Even after my friend’s boyfriend continued to abuse her both emotionally and physically, she still agreed to marry him.

There is no statistic that says in clear terms the most fragile part of the human body. From a physical standpoint some think it is the spine, because if it is broken there is a high chance of paralysis or death. In an emotional sense, some believe it to be the heart.

At 21, my friend Jamie loved a man named Steven. He frequently told her she looked ugly, needed to lose weight, and he was seen flirting with other girls.

 Steven had been under psychiatric care at the Foothills hospital only a week before for mixing prescription drugs and ecstasy with alcohol, causing him to hear things no one else could. He was released on good behaviour into his parents’ care, but stayed at Jamie’s house during the day to escape his parents.

Jamie came home one night to find glass shattered on her kitchen floor and an empty bottle of alcohol on the coffee table. Half an hour later Steven came knocking on her door, and despite his irrational behaviour and previous abuse, she invited him in.

The next thing I knew Jamie was screaming and threatening to call Steven’s parents if he didn’t leave. In a last attempt at defiance, he thrust his fist through the porch door, breaking the plastic and shattering the hinges.

You are not alone

Steven’s behaviour, while inappropriate, is fairly common.

“Four out of 10 people in Calgary have experienced abuse in current or previous relationships,” says Connect Family and Sexual Abuse Network, a 24-hour Calgary support line.

This means that of the approximately 849,430 15 to 74-year-old people living in Calgary, about 339,772 people have experienced abuse in a relationship, according to the 2011 Civic Census results. That’s an alarmingly high number.“Most abuse occurs because of an issue of power and control,” says Warthe.

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The Network conducted 451 online interviews with 16 to 69-year-old Calgarians. The interviewees were presented with eight scenarios adapted from a 2008 Alberta Children and Youth Services survey and were asked to rate their current relationship against them.

Other data supports this. Approximately 30 per cent of Mount Royal University students had experienced violence in a current or previous dating relationship, says Gaye Warthe, who worked on this 2010 study and is the chair of the department of social work and disability studies at Mount Royal.

Power and Control

“Most abuse occurs because of an issue of power and control,” says Warthe.

If it looks like the abuser is going to lose control, such as the end of a relationship, Warthe says this is when the victim is most at risk.

While a friend may seem like the logical person to turn to for someone who is being abused, they generally don’t know how to handle the situation, Warthe says.

I experienced first hand the truth of her words.

From bad to worse

My friend Jamie was a hysterical mess after Steven finally left her house. Tears caused black mascara to run down her face and her chest was moving so fast she was practically hyperventilating. Her cell phone vibrated and Steven’s voice rang clear as he said, “If you call my parents I’m going to hit the highway at 120 kilometers per hour and kill myself.”

There is no way to know for sure if Steven had any intention of committing suicide, or if he was just manipulating Jamie. But either way, his threat had value because his brother committed suicide. As much as Jamie hated Steven at the moment, she didn’t want to be the reason he killed himself.

Jamie’s shaking fingers dialed 911 on her pink cell phone.

Feeling trapped

The funny thing is, despite Steven’s abuse, Jamie was engaged to him only a couple months later.

“This is fairly common behaviour,” says Warthe.

“People often stay in abusive relationships because they are embarrassed, feel responsible for the abuse and don’t want other people to know what’s going on.”“Four out of 10 people in Calgary have experienced abuse in current or previous relationships.”

– Connect Family and Social Abuse Network

I didn’t, and still don’t understand the full extent of Jamie’s relationship. But I do know that at one point she was happy with Steven, and that has to count for something.

The aftermath

Despite multiple chances, Jamie didn’t marry him. At a friend’s going away party less than a month after the engagement, Steven punched her in the face and tried to strangle her. He was charged for domestic abuse and mischief.

She says, “Currently he claims he would like to get back together and make it work, but I’m still scared to be around him.”

While Steven is mostly known for being an aggressor, I can’t forget he was once also a lover. This confusion and Jamie’s vulnerability lead to her being taken advantage of. But it’s easy for me to say she shouldn’t date him because I wasn’t directly involved.

At the end of the day it is up to each person to decide how to live, friends are merely a support system to fall back on. We alone must decide when to uncover our fragile hearts and expose ourselves to heartbreak.

jfoster@cjournal.ca

This article was originally published in ProfilesWest.ca