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On The Cover: When love hurts

 by Megan Salisbury
 published on Thursday, October 5, 2006

/issues/arts/698085
Jeremiah Armenta / THE STATE PRESS
 
/issues/arts/698085
Jeremiah Armenta / THE STATE PRESS
 

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We've all seen the images on the 5 o'clock news - women and children, beaten and bruised, living in shelters to escape their violent boyfriends and husbands. They're horrible, but they're also a stereotype. Men aren't the only ones who abuse.

On a night that she will never forget, Christina Castillejo took a knife out of the kitchen cabinet and contemplated committing suicide.

Trapped in her abusive relationship, the now 20-year-old secondary education major felt scared, worthless and alone. When her partner woke her up and threw her out of her bedroom in the middle of the night more than a year and a half ago, Castillejo reached her breaking point.

"It seemed like the only way out at the time," Castillejo says.

She had never thought about killing herself before. She didn't make the fatal choice that night, either.

From her sparkling smile and attempts to make everyone around her laugh, it's hard to imagine the pain that Castillejo suffered from this and a previous abusive relationship. But what's even harder for some people to understand is that Castillejo suffered her abuse not at the hands of a jealous boyfriend or an angry husband.

Her abuser was female. Her girlfriend.

Domestic violence isn't always a man hitting a woman. In Castillejo's case, it was her girlfriend attacking her in their same-sex relationship. And abuse isn't always physical. Emotional abuse can be just as damaging.

Castillejo has had two relationships where she has suffered both emotional and physical abuse.

"They both were seemingly nice people when I wasn't in a relationship with them," she says.



'Even the rubbish was better than me'

Castillejo says the first abusive relationship she was in got physical quickly, but she didn't see it coming.

"It was really subtle," she says. "Eventually she would sometimes hit me leaving bruises, and I always thought of it as a playful thing until I got out of the relationship and realized I was so stupid to stay in it."

But Castillejo isn't alone in her abuse.

According to the November 2000 "Full Report of Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women," about one-third of adult women surveyed say they have been assaulted, raped or stalked. Of those, 61.9 percent were victimized by an intimate partner, and 11.8 percent were assaulted by another woman.

But Castillejo says the emotional scars of her second abusive relationship were worse than the physical scars of the first.

One the night that Castillejo considered suicide, she says that before going to bed, she made a comment to her girlfriend about a sound they had heard that her girlfriend had been scared of. The noise had turned out to be her cat.

Castillejo says her girlfriend did not take the comment as lightly as she intended it.

"She apparently let this statement, which she thought was me making fun of her, boil inside of her until the next morning," Castillejo says.

Her girlfriend woke up in the middle of the night and threw her out of the room. Castillejo says she sat on the couch crying out of confusion because she didn't understand what happened.

"I sat myself next to the trash can, thinking that even the rubbish was better than [me] in the moment," Castillejo says.

She didn't know who to turn to. "I felt like calling my mom at that point, but I also felt that if my mom knew, she would also judge me," she says.

The 2002 American College Health Assessment at ASU, a national research project designed to aid college health-service providers, found that 11.1 percent of men and 17.8 percent of women have been in a relationship that was emotionally abusive. Compared to the 2.7 percent of ASU men and 2.8 percent of women that were in physically abusive relationships, it's clear that emotional abuse is a serious component of unhealthy relationships.

"If you have that torture, you even think about killing yourself to end the internal pain, or take it out on yourself like cutting, etc. (which I never did), which is more harmful than being hit," Castillejo says.

Dena Hester, the sexual assault prevention coordinator at ASU, says abuse is about power and control. Many people stay in abusive relationships because they may be afraid, feel pressure from family and friends or think their partner will change.



'She knew I didn't want it'

A young woman with long brown hair and a cheery voice smiles as she approaches the Memorial Union. Maria*'s natural allure and style of dress make her extremely approachable. But her soft voice and bubbly personality don't reflect her past experiences of abuse.

This 23-year-old psychology senior, who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of being threatened by her ex-girlfriend, had anything but a typical relationship.

"It was all physical abuse and all the incidents were kind of the same," Maria says. "She would push me against the wall, slap me across the face. She grabbed my arms, leaving red marks. I don't recall any bruises, but then again I never looked for them."

Never having been around abuse before, Maria had no inkling of what she was getting into when she started dating her girlfriend almost four years ago.

Maria says that because she was raised to be a loyal and committed person, she was never the type to end a relationship. Like many domestic-violence victims, fear of being alone led her to stay with her girlfriend despite the abuse.

Maria says her partner's abuse stemmed from jealousies and insecurities that led to controlling behavior.

"There were times when I went out with my friends and she would call my phone 20-plus times thinking I was cheating on her," Maria says. "She was very needy, very high-maintenance. She wanted me there all the time. She wanted me to fill that void, and I couldn't do that. But I fell in love with her, and I became very vulnerable. Maybe inside I had my own insecurities too."

The abuse escalated when Maria got drunk one night. She says her girlfriend took advantage of her sexually.

"I am sure that by my body language she knew I didn't want it," Maria says.



'Even if it's a girl'

Under Arizona law, domestic violence falls under many different categories including threatening and intimidating, assault, harassment, stalking and abuse of child or vulnerable adult.

Tempe Police Sgt. Dan Masters says domestic violence laws don't just cover husbands and wives, or boyfriends and girlfriends. People tied by blood relations, same-sex domestic partners and roommates (including students living in residence halls) can be charged under domestic-violence laws.

"The relationship that exists doesn't change the crime," Masters says.

For example, over the weekend of Sept. 22 to 24, Masters says there were at least six domestic-violence arrests in Tempe. Masters says police tend to arrest more males than females, but gave one example of a 30-year-old female who was arrested for striking her fiance across the face.

"If I get assaulted by someone I live with and I don't want to press charges, they will go to jail regardless," Masters says. "Contrary to if I'm jumped on the streets, and I don't press charges, then they won't get arrested."

Masters also adds that even if the alleged victim says they don't want the person responsible to go to jail, if there is any proof of injury, then the perpetrator will be arrested.

"The state will act as a victim on your behalf even if you don't want to," he says. "The laws are much stricter against domestic violence than assault."

Masters says the police department doesn't let stereotypes get in the way when assessing domestic-abuse cases. Police don't assume that an attacker will always be male. "We have to take is seriously, even if its girl," Masters says.

Maria says the gender roles in a relationship are different despite what people think.

"It's not a butch/fem thing," she says. "All the relationships I have been in started with equal ground. Some days I may be more dominant and then others I may be more submissive."

But Masters says relationship dynamics don't play a part in arrest.

"If someone gets hit they don't have to take it. We have to look at the aggressor. Sometimes we arrest both parties; there is nothing out of the realm of possibility," he says.



'She made me feel important'

A year and a half since the end of her last abusive relationship, Castillejo says that she has now figured things out herself, without therapy.

"In the future, I have decided that if I have any problems I am going to a therapist, but it was never really an idea for me because I wanted to fix things myself," Castillejo says.

She adds that her emotionally abusive ex-girlfriend was recently put on antidepressants and is seeking counseling for her mental illnesses.

"I am not sure how well she recovered or if she is still trying to help herself," Castillejo says.

As a Gamma Rho Lambda sister, Castillejo is now part of the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and questioning) Coalition. She eagerly rattles off a list of campus resources for those suffering from domestic abuse, from the Women's Coalition to Counseling and Consultation.

Castillejo says she is not in a relationship now. She's now also interested in dating men.

"I figured that I've had enough of girls for right now, and that lately it's been nothing but drama for the entire queer-women community," she says.

She adds that as a community, it's important to increase awareness that abuse is not gender-based, just like it's not race-based or age-based.

Maria also got out of her abusive relationship after a year. Taking the advice of her family and friends, she considered the affect the abuse was having on her schooling, her job and her entire life, and she walked away.

Now after almost four years, Maria says she has found a new partner who has shown her what love and trust are suppose to be about.

"I think there has definitely been some leftover issues from my previous abusive relationship, such as difficulty in trusting and opening up to others. However I have never lost my faith in love," Maria says.

Maria adds it's important to have someone to talk to about abusive experiences. "It's not always easy to just get up and leave, especially if you believe in trying to work things out or are manipulated or disillusioned in such a way that you don't always make the best decisions," Maria adds.

She says that same-sex relationships can have as just as many problems as heterosexual relationships can have.

"[Abuse is] really about one person attempting to control another," Maria says. "My ex-girlfriend made me feel important, and I made her feel needed. I think that's why I let her do that to me for so long."


* Name changed to protect identity

Reach the reporter at Megan.M.Salisbury@asu.edu.



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