For televangelist Juanita Bynum and other women, domestic violence knows no limits

Domestic violence can happen to anyone.

Take Juanita Bynum, whose life transcended from homemaker and flight attendant to nationally renowned televangelist and best-selling author known for empowering women.

With her “No More Sheets” sermons and videos, she told women abstaining from sexual activity was the best way to attract the perfect mate. Then, in 2002, the nation watched as the once-Plain Jane “prophetess” married Bishop Thomas W. Weeks III in a “million-dollar” ceremony featuring an 80-member wedding party, a 7.76-carat diamond ring, 1,000 guests and a 12-piece orchestra.

However, trouble set in for the couple. On Wednesday morning, Weeks allegedly assaulted Bynum, 48, in the parking lot of an Atlanta hotel. Police said Weeks choked, kicked and stomped Bynum, leaving her bruised and in need of hospitalization.

On Friday, Weeks, 54, who shares an international ministry with his estranged wife, turned himself into Atlanta police to face charges of felony aggravated assault and making terroristic threats.

Domestic abuse is no respecter of persons, experts say. But if Bynum — a woman who claims to hear from God and spread the messages to others — is beaten by her husband, how can the average person recognize an abuser?

“You can’t always tell; that’s what’s so insidious about it,” says Susan Weitzman, a Chicago psychotherapist, lecturer and author of “Not To People Like Us: Hidden Abuse in Upscale Marriages” (Basic Books, $15). “The men who perpetuate upscale abuse are wearing Armani suits, they are very charming. It’s not easy to tell, and it’s not easy for anyone to believe you when you come out about it.”

But Weitzman, who coined the phrase “upscale abuse,” says there are warning signs that all a person can heed.

“A lot of women of women see some of the early warning signs — his very controlling behavior, put-down behavior, his manipulation and big sense of entitlement. A lot of women, in retrospect, say they in fact saw these things, but they did not listen to it. Because of the quality of the man, it’s easy to look away or want to look away. Plus, it’s hard to believe it can happen to someone like us.”

Nationwide, 4 million women each year are victims of domestic violence, an unknown proportion of them from families with household incomes of $100,000 or more, Weitzman says.

In more than two decades of mental health practice, she notes the silence surrounding upscale violence. In addition to that, affluent women are less likely to be assisted by police, courts, and counselors because of the widely held belief that domestic violence doesn’t occur among the well to do.

Paris Finner-Williams, a Detroit relationships counselor and attorney, says there are other early warning signs women should heed. In particular, watch out for controlling behavior that can be perceived as special attention or confused with love.

“This behavior includes blocking doorways when a person would like to exit, taking possession of a person’s cell pone, always insisting they drive to whatever destination, taking possession of a person’s keys,” Finner-Williams says. “These are the individuals who would investigate if they see a telephone number on a cell phone they don’t recognize. They cannot let things go.”

Younger women need to heed the warning signs as well, says Beth Morrison, CEO of Haven, Oakland County’s center for the prevention and treatment of domestic and sexual violence.

Anecdotal evidence points to a rise in violence among younger women, even teens, Morrison says. Most notable incidences occur when a boyfriend has shot or beaten his girlfriend to death when she was attempting to severe the relationship. However, the abuse in young girls is very subtle, she says. “The boyfriend will become very controlling about who they can be friends with and who they can’t. He tells her what to wear and how to wear her hair. He constantly calls and text messages her, really trying to be in control of her all the time. (Then) it goes to pushing, shoving and more severe battering.”Morrison warns parents to teach their children about appropriate behavior, even before they start dating. Talk to them about what to expect in relationships.

Can domestic abuse happen to me?

    Here are examples of domestic violence that can happen between a man and a woman:

  • He dominates her verbally, criticizing and belittling her, throwing her off balance or causing her to doubt her own worth and abilities.
  • He makes all plans, neither inquiring as to the woman’s desires nor gathering input from her.
  • He alone sets the sexual pace, initiating all contacts and rejecting any of the woman’s sexual approaches.
  • He makes most of the decisions about the future and announces them to the woman instead of including him in planning and decision-making. He refuses to compromise on major decisions.
  • He is moody, making it difficult for the woman to predict what the next encounter with him will be like.
  • He demands control over the woman’s contacts with friends, family and/or finances.
  • He publicly humiliates the woman. This sometimes began as “put-down” humor, but rather than apologizing, he urges her to “Get a thicker skin!” or “Lighten up!” when she protests.
  • He has an uncontrolled temper or unprecipitated anger at others.
  • He is highly critical of the woman.
  • Source: Chicago psychotherapist Susan Weitzman from her book, “Not to People Like Us: Hidden Abuse in Upscale Marriages.”

Help for victims of domestic abuse

    If you’re a victim of abuse or violence at the hands of someone you love, call these numbers to get help:

  • National Domestic Violence: Hotline: (800) 799-7233
  • Michigan 24-Hour Crisis Line: (517) 265-6776.
  • Turning Point 24-Hour Crisis Line: (586) 463-6990
  • HAVEN Crisis Support Line: (248) 334-1274
  • Toll-free crisis line: (877) 922-1274
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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday August 25, 2007.
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