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In 1971 Erin Pizzey founded Chiswick Women's Aid, the first refuge for battered wives. Her 1974 book "Scream Quietly or the Neighbors Will Hear" brought the issue to the attention of the public.

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Talking to Men About Violent Women

Written by Erin Pizzey Tuesday, November 6, 2007 1:46 PM
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“I fell in love and then I woke up in a nightmare.” This was said to me by a man a few weeks ago but it could just as easily been said by a woman. Born and raised in a household where both my parents were dysfunctional and violent I was aware of the damage they inflicted on me and my brother and sister. Now some forty years after opening the first refuge in the world in Chiswick London in 1971, I want to learn more about how women react to their often violent and abusive childhood experiences, because much is known and studied about male violence but very little is written about women, and any attempt to discuss female violence is met with rabid attacks and howls of “blaming the victim.”

In my experience I found that in most relationships the violence is consensual – both partners are equally responsible for what goes on behind the front door. In those cases we rarely hear from either partner unless the children of those doomed relationships are drawn to the attention of the schools and then the courts or the psychiatrist’s office. However when one of the partners is an innocent victim of their partner’s violence, if they happen to be a woman they can at least find comfort and refuge, but for men at the moment there is nothing. If he is involved with a violent woman he risks the laughter of his friends and a truly frosty reception from all the agencies.

Bob is a police officer and also a martial arts expert. “She came to my class in the Dojo and made a big play for me. I was flattered and within a few weeks she moved into my place. We seemed to do nothing but fight with each other and then she’d say she was sorry but the fighting got worse. I knew I’d never hit her but I hated the way I felt after a fight. She’d come for me and scratch my face and punch me. She’d spit in my face and scream ‘go on, hit me, hit me.’ She can’t hit me as hard as a man can but it still hurts and I’m devastated. She throws all my clothes out of the front door and when I’m at work she ‘phones my mobile constantly and accuses me of having sex with my students. I’m not physically afraid of her but I am terrified of her moods. I walk on egg shells. I feel sick when she is in a bad mood. She throws things at me. I have to get out but she tells me she’ll kill herself if I leave her. I can’t tell anyone because nobody would believe that I’d let a woman scratch me up.”

“I never dreamed that sex could be like this.” James risked everything for a woman he met at an art exhibition. “I was willing to leave my wife, the house and the children for her. I’ve been possessed, absorbed and driven mad by her. I can’t eat, sleep or live without her but in the end I had to leave her. I never thought of myself as suicidal but I have been. At the end of the four years I no longer recognized myself. I felt old, ugly and unlovable. In the end I had no friends – she insulted all of them. She crashed my car, telephoned my boss and hurled abuse at him, told my parents I was a wife beater and called the police on many occasions. I haven’t seen her for about three months and I don’t answer her messages but I think about her every day and I have this craving to go back. Most people don’t understand that a relationship can be just as addictive as drugs and alcohol, and just as lethal.”

In most cases I deal with, the men say that the wild sex usually happens when they have been drinking or taking drugs – not always but in the majority of cases. What most of the men don’t understand is that the alcohol and the drugs are just the gateway to the often fragmented memories of the abuse the woman suffered as a child. If a child experiences consistent pain and sexual abuse in the very early years, the neural pathways in the brain fail to develop normally and thereafter the child will seek pleasure through pain. I talked to a woman who felt no compulsion to self harm while she was with her violent lover, but now that she’d escaped him she was overwhelmed with the urge to cut herself. Men tell me that their partner will provoke situations where she creates a huge fight and demands to be hit. “Then she’s hot to trot,” one man said bewildered by the whole relationship.

“Has it ever crossed your mind,” I say to the men after they have recounted their sexual history. “That she is not in the moment with you but back in her own nightmare of abuse and you have unwittingly taken the role of the perpetrator?” This will explain why after a night of frenzied fighting and love making she turns all the anger and rage she feels against her abuser onto her lover.

Many years ago I had a shelter in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Some of the women taking refuge from their partners talked to me about the men in their lives who had been fighting in Vietnam. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder meant that when they came back into the family, some incidents could trigger a traumatic memory of the war they left behind. Lost in the past, they became extremely violent towards their partners and sometimes the children. I realized that adults born into a setting where violence and sexual abuse was their daily experience of life also suffered from the same syndrome. Jenny came into the refuge claiming that her partner beat her, but it soon became apparent that Jenny was a deeply troubled young woman. She was a big learning experience for me because one morning after she had tried the patience of everyone in the refuge I was called to admonish her. As I walked towards her she fell to the floor raising her arms above her head screaming ” … please don’t hit me, please don’t hit me.” I looked down at her contorted face and I said quietly, “Jenny I’ll never hit you.” I lifted her up and hugged her and that was the first time I recognized that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder occurs not just as a result of a war experience but also in victims of domestic violence. Jenny’s partner was grateful that she no longer accused him of domestic violence. After many months of councilling they were able to look forward to a warm loving relationship.

Usually I end up pointing out to the confused and bruised men who ask for help that they have to recognize that the woman they believe they love is too damaged to sustain a close relationship. What their partner needed to do was to seek help first, and then once they had a chance to address their traumatic past they could move on, secure in the knowledge that once the past is examined and understood they could then move beyond it. No longer would they continually and repetitively make the past their future.

If anyone reading this article would like help me by answering the following questions I can continue my research into the effects of violence and sexual abuse on children’s lives. At the moment we drag fragile and damaged adults through courts and we punish them. We demonize them; we take away their children or their right to see their children. What we don’t do is to recognize that children born into a nightmare often become a nightmare. The way forward is through compassion and understanding.


  1. Are there any parts of this article that you feel are relevant to your behavior?
  2. Do you constantly describe your intimate relationships as disastrous and why?
  3. In any intimate relationship do you find yourself unable to behave normally:-
    1. Do you feel that your partner is constantly betraying you with other people?
    2. Do you consistently check the mobile, the clothes, and ring 1471 after any phone call? (Note: 1471 is British Telecomm’s code for “Last Call Return”. The U.S. equivalent is *69.)
    3. Do you stalk?
    4. Do you become enraged if your partner is late because you feel he or she is with some else?
    5. Do you have to know where your partner is at all times?
  4. Do you have frequent violent explosions of rage:-
    1. Do you row with your partner constantly?
    2. Do you storm out of your accommodation?
    3. Do you demand that your partner leave?
    4. Do you threaten to call the police?
    5. Have you called the police when you know that your partner is innocent?
  5. Is sex a problem for you? Could you explain why?
  6. Do you think you drink too much and does it affect your relationship? Please explain.
  7. Do you take drugs and does it affect your relationship. Please explain.
  8. Describe your relationship with your grand parents.
  9. How do you see your relationship with:-
    1. Your mother.
    2. Your father.
    3. Your siblings.
  10. Do you feel you have a problem with making close relationships with a lover?
  11. If you have children, how do you think your volatile relationships affect them.
  12. Can you see any patterns in your relationships with your parents and grandparents and yourself?

If you e-mail me with your responses I will treat your information with the respect that it deserves, and if you have a question I will answer it.

My e-mail address is

Copyright © 2007 Erin Pizzey, All Rights Reserved

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3 Responses to “Talking to Men About Violent Women”

  1. Lucrecia Says:

    I would like to answer the questionnaire, but I don’t know to write in english (my languaje is spanish).

    I am divorced. My husband was a violent man (he beat me), but I recognize cleary my part of responsability in his violence. I am not a only victim, he is not the only agressor, and I am not ‘a battered woman’.

    Today, in Spain, I have many discussion with feminist women because they are making a very great hurt to the society.

    If you can read spanish or my answers, I will make the questionnaire. If the answers are useful and you don’t understand spanish, I will try to write in english.

  2. Graeme Cook Says:

    Many of the abusive behaviours described here are characteristic of Borderline Personality Disorder - check out

    The site is maintained by the authors of ‘Stop Walking On Eggshells’ (recognise that phrase from the article above?), which is an absolute must-read for anybody affected by BPD.

    These resources could save your life (and your sanity) if you are in an abusive relationship, or struggling to deal with the fallout from one.

    Graeme Cook
    Bristol, UK

  3. Dianna Bonner Says:

    Hi Erin

    It was so lovely to meet you today and to chat to you - I just realised I don’t have an email address for you so I am writing via your blog.

    I will be uploading your photos in a minute all you need to do is go to my website and go to the YOUR IMAGES TAB and Click on your photo- the password is BRISTOL.

    Let me know which images you would like bets just add them in your basket (included in Package option) and I will make any changes and enhancements to them and send you them in high resolution.

    All the best


    0771 888 1768

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Copyright © 2007 Erin Pizzey, All Rights Reserved