The Healing Hands of Nature

A Study of How the Wilderness Can Heal Rape and Abuse Victims

by Cricket Nordstrom, 2007


"The wilderness holds answers to questions man has not yet learned to ask."
Nancy Newhall quoted in John McPhee's, Encounters with the Archdruid, 1971

From Chicago to Cleveland, from Boston to New York, and from Los Angeles to Dallas, women throughout the United States become victims of domestic abuse or rape.  Rape is forced sexual intercourse including both psychological coercion as well as physical force.  Forced sexual intercourse means vaginal, anal or oral penetration by the offender(s).  This category also includes incidents where the penetration is from a foreign object such as a bottle.  It includes attempted rapes, male s well as female victims, and both heterosexual and homosexual rape.  Attempted rape includes verbal threats of rape as well.  It happens behind closed doors, out of the sight of neighbors and friends. 

According to RAIN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), every two and a half minutes, somewhere in America, someone is sexually assaulted.  One in six American women are victims of sexual assault, and one in 33 men.  Sexual assault can involve a wide range of victimizations, separate from rape or attempted rape.  These crimes include attacks or attempted attacks generally involving unwanted sexual contact between victim and offender.  Sexual assaults may or may not involve force and include such things as grabbing or fondling.  Sexual assault also includes verbal threats.  In 2004-2005, there were average annual 200,780 victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault.  The age range for rape victims has a broad range.  About 44% of rape victims are under age 18, and 80% are under the age of 30.  There is one bit of good news – since 1993, rape/sexual assault has fallen by over 69%.  Unfortunately most rapes are not reported to authorities (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network).

Most female assailants convicted of rape are convicted of statutory rape.  It is thought that female rapists who rape other women are almost never caught or convicted and research on female rapists is rare.  According to the New York State Criminal Justice Department, there were 3,158 reports of rape.  In New York City alone there were 1,071 reports.  Kings County, in Brooklyn, reported 307 rape accounts (Division of Criminal Justice Services).  Rape statistics can be broken down in many ways.  It can be narrowed down from country, to state, to county, and to city.

Most people tend to think that rape is committed by “strangers in the night” or men who lurk in the woods or shrubbery waiting to pounce on innocent women.  This is definitely not the most likely way that a rape occurs. Almost two-thirds of all rapes are committed by someone who is known to the victim.  The few rape victims that I personally know were raped by men that they dated in the past or at least had some kind of encounter with.  One woman I know was raped by a man that she met on an online dating site.  He talked her into going back to his place after they met to talk at a coffee shop.  She probably should not have gone with him in the first place since she had never met him before, but she thought she would be safe.  She felt comfortable with him.  He ended up raping her and she did nothing about it.  She still lives with the regret of not turning him in.  Unfortunately, this kind of behavior occurs often and does not get reported.  To this day she has trust issues with men and has not overcome what happened to her.

Rape offenders come with different characteristics.  In single-offender rape/sexual assault victimizations, Whites and Blacks were victimized most often by members of their own race (Whites by Whites, 78.4%; Blacks by Blacks, 83.5%).  Half of all multiple-offender rape/sexual assault victimizations were committed by Whites, followed by Blacks, then by mixed races, and the smallest percentage by other races than White or Black.  Rates were not provided to allow for comparisons among races.

Sadly, rape can take place in locations that would be least expected.  Rape victims are most likely to be raped at home or at or near a friend/relative/neighbor’s home, rather than any other location reported.  However, most rapes committed by strangers occur on the street, not near the victim’s home. Ninety-four percent of rapes/sexual assaults occur within 50 miles of the victim’s home.  The rate of rape/sexual assault in urban areas was greater than suburban areas and rural areas. These rates are based on per 1000 persons.  The South and West regions of the country had the highest rates of rape/sexual assault followed by the Northeast and then the Midwest.  (Rape and Sexual Assault Statistics).

Domestic violence is another form of abuse that is common among women.  This kind of abuse occurs in the same manner that rape might occur; behind closed doors and out of the sight of neighbors and friends. Domestic violence, (sometimes referred to as domestic abuse) occurs when a family member, partner or ex-partner attempts to physically or psychologically dominate another. Domestic violence often refers to violence between spouses, but can also include cohabitants and non-married intimate partners. Other terms include wife or husband beating, battering, "relationship violence", "domestic abuse", and "spousal abuse". Family violence is a broader definition, often used to include child abuse, elder abuse, and other violent acts between family members.
Domestic violence can also take place in lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender relationships, and can involve other family members, including children. 

Although every domestic violence situation is unique, there are common factors involved. Abusers choose to behave violently to get what they want and gain control. Their behavior often originates from a sense of entitlement, which is often supported by sexist, racist, homophobic and other discriminatory attitudes.  Domestic violence against women by men is 'caused' by the misuse of power and control within a context of male privilege. Male privilege operates on an individual and societal level to maintain a situation of male dominance, where men have power over women and children. In this way, domestic violence by men against women can be seen as a consequence of the inequalities between men and women, rooted in patriarchal traditions that encourage men to believe they are entitled to power and control over their partners (Women’s Aid).
Most Americans are not aware of how common domestic violence is in the United States.  Estimates range from 960,000 incidents of violence against a current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend per year to three million women who are physically abused by their husband or boyfriend per year.  Around the world, at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime.  According to a 1998 Commonwealth Fund survey, Nearly one-third of American women (31%) report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives. Women of all races are about equally vulnerable to violence by an intimate.  Male violence against women does much more damage than female violence against men; women are much more likely to be injured than men.

Domestic violence has many unpleasant effects on women.  Victims often feel isolated from their family and friends.  They feel like they have lost opportunity.  They experience anxiety, depression and lowered sense of self-worth or self-esteem.  One of the worse effects is physical injury, which can lead to poor health.  The most common question asked about abused women is, “Why doesn’t she leave?”  Simply leaving the relationship does not guarantee that the violence will stop.  In fact, the time during which a woman is planning on making her exit is often the most dangerous time for her and her children.  The abuser has put a large amount of fear into the victim and it is not uncommon for perpetrators to threaten to harm or even kill their partners or children if she leaves.  Some other reasons could be that she still cares about her partner and hopes that they will change.  She may feel humiliated about what has happened or believe that it is her fault.  She may also be scared of the future; thinking things like “where will I go?”, “what will I do for money?”, “what will happen to the children?”.  She may also feel too tired or confused to make any decisions.  She may also believe that it is better to stay for the sake of the children.  All of these factors make it harder for women to get out of their abusive situations. 

Rape and domestic violence are both horrific struggles that many women unfortunately stumble upon.  That being said, there are different ways to help women that are in these unfortunate situations.  One way that has been proven to help these kinds of women is therapy through the wilderness.  The wilderness is a place where one can go to restore mental and physical well-being.  Thus, outdoor recreation may consist the search for “healing” in wild places.  Over the years, therapeutic recreation and “stress challenge adventure” programs have become agents in aiding people with restoring their well-being. (Roberts).  Therapeutic programs for women have been proven beneficial in the reduction of substance abuse, mental health, eating disorders, suicidal tendencies, behavior disorders, depression, violence, and/or sexual trauma (Davis, Berman, Berman, and Capone, 1994).  Wilderness therapy helps women to regain control over their own lives and seek therapy to help them re-channel.


The wilderness is the perfect backdrop for aiding in the recovery of rape or domestic abuse victims.  Who would not want to be surrounded by nature’s beauty?  The songs of the birds, the hoot of an owl, or the sounds of the leaves crunching below one’s feet on a crisp autumn day.  The wilderness can have a soothing or calming effect on many people.  It is a place of solitude; a place to reflect on life or one’s day to day struggles.  It is a place to let go and be free.  In the wilderness you are your own boss.  There is no one telling you what to do or telling you what needs to be done.  You have the freedom to do or think about whatever you want.  No deadlines, no Internet, no technology, no nagging husband, no nagging kids.  Alone time in the wilderness is uninterrupted and peaceful. Also, outdoor activity and hiking builds muscle and strengthens women physically.  Physical activity such as hiking and walking boosts endorphins and enhances one’s mood; this is proven.  Physical activity also strengthens the body.  The feeling of being stronger empowers women even more.  Everyone is more confident when they feel strong.

I have many memories of my time in the wilderness.  I grew up in Northeastern Ohio, which is surrounded by lush parks and recreation areas.  I can recall numerous family trips to Cuyahoga National Park for hiking and biking in the midst of huge oak and pine trees.  Wildlife was present as well.  While hiking I would come across deer, raccoons, beavers, and even eagles.  The inhabitants of the wilderness are mesmerizing.  Watching the beavers congregate to have a meal is quite amazing.  Being able to watch them live in their habitat really broadens one’s awareness and helps to appreciate all forms of life.  The bald eagle is also an exquisite sight.  These birds were once endangered so it is nice to see an abundance of them in the wild more frequently.  They are bold and majestic and emit the sense of freedom.  The eagle is a true symbol of freedom and a woman’s empowerment and freedom can be compared to that of the eagle.   


Nature has restorative and therapeutic values that have been distinctive for hundreds of years.  “Feelings of connectedness and/or relatedness are nurtured through encounters with nature.  They animate and breathe life into the world’s literature and oral traditions.  They are commonplace and universal.  These feelings also frequently are ineffable, at last in the scientific terms, which makes them hard to define” (Dustin, 1994, p.95).

About seven years ago I lived near the Marin Headlands in San Francisco, California with my sister.  During my time there we took many hiking and biking excursions.  We went on many hikes; some of my favorites were in Muir Woods and longer hikes in Yosemite National Park.  The tall Redwood trees are quite a site.  They really make you feel like the size of an ant.  We really tested each other’s endurance and agility.  We pushed ourselves harder and harder to climb the most intimidating rocks and structures.   Some of the hardest and most challenging hiking I have ever done was at Yosemite.  Each day we set out on a long hike; and each day I would say, “Kristen, I can’t do this! My joints hurt! My muscles ache! I’m tired!”  She would push me and push me to finish the hike.  And in the end I was thankful that she pushed me.  It made me realize what I’m really capable of.  My sister and I also camped there in a tent so that was challenging in it’s own regard.  First of all, I am a techie geek who is obsessed with gadgets, technology and being surrounded by electricity.  My sister is the complete opposite.  She enjoys quietness and she is hazardous to technology.  If she even stands near a computer something goes wrong with it.  So, my patience was definitely tested.  I did not really enjoying pitching a tent and not having the luxuries of home nearby.  On the other hand, it did lead to good conversation and helped me to relax and let go of my “need for technology.”

I attribute the bond that I slowly developed with my sister to the adventures and tranquility of the outdoors.  Our time alone together in the wilderness allowed us to have deep discussions about animals, friends, our parents, fitness, and life in general.  We really understand each other so much better now because of our time in the wilderness.  Because of our bonding in the wilderness we have been able to have a better understanding of each other and each other’s goals and dreams.   

Nature as a source of strength and healing is quite powerful. The gifts we receive through communion with the outdoors include spiritual peace, positive surrender of control, feelings of connection, and a new sense of empowerment (Mitten and Dutton, 1993). The natural environment is a catalyst for exploring personal fears, facing challenges, and decreasing or eliminating self-imposed limitations. Women can't help but feel good and powerful when immersed in the beauty and mystery of nature. Bialeschki and Henderson (1993) convey the value of outdoor experiences in relationship to the world around us: "In a society where being a woman is often perceived as a weakness, successfully facing challenges encountered in outdoor settings may help women rid themselves of self and socially imposed limitations" (p. 37).

Whether it is rape or domestic abuse, when women seek therapy the healing powers of nature seem to heal their souls and hearts.  Nature has a healing power that is not easily understood.  Women that turn to nature for healing must also have a little bit of hope and faith.  They must believe that they can be healed. 

Because some women may be more comfortable in a natural environment than others, the notion of wilderness as therapy for women generates numerous considerations. Safety (both physical and emotional) is one of the major factors of survival and healing in women's lives. However, being in an outdoor environment may precipitate certain feelings of discomfort and uneasiness (Mitten and Dutton, 1993). Venturing into the wilderness has both perceived and real dangers. Dangers and risk may be a vital part of a particular outdoor activity and subsequently a source of stress and fear for participants. To feel safe, a woman must be able to determine whom she can and cannot trust. If the environment is supportive and conducive to learning new skills, women may be more inclined to challenge themselves and take risks. This enables them to feel accepted for who they are and establish trusting relationships where they may feel respected with their differences acknowledged and feelings validated (Mitten, 1994).

Research shows several key principles must be maintained to make change, growth, and healing possible for women. If women choose to venture into the outdoors, they face the potential for something new. Although there are many valuable components to empowering and respecting women, the essential ingredients of a safe wilderness experience are: the power to make their own decisions and choices; opportunities must be available for women to engage in what may be perceived as difficult pursuits; avoidance of a success/failure approach; a pervasive spirit of cooperation; and a sense of a self-control that leads to the understanding and acceptance one's self and one's needs (Kiewa, 1994; Jordan, 1992; Mitten, 1992; Estrellas, in press).

Although wilderness therapy is not a new concept and is supported by a solid body of research as applied to clinical populations and adolescent populations, the therapeutic application for women has only been widespread since the mid 1980s. Research in this area as it pertains to women has only touched the surface in terms of substantiating and documenting benefits (Cole, Erdman, and Rothblum, 1994; Roberts, 1994). As we've begun to break the silence and listen to the voices of women, wilderness as therapy for both women and girls is receiving greater attention than ever before. And many studies currently being conducted focus on survivors of abuse and sexual trauma (such as incest, rape, and battering).

Many "therapeutic" components of wilderness therapy are described in the literature. However, current research has demonstrated that there are two distinct components of wilderness therapy: the physical, mental and emotional healing effects of specific activities and the more elusive spiritual healing effects derived from a sense of connectedness with the powers of the earth and the creative life cycle found only in nature (Powch, 1994; Mitten and Dutton, 1993).

In the southwest corner of the U.S., a study is being conducted on female Latina adolescents who are sexual abuse survivors. As part of a thesis research with Prescott College, this project will integrate adventure-based counseling methods as an adjunct to clinical group therapy for girls ages 13-17. The creation of a safe environment to explore healing and recovery issues through a physical outdoor experience may provide access to personal feelings about regaining trust and control of their bodies (Estrellas, 1994).

In the Midwest, a study is being conducted through the University of Wisconsin at Lacrosse. This thesis research, titled "The Therapeutic Effects of an Adventure Challenge Program on the Personal Empowerment of Women of Sexual Trauma," is being conducted to measure levels of trust. Using a model developed by Janet Goodwill on the personal empowering of women in groups, trust in oneself and trust in other members of the group will be explored. This study will examine various stages of healing. The main objective is to determine how adventure programs benefit them the most depending on what stage that women are in.

Abused women today have many options when it comes to coping with pain and suffering as a result of rape or domestic violence.  There are many approaches to choose from, but I think that the best road to recovery involves a path that includes hiking, prayer or mediation, martial arts, and socialization.  All of these tools compounded together are the perfect answer to the question of a woman asking, “How can I get better?”

Addressing the Problem:
My proposal is a one-month long therapy program that incorporates nature, strength training, enlightenment, mediation, and socialization.  There are programs out there like this, but not as   thorough as the one that I am proposing.  Mostly taxpayers and the government would fund the program.  There would also be funding through donations fundraisers.  The first step of my plan to help abused women who have been raped or victimized is to encourage them to attend a women’s wilderness therapy program.  This would entail bonding with other women, hiking with other women, and setting goals with them.  This kind of bonding brings women together.  It empowers them when they can talk about their similar struggles and situations.  By bonding in this way they can overcome their fears and realize that they are not the only ones struggling. 

Women who attend the Wilderness Therapy program often have children to take care of.  Women who do not have care takers or other family members to watch the children will have the option to bring their children to therapy with them.  Childcare is provided as part of the program.  The children would stay at base camp with a group of childcare specialists.  The children would take part in group activities, geared toward children, on a daily basis.  Infants would be cared for as well.

The first week in therapy would be spent hiking and bonding with other women who share the same experiences and have the same goals in mind – to get better!  There would be different levels of hiking depending on the physical abilities of the women attending the program.  Level 1 would be for beginner hikers or women who have little or no experience hiking.  This would benefit women who might not have much exposure to nature, hiking, and the outdoors.  Level 2 would involve more vigorous hiking, perhaps for women who feel that their physical endurance is pretty high.   The Level 2 hikes would consist of long hikes with goals in mind.  These goals would be to reach a destination by a certain time, or to complete a goal such as hiking two miles in thirty minutes or less.  The hardest level, Level 3, would challenge women to hike and climb rock formations.  This would be the most vigorous of the levels and would be geared toward women who are in exceptional shape and feel that they are ready for a greater challenge. 


The second week of the program would teach the women about meditation and perhaps prayer.  There would be yoga classes and meditation classes that would teach women how to find their inner selves.  Meditation also teaches relaxation and is proven to help with self-confidence.  It also aids in the recovery of depression and reduces anxiety symptoms.  Yoga would strengthen the mind as well as the body.  By the end of the second week the women should be able to take what they have learned and possibly use it on a daily basis when they get back to their world at home.  Prayer would also be suggested as another form of meditation and could be used in combination with yoga and deep breathing exercises. Prayer is a form meditation, which can be expressed through methods such as chanting or saying specific prayers.  During the second week a therapist would also be introduced to the women.  The therapist would be available throughout the week for individual sessions as well as group sessions.  The therapist would help the
women make sense of their personal problems.  The therapy sessions would help the women to feel inspired and empowered.  

Martial Arts would be the third week of the therapy program.  The women would be taught forms of self-defense, mostly through Cardio Kickboxing.  First, they would have a female instructor that would teach them how to react when and if they were ever attacked.  Then a male would be introduced and pretend to be the attacker.  This would give the women a more realistic situation. There are many programs throughout the United States that offer self-defense to women who might want to prevent assault.  One of these groups is called AWARE (Arming Women Against Rape & Endangerment).  They would lean moves such as the eye stab, throat grab, knife attacks, hair or clothes grab from behind.  All of these moves are helpful for women who feel threatened.  Knowing martial arts will empower them and help them to feel more confident if they are in vulnerable circumstances again.

The final and fourth week of the therapy would be socialization with the male gender.  This method would help women to become more comfortable around men again.  They could hike together, bike together, climb rocks together, and perhaps talk and set goals together.  By the fourth week the women would feel more confident with themselves and be ready to mingle with the other sex.  Therapy for abuse victims should not condone gender separation as a form of therapy.  The males should be brought in at a time when the women are feeling more empowered and self-confident.  Hopefully after their social interaction with men, they feel more confident in future relations with the opposite sex. 

After the month long therapy session the women should feel transformed.  They should feel as if a weight has been lifted off of their shoulders and that they are ready to go into battle with new and refined weapons.  After the month long therapy they would feel rejuvenated and ready to face their fears and not look back.  When the women are back in their homes counselors would check up on them from time to time to see how they are doing.  The counselors would offer motivational support and offer verbal assistance if needed.  Sometimes I am sure it will be necessary for women to go to Wilderness Therapy more than once.   My ultimate goal would be for abuse victims to turn to Wilderness Therapy, which includes strength training, martial arts, mediation, and socialization in order to boost their confidence levels.

The following is an interview with Allison Brook, counselor at a Women’s Wilderness Recovery Center in Utah. Miss Brook is an advocate in her field of work and is a strong believer in Wilderness Therapy.  I conducted the interview via telephone since I am in New York City and she is in Salt Lake City, Utah. 

A. Basar: For women, what do you think the greatest benefit of wilderness therapy is?

A. Brook: I think it's removing the distraction, number one, of consumption, dysfunctional relationships, and daily pressure.  That's one realm. And the other realm is that if it's snowing and horrible out and someone is outside twenty four hours a day, you can go to a therapist, but when you're out in the elements there's no opportunity for bullshit.  In a therapists’ office you can bullshit.  Outside it's 24 hours a day and you're getting constant feedback.  As counselors, we are able to see what the women are struggling with the most.

A. Basar:  What are some of the techniques used to help women that are dealing with abusive relationships or past abuse issues? And when they leave the wilderness program are there positive results?

A. Brook: We like to plan a really hard hike with hard consequences.  We make them build a shelter with no help and they struggle and it turns out horribly.  Since the shelters aren’t built well, the elements tend to get in; rain, snow, etc.  The women then come to us for help on how to build a better shelter and then we coach them on how do do things differently.  This technique creates a captive audience and makes them want to do it better.  It's flip flopping rules.  Not telling them what to do, makes them ask how to do things.  That's a huge technique.
Another positive technique has to do with relationship work.  We coach them into making changes.  We let them interact alone with each other.  They discuss problems that they all have in common and talk about ways of coping.  These are called side bars.  They are forced to talk to each other and talk about how they learn from each other’s experiences.  This allows them to learn from each other.  Being in a group of eight  people for an extended period of time -- interaction is unavoidable.  A passive woman that is scared of confrontation is exposed out into the open.  This gives them a lot of opportunity to get their feelings out into the open.

A. Basar:  And what are the positive results?

A. Brook:  They had an alternative experience that shapes them. Hopefully they see things and change their lives.  If you can do it out here in the wilderness, then you can deal with conflict in any situation.

A. Basar:  How do the women react when they are in a wilderness situation away from home, dealing with the elements of the outdoors?

A. Brook: It depends; most women that come here are in a fragile state.  There are rarely women that show the attitude that they can do anything, or they can handle it.  They ones that do come in with a badass air to them are the ones that end up crumbling after the second or third day.  There are also women that get really scared and think that they can’t survive in the wilderness and they fear that they won’t get stronger.  There have been a few suicide attempts, but we usually get them back on track and help them to realize that we are here to help and we will give them the tools needed for healing.

A. Basar:  What do you, personally, get out of your work and helping these women?

A. Brook: I see them execute on healthy patterns and that makes me feel good.  I also tend to come to the realization that I too could benefit from some of the healthy patterns.  It kind of keeps me in check with myself and it's inspiring.  I get the same things out of it -- the challenges, etc.

A. Basar:  Have you had any experiences with men in the wilderness?  Do you see any differences in the male students from the female ones? If so, what is the greatest difference and why do you think that is so?

A. Brook: YES and YES.  Males are move overt with their emotions (they say when they're mad).  Females throw it under the rug and it becomes dramatic and catty.

A. Basar:  What is your advice to the women and the supportive people in their families after they leave the therapy?

A. Brook: It’s important for them not to think that wilderness therapy alone will not fix the problem. It is not an end all solution. There are many other dynamics going on that they need to look at.  Look at roles in the family.  That is the hugest key to weather it works afterwards.  Are the people around them willing to commit to helping and supporting their struggles.

A. Basar:  Do you see any significant changes in wilderness therapy anytime soon?

A. Brook: Yes, and I’m very nervous about it.  There's a lot going on in Congress looking at the programs.  My fear is that they will do things to stop it.  Many groups do not think it’s beneficial and that being in the wilderness could endanger the women.  They think that some of the challenges and techniques we use are unethical.  I love my job.  I’ve seen so many positive things come out of wilderness therapy.  It has changed the lives of many women.  It has made them stronger and more confident in themselves, which leads to being more confident with relationships.

There are many Wilderness Therapy programs for women, but not one as thorough as the one that I am proposing.  There are many testimonials from women on the positive results of this type of therapy. One instructor states, “The women have those physical benefits that they go home with from being in shape, which is probably an experience that a lot of them haven't had.  Field notes also support this claim, as this entry demonstrates,
Hiking is ... really hard. Over time we build both mental and physical strength, gain a resiliency that helps us to get to [the final destination for the week] ... to push through the hardest hills to make it to the top.” (Gale, The Journal of Experiential Education)


The wilderness can be a great link to social bonding; no matter what gender.  It can be beneficial for both men and women.  Nature does not decipher male from female; it warmly welcomes everyone.  The tall giant red woods surround me, making me feel like an ant.  Their colossal trunks bring me down to size; making me realize how powerful and mighty Mother Nature is.  The rocks and canyons challenge my muscles to stretch and move in ways that I never knew I could accomplish.  The wilderness is definitely more than meets the eye.  Go ahead, go inside and discover the power of the wilderness.


“But love of the wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need - if only we had eyes to see.” – Edward Abbey


Appendix A: Interview

Susan Smith is a friend of a friend.  My friend Stacie told me about her when I was talking to her about my project.  She had mentioned that her friend Susan was abused by her husband for a long period of time. I asked Stacie if she could put me in touch with Susan and perhaps do an interview.  I was very nervous about asking her because I didn’t know how sensitive she might be talking about her abuse. 

I emailed Susan and she agreed to conduct the interview via email.  She said she’d feel most comfortable via e-mail.  I compiled a list of questions for her and waited for a response.  It took her about three days to respond. 

Background on Susan:  Susan is 27 years old and she is now a 1st grade teacher at a Catholic School in Canton, Ohio.  She has twin boys that are two years old and she is currently divorced. 


AB:  When did the abuse start?

SS: Well, I met my ex-husband in high school and we began dating while we were in college; we got married in October of 2001 and decided to settle in Columbus, Ohio (where we went to college).  The physical abuse began in 2005; after I had the twins.  The verbal abuse was always there; I just didn’t really realize that it was verbal abuse.  He’d always tell me how dumb I was and he would make comments about my weight.  I’m not even overweight; but in his eyes I was never skinny enough or in good enough shape. 

The physical abuse began after I had the twins.  I think he was jealous about the time I was spending with them and the attention that he wasn’t getting.  It was hard when I was home on maternity with the twins.  I took care of them all day and I really didn’t have time to cook dinner, clean the house, or do laundry.  I would fall behind on chores; having twins and being home alone with no family around to help is not easy.  My husband, Ryan, did not understand it and he refused to even try to understand it.  See, we didn’t get pregnant on purpose.  It was an accident; I stopped taking my birth control because I was getting ready to try a new kind.  We got drunk one night and we were not careful.  Next thing ya know I’m pregnant with twins.  So, the physical abuse began not too long after the twins were born.  He’d come home from work, see that I didn’t have dinner ready and would just start arguing with me about not having dinner made.  When he had a bad day at work; it was even worse.  He worked in marketing at an ad agency, so his job was pretty stressful.  He eventually started hitting me in front of the twins.  It would start out as a shove here and there, but then led to punching in the back and sometimes slaps across the face.   

AB: Everyone argues or fights with a partner now and then. When you argued or fought at home, what happened? Do you ever change your behavior because you are afraid of the consequences of a fight?

SS: Like I said, he’d get mad if dinner wasn’t made or even if I didn’t put something back the way he liked it.  I began tiptoeing around him because I was scared of how he might react to anything I said or did.  After a while the abuse became almost a daily occurrence.  If it wasn’t physical, it was verbal or vice versa.  So, little things set him off – if I didn’t iron one of his shirts the way HE liked it that would just set him off and lead into a huge tirade.  Telling me that I can’t do anything right and that I’m worthless.  I would yell back and then it would get physical.  I eventually learned to just shut up and not talk back, but at times I didn’t have to say anything for him to be mad at me.  If I talked back he would definitely hurt me. 

AB: Did your husband ever harm or threaten a pet? Destroyed or threatened to destroy property?

SS: Well, we have never had a pet, but he really did love animals.  I don’t know how he would’ve reacted with a pet. 
Yes, he has destroyed property.  Because of his violence with me a few lamps were broken. 

AB: Did your husband ever threatened to take the children away?

SS: He didn’t pay much attention to the children.  It was like he resented us.  So, no he never really threatened to take them away.

AB: How dangerous would your say your husband was? Did your husband have a weapon? Has he ever used it or threatened to use it against you or your children?

SS: He never had any weapons that I was aware of.  He would throw things at me though; like the remote control.  He was a tennis player and a few times, when he’d come home from tennis, he would hit me in the back with a tennis racquet; which created welts on my back.
He never threatened the babies, thank God.  He pretty much just ignored them.  I think he was just so angry that I got pregnant.  I think he resented me for it.

AB: Did your husband have a history of mental illness? Of alcoholism or substance abuse?
SS: No mental illness that I was aware of.  He liked to drink, but not out of control.  Although, I later found out that his mother had post partum depression when he was born.  His aunt had to help his father out when he was a baby.

AB: Have you ever called the police about your husband? Has he ever been arrested?

SS: No, I was scared too.  I was scared of what he might do to me.  The only time he was arrested, that I know of, was for underage drinking; but nothing serious.

AB: Have you ever tried to leave? What happened?
SS: Yes, the twins were born in Sept of 2005.  I took maternity for 3 months and then in the summer of 2006, while he was at work one day, I packed up the kids and the car and drove up to Canton, Ohio – where my parents live.  I just left and didn’t tell him anything. 
I had never told my parents about the abuse, but I couldn’t hide it anymore.  I told them everything.  He called my parents’ house that night looking for me.  They told him to never come near me again.  He drove to Canton and tried to get into my parents’ house.  They called the cops and placed a restraining order on him.  We didn’t hear from him for a few weeks.  I served him divorce papers and he signed them.  I was very thankful that he did not put up a fight.  I think he just gave up; he didn’t care about the twins anyway. That was in August of 2006. 

AB: Do you have any evidence of the abuse you have suffered? Photos? Police reports? Medical reports? Torn clothing? Weapons? Statements of your family, friends, neighbors or co-workers?

SS: No, I had some torn clothing, but I got rid of it.  I didn’t want ANYONE to know about the abuse.  I hid my bruises with long sleeved clothing and pants.  No one knew or suspected anything. 

AB:  Were you aware of services for victims of partner abuse?

SS: Yes, I knew that there were some women’s shelters and some support groups around the Columbus area, but I kept everything to myself.  I think I knew that I was going to run away from the situation eventually.  I was scared to tell anyone what was going on.

AB:  What is your advice to women who are currently being abused?

SS: Not to put up with it.  There is help out there and they are never trapped.  There is always a way out; even if they’re worried about finances – there is help.   I was lucky to have family a few hours away.  Family turned out to be the best help for me.  I wasn’t concerned about getting a new job.  I knew there were plenty of teaching jobs available in Canton. 

AB:  Have you ever heard of Wilderness Therapy for abused women?

SS: No, I haven’t, but I’d be curious to know more about it.  I love the outdoors.

AB: Do you feel that if you knew self-defense you might be able to protect yourself better?

SS: Yes, probably, but I was too scared to even think about defending myself.  I was too scared of how he’d react.  Have you ever seen the movie Enough with Jennifer Lopez?? It’s a great movie on self-defense and women being empowered to fight the battle against domestic violence. 


Bandura, A. Social learning theory. Prentice Hall: New Jersey. 1977.

Bialeschki, M.D., and K.A. Henderson. "Expanding outdoor opportunities for women.." Parks and Recreation 8(1993): 36-40.

Bird, Isabella  A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains, John Murray,1879, Virago.1982.

Cole, Ellen, Eve Erdman, and Esther D. Rothblum. Wilderness Therapy for Women: The Power of Adventure. New York: Haworth Press, 1994.

Davis-Berman, J. & Berman, D. S. Wilderness Therapy: Foundations, theory and research. Debuque, IA: Kendal/Hunt. 1994.

Davis-Berman, J., Berman, D.S., & Capone, L. (1994). Therapeutic wilderness programs: A national survey. Journal of Experiential Education, 17(2), 49-53.

Davis, B.J., Berman, D. S. & Capone, L. (1994). Therapeutic wilderness programs: a national survey. Journal of Experiential Education, 17 (2), 49-53.

Dustin, D.L. Managing public lands for the human spirit. Parks and Recreation, 9, 92-96. 1994

Ewing, C.P. Battered Women Who Kill: Psychological Self-Defense as Legal Justification. Lexington: D.C. Heath and Co., 1987.

Finkelstein, Claire O. "Self-Defense as a Rational Excuse." University of Pittsburgh Law Review 57 (1996): 621–649.

Gass, M.A. (Ed.). Adventure therapy: Therapeutic applications of adventure programming. Dubuque, IO: Kendall/Hunt. RC 489 .A38 G44 1993.

Gillespie, Cynthia K. Justifiable Homicide: Battered Women, Self-Defense, and the Law. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1989.

Hennekens, Candace. Healing Your Life: Recovery from Domestic Violence. Prowriting Services & Pr , 1991.


Hotaling, Gerald T., et al, ed. Family Abuse and its Consequences. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 1988.

Kimball, R.O., and S.B. Bacon. "The wilderness challenge model." Adventure therapy: Therapeutic applications of adventure programming 1993.

Mitten, D.M.. "Ethical considerations in adventure therapy." (1994):  "Criminal Justice Statistics." Division of Criminal Justices Services. 12 Sep 2007. New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. 18 Oct 2007 <>.

Mitten, D.M., and R. Dutton. "Outdoor leadership considerations with women survivors of sexual abuse.." Journal of Experiential Education, Recreation and Dance 16(1)(1993): 7-13.

Roberts, Nina. "Wilderness as Therapy for Women." Parks & Recreation (1995): 1-4.

"Statistics." Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. 2006. 18 Oct 2007 <>.

Rohnke, K. & Butler, S. QuickSilver: Adventure games, initiative problems, trust activities, and a guide to effective leadership. Dubuque, Iowa : Kendall/Hunt Pub. Co. GV 362 .R5671 1995.

Schoel, J. Prouty, D., & Radcliffe, P. Islands of Healing: A Guide to Adventure Based Counseling. Hamilton, MA / Project Adventure. 1988.

Springlett, N. R. The evaluation of development training courses. Unpublished masters thesis, University of Sheffield, England. 1987.

Straus, M.A., R. Gelles, and S. Steinmetz. Behind Closed Doors: Violence in the American Family. New York: Doubleday, 1980.

Sugerman, D.A. et al. Reflective learning: Theory and practice. Dubuque, Iowa : Kendall/Hunt Pub. Co. LB 1027.23 .R441 2000.

Teaff, J. & Kablach, J. Psychological Benefits of outdoor adventure activities. Journal of Experiential Education, 10 n2 p. 43-46. 1987.

Wurdinger, S.D. & Potter, T.G. (Eds.). Controversial issues in adventure education: A critical examination. Dubuque, Iowa : Kendall/Hunt Pub. Co. LB 1047 .C741 1999.