Jessica Sieff: The definition of a bruise

Published 4:50 am Thursday, October 21, 2010

The U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health define a bruise as a skin discoloration that occurs when small blood vessels are broken. Once broken, those blood vessels “leak their contents into the soft tissue beneath the skin.” What remains is something painful, sensitive to the touch and sometimes slow to heal.

The definition fascinated me. The idea of an infliction, a breaking down of elements that then spill over, the result of which can take an undetermined amount of time to heal.

Every morning, I wake up, I curse the alarm clock, I drag myself to the bathroom and I look in the mirror. I am a very lucky woman. I’ve never seen a reflection staring back at me with a bruised face, never winced getting into the shower because the force of the water alone stings any marks left on my back or my arms or my thighs.

But I am luckier even beyond an absence of bruises.

So many link those splotches of purple and green or black and blue to domestic violence. Maybe that’s why so many — even sometimes the victims themselves —  think nothing exists at all, even if they don’t see the evidence on the surface. And nothing could be further from the truth.

Abuse is not just a physical attack on another human body. It begins with an attack on vulnerability. It can be a right hook but what bothers me more about this issue, which is closer to my heart than I can put into words, is a collective ignorance to the fact that domestic abuse occurs day in and day out without a clenched fist in sight. It happens everywhere all the time. It happens to our friends. It happens to our relatives. It happens to the woman across the counter at the grocery store, the mother picking her kids up from school. It happens to the teacher grading papers, the socialite, the lawyer, the doctor, the neighbor.

It’s a name called. It’s a manipulative move for control, it’s telling a woman she is nothing if not for the man standing in front of her. It’s telling her she’s lucky only for you. It’s systematically stripping away her confidence and her individuality and her strength. It is turning her into prey for another’s insecurity.

It’s breaking down the pieces that make her up, until they spill over onto everything else. Stripping sisters away from brothers, daughters away from mothers and fathers and countless women from the people who would do anything to help them.

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month. The issue is one for which awareness could not be constant enough. I’ve listened to survivors tell stories of physical abuses. When victims are able to stand up to their abusers, when they are not too afraid to report them, there are some laws that can help, handcuffs to be put on, jail clothes and a time behind bars. Maybe, if they’re lucky. Those laws could be improved upon. The system could try to do more to protect those women in spite of the fear to express themselves.

To manage the surface areas.

But it’s what happens below, the breakdown of the vessels, which we must fight against every day for those who cannot fight for themselves. To restore the woman to her soul, reclaim her dignity and remind her that relationships are to be built on love and respect. Not resentment and rulings. That sticks and stones will break her bones but words can bruise a heart. And the healing is a process that takes time. To remind her she is not alone.

So be aware. Take some time to read up on the issue. Pay attention to the women in your life who you think might be struggling beyond the surface areas.

One in four women will experience some form of domestic abuse at some time in their lives.

Every morning, I wake up, I curse the alarm clock, I drag myself to the bathroom and I look in the mirror. I am a very lucky woman. A flip of the coin — and my story could be very different.

For more information, visit the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence at and of course, the best action is advocacy.

Jessica Sieff is a reporter for Leader Publications. Reach her at