Many of our clients come from families that were great and supportive. Some are professionals, well-educated, highly skilled," she says. "There is no crime in being vulnerable. Abusers have a radar for that."

The best defense for abuse survivors is to develop a radar of their own to detect potential abusers in future relationships, Longo says. The red flags are strong signals to stop, take a deep breath and ask some questions.

A few of the common red flags include: coming on strong early in a relationship, disrespecting other women, harming former intimate partners, blaming you for something beyond your control, breaking promises to you or others.

One of the most common warning signs - making jokes at your expense - is easy to test, Longo says.

It's an indication of worse things to come if the woman calls him on it, saying the remark was hurtful, and then he dismisses or trivializes her feelings, Longo says. If he apologizes and promises not to do it again, it's a different story - that is, unless he does it again.

Abusers start with small things, such as demeaning jokes, and build up their victims' tolerance for abuse, Longo says.

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