The gospel according to Jerry

The pathetic news story of Mary Winkler of Lebanon, Tenn., who was recently convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the death of her preacher husband, makes me wonder what kind of hell it must be living daily with the fear that your spouse or significant other is going to verbally, physically or sexually harass or abuse you or your children, and to know that your life and theirs depend on your tolerance for humiliation and your ability to outwit the aggressor.

Like many others, I’ve heard tales in the past of battered women. And I couldn’t understand why they just didn’t leave the bastard and get the hell out.

Only recently have women’s advocacy groups begun to educate the public about the fact that most of these women are trapped in their circumstances by many factors—financial, cultural, legal—and the unique psychology of abuse. Abusers are often quite diabolical in their efforts to control their spouses by gradually isolating them from friends and family and totally controlling the family finances. If there are children in the relationship, abusers leverage the mother’s love for the children in exchange for total dominance. Many women have been brainwashed into feeling guilty because they have displeased their husband.

Surprisingly, this conduct is reinforced by the disregard of the problem by the religious community. Is it not written in the Bible and other religious doctrines that a woman should obey her husband without equivocation?

This problem is particularly endemic among fundamentalist groups who constantly rail against abortion and homosexuality as being ungodly, but manage to sweep this dirty little secret under the prayer rug.

If you attend services at a religious institution, think back and try to remember when you last heard a sermon or discussion about spousal abuse. Are the leaders afraid of stepping on the toes of their deacons, elders, committee chairmen, large contributors and even members of the clergy? Spousal abuse cuts across all ethnic and socioeconomic lines.

Why do the religious institutions not declare a week each year to address this heinous issue in public?

There is another rarely discussed element that abets this problem, and I call it the “cuckold syndrome.” A cuckold is a man who feels that his manhood has been diminished by his wife—or even a girlfriend—having an affair with another man.

What often is characterized as jealousy in the name of love is really fear of peer humiliation, or embarrassment that he may be perceived as sexually inadequate.

This syndrome quite often continues long after the two parties have separated, and may result in extreme violence or even murder. How many times have we read in the news about a former spouse or boyfriend attacking his ex in a fit of rage long after the relationship has ended?

Even the misogynistic lyrics of some current music still glorify abuse of females.

This cultural attitude has great influence on our legal system. Until recent times, wife battering was considered acceptable by the legal community as long as it didn’t result in permanent physical damage or death.

I can remember many conversations with other men, including law enforcement people, discussing a wife beating. It was often dismissed as: “Oh, his wife mouthed off to him and he just slapped her around a little.”

Criminal justice has been hamstrung in prosecuting abuse cases because the victims refuse to testify against the abusers for fear of significant retribution. And if they put her man in jail, a woman may lose her sole means of support for herself and her children.

Often, restraining orders are worthless, and no matter how dedicated, law enforcement personnel can’t be full-time nannies.

Of course, drug and alcohol abuse greatly exacerbate the entire disorder.

So how does a desperate, penniless mother escape from these horrible circumstances? Even if she still has friends or family who might try to help, she fears that the abuser will carry out his threats to punish not only her, but also her children and anyone who helps her.

Fortunately, a new enlightenment has spawned women’s shelters all over the United States and throughout the world.

Our local community is extremely blessed to have one of the finest women’s advocacy groups in the country. It is called Helpmate, and it provides a full-time staff to assist victims of domestic violence, offering a variety of services including legal aid, child advocacy, medical and mental-health assistance and other referrals.

For many years, Helpmate has maintained a small home where victims and their children can live safely and rehabilitate their lives. Recently, they were fortunate to find a much larger facility that they are remodeling, with much enhanced security and services, to better serve their increasing number of clients. Last year they served some 2,200 clients in Buncombe County.

I know that by now, many of the men who are reading this are saying, “This all about women, so why is this my problem?”

I will tell you why.

I am by nature a nonviolent person, but other than self-defense, nothing could incite me to violence quicker than finding out that some SOB was abusing my daughter or granddaughter. I promise you that at least one reader out there has a situation in which their family member is being abused, and they don’t know about it because the victim is trying to protect them from taking the law in their own hands.

It is reasonable to assume that since one quarter of all the women in our country are abused at some point in their life, some of you men have firsthand experience in being brought up in a violent home.

Many of us have served in the military to protect American lives, and yet hundreds of thousands of American women are being beaten or tortured—or in worst cases, killed—right here at home.

You bet it is your problem, and here is what you can do about it right now.

Helpmate is having a men’s luncheon to inform the men of this community about Helpmate and the work they do, and to raise money for their wonderful new home.

It is time we men join together with this group to inform our politicians that we want improved advocacy legislation, we want the religious community to speak up, and we want to put other men in our community on notice that abusing our women is not acceptable and we won’t stand for it. Just maybe we can prevent the Mary Winklers of this world from having to shoot their way out of victimhood, only to spend years in jail.

[Jerry Sternberg, who can be reached at , has been active on the local scene for many years.]

The Men’s Event Luncheon in support of Helpmate’s Campaign for a Safe and Secure Future will be held at the Renaissance Asheville Hotel on Tuesday, June 5, from 12:15 to 1:15 p.m. There is limited, reserved seating available. To learn more, contact Hilary Minnick at 254-2968, ext. 11.


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