“The night he tried to kill me, I knew that there was nothing else for me to do but die,” said Asia Smith. It was the night she decided to end a four year romance that had devolved into an emotionally, physically and sexually abusive relationship.
She remembers that New Year’s Eve vividly as her then-boyfriend strangled her until she was unconscious. Looking into his eyes was like looking at death, she explained. So Smith closed her eyes, because if she was going to die, she did not want his eyes to be the last thing she saw.
Moments later Smith’s enraged boyfriend would drag her by her hair and viciously beat her. “He just stomped and stomped and kicked… it was awful. It was as if I was being attacked by a bear.”
Not quite a bear. But he was a 225-pound man built of solid muscle throwing blow after blow at a petite five-foot-one woman. He left her battered, bloodied and too afraid to seek medical attention for her wounds.
His reason for this abuse, he told her when she regained consciousness, was that she was not paying enough attention to him.
Smith recalls the abuse beginning about two years into the relationship after she moved in with her partner. There were signs of anger. But like most people who have experienced intimate partner violence, she never could have predicted the nightmare that was to follow.
As her boyfriend at the time became more controlling, Smith became more isolated from her friends and family. Over the course of their relationship she can recall being beaten up to ten times and even brutally raped by the man who claimed to love her.
Seven years after starting that painful partnership Smith is now the founder of Purple R.E.I.G.N., an outreach organization for battered women. She is also one of the roughly 33 percent of African-American women who will experience dating or domestic violence — the type of violence that led to the death of Kasandra Perkins at the hands of her boyfriend, NFL player Jovan Belcher, who in turn committed suicide.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health, nearly one in three African-American females have been subject to intimate partner violence, which includes rape, physical assault, or stalking. Overall, one in four women in the U.S. will become victims of domestic violence in her lifetime.
Smith, who is in her thirties, likes to think of herself as an “overcomer” rather than a survivor of domestic abuse. Unfortunately many more women cannot say the same. African-American women suffer intimate partner violence at rates higher than other racial groups in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Experts cite social reasons as the cause of this disparity.
“When we’re looking at the issue of race, I think that in the black community, because there are less eligible black men, women may tend to stay in a domestic violence [situation] a little bit longer than their white female counterparts,” said Dr. Jeffrey Gardere, associate professor of behavioral medicine at the Touro college of Osteopathic Medicine.
Gardere, who regularly appears as a mental health expert on CNN, Fox News, NBC and other networks, said a family background that includes abuse that took place in the home as well as one’s socio-economic status also factor into whether victims find themselves coping with domestic abuse.
“Poverty is a breeding ground for domestic violence,” he said.
Millions of women have stories similar to Smith’s. For those on the outside it can be difficult to understand why so many victims stay with their abusers. While there are different reasons for every victim, a common thread unites them across circumstances: being susceptible to intense mental control.
“It is a psychological manipulation, almost a brainwashing where they convince their victims that they have no other options,” Gardere said of abusers.
Victims, “may lose their lives,” the mental health expert said of the resulting abuse. But, even if death is not the tragic result as it was for Kasandra Perkins, “more than anything else they may lose their sense of self,” Gardere warned.