Opinion: This is what domestic violence looks like

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Former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

Many media outlets are saying New York’s former attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, resigned last week because of accusations of assault or sexual assault. But, it’s not accurate to label the accusations against him as only assault or sexual assault. Clearly, his alleged abusive and controlling behaviors fall under the description of domestic violence.

In fact, Michelle Manning Barish and Tanya Selvaratnam, two of the women who have accused Schneiderman, paint vivid portraits of abusive relationships. We can learn a lot about what domestic violence looks like if we’ll start labeling these behaviors correctly.

First, domestic violence often doesn’t begin at the start of a relationship. Both Manning Barish and Selvaratnam describe the beginning of their relationships with Schneiderman as good. He doesn’t start the relationship by abusing them.

It’s important to note that domestic violence can happen in any intimate relationship. Manning Barish and Selvaratnam were dating partners of Schneiderman while the abuse they accuse him of was happening. But, domestic violence happens within dating relationships, marriages, and even with former partners (for example, stalking).

Beth Hoover

Beth Hoover

Domestic violence can begin with belittling, controlling, emotionally abusive behaviors. According to Manning Barish and Selvaratnam, Schneiderman called them names. He continually put them down for being who they were — making fun of Manning Barish for her political work and activism, and referring to Selvaratnam as his “brown slave” and “property.”

Often, abusers build to physical violence after being emotionally abusive. Both Manning Barish and Selvaratnam detail accusations that include Schneiderman hitting them, strangling them and making threats about future violent acts, such as threatening to kill them if they broke up with him. Schneiderman’s alleged physical violence was used in tandem with emotional and mental abuse.

Perpetrators of domestic violence can be anyone — they often fool the people around them into thinking they are not abusive. Only those being abused know the truth. We see this in the Schneiderman story, as he was a vocal advocate for women and the #MeToo movement. Also, in 2010, he introduced a bill in the New York State Senate that made strangulation in domestic violence cases a serious crime.

But his public persona and his private life did not match, according the allegations of Manning Barish and Selvaratnam. In fact, depending on the outcome of possible investigations into the allegations, his bill about strangulation could perhaps be used to prosecute him.

There are many other ways that Manning Barish and Selvaratnam make it clear that Schneiderman’s alleged actions were domestic violence. The more we can recognize these behaviors for what they are, the more we can stand up to abusers within our own communities.

Manning Barish and Selvaratnam are very brave to come forward with their accusations. Domestic and Sexual Violence Services in Red Lodge wants people like Manning Barish and Selvaratnam to know that they are not alone. There are those out there who understand the dynamics of domestic violence. We are standing by and ready to help.

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse and you want help, please call our 24-7 Helpline, 406-425-2222. DSVS serves Carbon and Stillwater Counties in Montana.

Beth Hoover is the violence prevention educator and communications manager at Domestic and Sexual Violence Services in Red Lodge.

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