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My earlier post about domestic violence was remiss in not mentioning “Till death do us part,” the Charleston Post & Courier’s Pulitzer-winning series on DV with an emphasis on domestic murders.

Much of the series focuses on how South Carolina’s deeply conservative culture is impacting the problem (tl;dr version: Republicans don’t exactly respect women all that much), but part four, found here, could have come from any other state or, for that matter, any other country.

Perfectly normal happy couple. Right?

Perfectly normal happy couple. Right?

That page focuses on one terminal case of DV, where the victim somehow survived her abuser’s attempted murder of her. It’s the authors’ stab at the big question: “Why?” Why does the DV victim stay with the abuser? Why does she go back to such an obviously horrible husband or boyfriend?

This page wisely has no mention of specific South Carolina political or cultural influences, because these things are not specifically going through through either the victim’s or the abuser’s conscious thoughts all that often. Especially when the latter calmly points a gun between her eyes and pulls the trigger.

It instead talks about the abuser’s arsenal of psychological and emotional weaponry which is in a way far more destructive than his fists. The reason why it was so unthinkable for me to leave my abuser boils down to the same reason as hers: the victim literally cannot imagine life without the abuser and their control. It’s hard to describe if you haven’t been there, and can seem downright pathetic, but it’s the truth. Even when the victim does manage to run away, as the article’s subject did at one point, she remains wholly vulnerable to his dominance… and all it takes is one phone call to summon her back to the abuser’s side and to resume the usual cycle.

I made a stab at answering the big “Why?” question myself in my earlier post. I really do believe it goes back to the animalistic dominance/submission traits that are hardwired into the mammalian brain, the same features seen in any social species with groups centered around an “alpha”: wolves, gorillas, chimpanzees, lions, and so forth. Dominance, and the reception to dominance, hails from the same primitive part of our brain, the diencephalon, that we share with such other species. This structure controls our base emotions, fears, and more relevantly, our addictions. For there really is all too much in common between a thoroughly dominated abuse victim and a heroin junkie: both know rationally how destructive their “love” is, and both are equally as helpless to quit it.

And both deserve our sympathy, and not our scorn. If even someone as strong as Rihanna can fall victim to abusive domination, or someone as strong as Philip Seymour Hoffman can fall victim to addiction, it means such people deserve our support. (I use dominance and submission here as psychological terms independent of their BDSM connotations, which don’t really apply here.)

There are differences between a lovestruck submissive and a junkie, however. Not all unequal relationships with a dominant controlling things are automatically abusive, negative, or unhealthy; not all dominants want to hurt or destroy their charges; not all submissives are unhappy, and in fact, some require domination to be truly happy. This interview with Coco and Ice-T is revealing. Like many submissives, Coco seems more invested in the inequality of her relationship than even her dominant is, and I am glad that she found a loving and supportive boss to serve. She really is blessed.

But obviously, not all dominants are Ice-T, as the Post & Courier series makes clear. If you are regularly concerned that your relationship has become abusive… you are probably right. Again, here is a link to the national domestic violence hotline. (If you are at that point, there is a significant chance your partner is monitoring your online activity, whether you allowed it or not; please enter privacy mode on your browser before proceeding. Shift-Ctrl-N on PC Chrome, Shift-Ctrl-P on Firefox; phone and Mac browsers should also have privacy modes.) And here is a breakdown of DV from a prosecutor’s office. Most of all, there may be friends and family who still love you, no matter how much your abuser wants you to think otherwise. Stay alive.