I had a new friend over for dinner last week. Over tea, she began telling me how her ex-husband has her four children and she has barely had any rights to them in the past seven years and at this point they don’t want to see her. She is from Mexico and her ex and her children are there. He was abusive toward her, to the point that she left and came to the U.S., but he took the kids from her.

I have a seventeen month old son. Her children are older at this point, teenagers. Either way, I can’t imagine having someone take my son from me. I can’t imagine having someone say I can’t see my son. It would be horrible. Mexico’s laws are different toward women and women are treated even more so as the property of men.

My friend told me how her ex had just come home one day and told her that a male friend of hers from high school committed suicide. My friend had not been very close with this person and hadn’t seen him in a while. She told a few people, but they blew her off. She saw him not long ago on Facebook. Basically, the guy’s not dead.

“My ex-husband is crazy,” she said. “He’d just make stuff up like that and then would tell me and I’d believe him.”

“He sounds like an abusive person, they make stuff up like that to make you think you’re crazy.”

“Yeah, he was like that. How did you know?”

“I’ve heard other stories of men trying to control women in that way.”

She proceeded to tell me about how he wanted to control her and isolate her. She wasn’t allowed to see her family or anyone. And now he has her children. She isn’t the only woman I’ve heard tell me a story like this.

Domestic violence or intimate partner violence usually starts on the first date. Not with someone being punched, raped and stabbed, but it does usually start with establishing control. Control of how you look, how you act, what you wear, what you like or don’t like. It is controlling another person and it often begins small and grows big. It seems though that a woman might not recognize a person being controlling of them in the moment, but may be able to look back and recognize moments when that person was being controlling of them.

I know from experience that some women won’t want to hear that it sounds like their partner is being abusive, but it’s important that other women, or anyone for that matter, say it. It is also important that women know the signs of abuse and that they don’t have to stand for it. Whether the law is on our side or not, women don’t have to stand for abuse- ever! We are not property of men, whether we are married to them, have children with them or have any sort of relationship with them.

People need to take responsibility for the violence they perpetrate and stop being violent, but until that happens, women must learn the signs of abusive relationships and have the self-esteem and power to be able to see those signs when they happen and run run run.

My friend is heart-broken about her children and continues to try to see them and have contact with them, but she also set an example for them not staying and tolerating her husband’s violence toward her. She had to escape.

Grrl Code: Help other women see signs of abuse in their relationships. Know the signs of abuse. Be aware of your own guidelines for healthy non-violent relationships.