Source: Weitzman, Susan, Ph.D. “Not to People Like Us”: Hidden Abuse in Upscale Marriages. New York: Basic Books, 2000. Print.
Why are upscale victims reluctant to seek help?
- They buy into the myth that dv afflicts only the underprivileged
- Upper-middle classes are taught that it is inappropriate to involve the police in “personal problems”.
- Spacious homes and large lots make it less likely that neighbors or friends will learn about and report the abuse.
- The upscale husband can retain skilled legal representation to defend his actions with little retribution or fanfare.
- Upscale women tend to be rejected by the very systems designed to help abused women.
- Upscale abused wives are treated differently from other women:
- Their complaints may be taken lightly
- Their injuries may be ignored or overlooked by professionals who are unaware of domestic abuse among the upscale or are afraid to intervene in such cases.
- Professionals can actually contribute to the problem by taking the abuse lightly and even blaming her for it, they make her feel ashamed and responsible.
How is upscale abuse different?
- The upscale victim doesn’t experience the classic cycle of violence. There is often no calm/lull or “honeymoon stage”. The abuser often does little to seek forgiveness after a violent episode.
- Very few upscale victims experienced or witnessed abuse in their childhood. Her lack of experience with violence, rage and abuse makes the victim even more overwhelmed and unclear about how to cope.
- Men may repeatedly impress upon their wives that they were “bought and paid for.”
- A major hallmark of upscale abuse is silence. Victims go to great pains to hide it, even from those to whom they turn for help, like their therapist. “My lower-income patients have come right out and said that their husband’s abuse was why they had come to see me seeking help. Rarely do abused wives from affluent homes give this as their reason for coming to therapy.”
- The majority of upscale violence is emotional rather than physical, but it is often the physical aspect that brings the woman to treatment (even though, paradoxically, she won’t speak about it).
Dynamics unique to upscale abuse:
- Upscale victims may experience a sense of utter aloneness because of the unspoken pressure by those around her to keep the abuse private and maintain the charade of their lifestyle. Lower income level women seem to worry less that people won’t believe them.
- The upscale abused wife chooses secrecy and denial rather than face what she perceives as a personal failure, and thereby remains out of touch with others who are experiencing similar abuse.
- The upscale victim is afraid that her family and friends will shun and blame her. It is the strong hidden nature of upscale abuse that gives it a different flavor and spirit from domestic abuse among lower-income abused women.
- She doesn’t typically go to shelters – she can afford a hotel or a quick get-away trip with her children. Her financial resources afford her anonymity – which, paradoxically, contributes to her isolation.
- She stays because of concern for the financial well-being of the children, but she leaves when she sees that the children are threatened.
- Agencies offer support to affluent women less readily because we are typically unprepared to comprehend the problem of marital abuse among the upscale.
- When abused upscale wives do go to dv court or go public about the abuse, they tend to attract a lot of attention and potentially criticism and skepticism.
Markers of the final phase in leaving an upscale abusive marriage:
- Accumulation: Assaults and abuse build over time.
- Wearing down: Coping strategies wear thin as abusive behaviors increase.
- Secret strategizing: The woman starts to secretly strategize a way out.
- The final straw: She experiences the final humiliation, discovers the final affair, children are threatened, she suffers a serious injury.
- The silence is broken: She tells family, therapist, attorney or others.
- The burden is shed: She no longer has to keep the secret and façade. She begins to reframe and rewrite her life situation.
- The glass slipper no longer fits: She starts to integrate these internal shifts.
- Rehearsals and plans: She makes plans to leave, creates a safety plan, and gets legal advice.
- Finally out: She leaves the marriage permanently and secures an attorney.