There are many stories about abuse. The #metoo movement brought many of them into the limelight. Since then, there have been countless other stories told of physical and sexual abuse.
We can learn a lot from those stories, but what about other victim’s stories?
What about the woman who was emotionally and psychologically abused for years only to disappear without a trace? Is there something we can learn from her story?
A Murder Victim’s Life Teaches Us About Abusers
Many women who have been betrayed haven’t been physically abused. They don’t have bruises or broken bones to show the world that they’ve been abused.
Instead, their bruises and brokenness are hidden beneath the surface. They can be found in the way they doubt their own worth, in the way they feel they are responsible for their husband’s choices, in the way they feel they deserve to be treated the way they’re being treated.
The visible bruises, broken bones and stitches are easy for society to accept as abuse, but if they can’t see it, it didn’t happen.
At least, that’s how it feels to these women when they aren’t believed or they’re blamed for the abuse.
Anne asked Dave for his thoughts on why society has such difficulty accepting these “invisible” wounds as abuse.
Dave feels it comes down to one phrase and the way the legal system works.
“In a legal sense, especially here in the United States, we have this concept of ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ That is very important to remember, when we’re talking about someone being accused of something criminally, but a marriage is a civil contract, it’s not criminal.” -Dave Cawley, Cold podcast host
He says that without evidence, which this type of abuse usually lacks, it would be difficult to pursue any kind of legal action. Even with evidence, since the abuser has committed no crime, law enforcement would not be able to do anything, legally.
In the Susan Powell case, the abuser was thoroughly investigated by law enforcement agencies and news reporters.
In most cases, however, with no consequences for their actions, the abuser marches right back out into society and proudly boasts that they’ve done nothing wrong.
In a story such like Susan’s, there is always a lesson, or several lessons, to be learned.
What CAN we learn from Susan Powell’s life then?
Dave Cawley learned a lot from her life and disappearance.
A Murder Victim’s Life Teaches Us That We Can’t Always “See” Abuse
Very often, people ask why victims of abuse don’t leave their abuser, “if it’s really that bad.”
It seems obvious that Susan Powell’s abuse must have been “really that bad” because she went missing in December 2009, and still hasn’t been found, ten years later.
Dave says she knew her husband wanted her dead, because she’d said as much in her journal.
So why didn’t she leave?
Dave has come to learn that there is so much more going on in these relationships than people realize.
She was afraid of her husband, that was obvious, but Dave says he’s probably been very subtle about it.
Another reason Dave believes Susan didn’t leave was because she’d taken such a psychological beating.
“Because living with somebody who, year after year, undercuts you and robs you of your positive self-image, who makes you feel like dirt, like you’re unlovable, it makes the idea of going out into the world by yourself, with your two children, to try to make a go of it, seem very daunting.” -Dave Cawley, Cold podcast host
Susan might not have had an exact answer to the question either, but Dave believes people are asking the wrong question anyway.
“In my opinion, there’s no one clear answer as to why she stayed in that relationship–because I hear that a lot, right, ‘Why did she stay?’ Which, in my opinion, is the wrong focus, the focus should be on why do we have an abusive man who is perpetrating on his wife?” -Dave Cawley, Cold podcast host
Why was Josh Powell, the abuser, so intent on abusing her?
A Murder Victim’s Life Teaches Us That Pornography Use Is Abuse
From one sweep of Josh and Susan’s home, law enforcement officers found pornography on Josh’s computer, which Susan wasn’t allowed to use except to do work for Josh.
Law enforcement officials speculated that, perhaps, Susan discovered this and that was the last straw for her, she got serious about leaving. His secret life exposed, Josh went on a rampage and killed her. At least, that’s the speculated theory behind her disappearance.
As far as Dave could find, Susan had no knowledge of the pornography use. That doesn’t mean she didn’t know, but she didn’t write about it in her journals or talk about it with friends or family, so there’s no way to know for certain. Susan did know that something was “off” in her marriage, but she never said anything about the pornography.
Dave does know that, because Josh was so “protective” of his computer, he was very protective of his secret. This seems to be typical of pornography addicts, especially narcissistic ones.
“They protect that secret life to the exclusion of everything else. I think part of what creates this danger is the idea that when you are exposed, when, say, a spouse discovers this, now this is going to collapse that entire world.” -Dave Cawley, Cold podcast host
Could the theory of Susan finding Josh’s pornography be correct? The truth may never come out.
The secrecy and abuse that surrounds pornography use can’t be anything but abusive.
A Murder Victim’s Life Teaches Us That Narcissistic Abuse Is Real
Diagnosed by a psychologist with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), Josh Powell would go to the extreme to protect his inner self.
Dave believes that Susan had more power than she realized.
“Susan is the meal ticket. She is doing the childcare, she’s doing the breadwinning, she’s taking care of the house. If Susan leaves, Josh is going to have to work and he’s also going to have to explain why his wife left, right?” -Dave Cawley, Cold podcast host
Susan, wanting to “fix” their marriage, tried to get Josh to go to therapy with her. He refused until she threatened to leave.
Even Dave recognizes that Josh’s going to therapy was just more abuse.
“He reluctantly goes along, does the minimum necessary in that situation to just keep her on the hook.” -Dave Cawley, Cold podcast host
Josh had no interest in changing, he was perfect just the way he was.
“I think a lot of these men who are, again, psychologically abusing their spouses and who are violating that trust, they’re not interested in self-improvement for self-improvement’s sake. It is a form of triage.” -Dave Cawley, Cold podcast host
On the outside, Josh, like many abusers, seemed confident and strong. To protect himself, Josh takes out a life insurance policy on his wife and starts planning.
“As a man who’s exhibiting this kind of narcissism, when you face that reality of your world collapsing, versus ‘I’ll just make this person who discovered it, who sees the real me, go away.’ I think that’s part of why we see violence, especially homicide, come into play in those moments.” -Dave Cawley, Cold podcast host
Josh Powell was desperate. He couldn’t let his wife leave and he couldn’t let her discover his secrets, so he took desperate measures.
“I think, when you look at Josh as somebody who is leading a double life, to your other point, very clearly, he was never going to allow Susan to see his true self. He’s never going to concede to her that he’s viewing pornography, that he’s taking all these steps that, in my opinion, were preparatory for killing her and cashing in on her life insurance, because that would reveal the deep insecurity in himself.” -Dave Cawley, Cold podcast host
Dave says doing this podcast made him realize that Susan isn’t the only one who has had to deal with this type of abuse.
A Murder Victim’s Life Teaches Us That There Are Victims Who Aren’t Being Heard
As the Cold podcast series aired, Dave started hearing from other abuse victims.
“A lot of women are dealing with this right now and have never found somebody who they felt safe being very candid with about what they’ve gone through.” -Dave Cawley, Cold podcast host
Many women have reached out to Dave and told him that hearing about Susan’s life was like hearing their own story.
There are many who are being abused and have no one to turn to, no one to trust. Often, these women feel they deserve it or that no one will believe them, and sometimes no one has believed them.
“I think a lot of us hold these personal experiences close. We don’t share them. There is shame that’s attached to it, there is fear of not being believed.” -Dave Cawley, Cold podcast host
Most of the time, the woman isn’t even sure she’s being abused. The culture has taught her that abuse is being hit, kicked, punched, raped, molested or physically injured in some other way.
She hasn’t been taught that lying, gaslighting, deceit and manipulation are abuse.
Dave believes that, as a society, we can change this.
“We need to, in a cultural sense, and, in the broadest way possible, confront our own perceptions on abuse in relationships and start retraining ourselves about how we react to these kinds of situations.” -Dave Cawley, Cold podcast host
What needs to change?
A Murder Victim’s Life Teaches Us What Needs To Change To Stop Abuse
Anne tells Dave that the common theme among women in the betrayal trauma community is that they aren’t believed when they talk about the abuse that they’re experiencing. Often, the abuser, usually a pornography/sex addict, becomes the focus of the couple, leaving his victim to fend for herself and be further abused.
According to Anne, what people don’t realize is that there’s more to the addiction than “just” looking at pornography.
“There are so many other behaviors that are happening here that it’s really important to make sure she’s safe before you do anything else because, otherwise, you’ll get a man in fake recovery.” -Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery
A man in fake recovery, is simply continuing to abuse his victim.
Anne asked Dave what advice he would give Susan, if he could go back in time.
3 Tips For Escaping Abuse From Dave Cawley
- Trust your gut. If it feels like something is off, it probably is. Don’t ignore that feeling.
- You have more support than you realize. A lot of times, we don’t recognize how strong and wide our network is. Reach out, you might be surprised.
- If you leave, you’re going to be okay. It’s scary to leave, but it’s not as scary as you probably think, once you’re on the other side.
The most important thing Dave would want Susan, and other victims, to know is to find safety.
“Get to safety. Do whatever it takes to get to safety and then start rebuilding your life, and you’ll be okay.” -Dave Cawley, Cold podcast host
Since Betrayal Trauma Recovery is all about helping women find safety, so Anne, wholeheartedly, agreed with Dave, and also pointed out that safety could look different for each woman.
“Knowing what safety actually means is really important. Knowing what boundaries really mean is also important because, even women who are divorced, they’re still just being continually abused.” -Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery
Dave said other things he learned from Susan’s life were empathy and belief.
“The empathy that I’m trying to describe is the willingness to start from a position of belief.” -Dave Cawley, Cold podcast host
Dave wanted to share the Susan Powell story so it doesn’t happen again. He says others can start helping by showing empathy for abuse victims and believe them when they tell you about the abuse.
“What the Susan Powell case taught me is how important it is to pause and recognize that we have opportunities to show empathy for one another, to help one another. That is a key piece in making sure that the next Susan Powell story never ends up on the news because that story becomes, ‘This woman got out. She got out safely and she moved on with her life.’” -Dave Cawley, Cold podcast host
Anne is grateful for Dave Cawley and other men like him who are willing to listen to and stand up for abuse victims.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery wants all women who have been betrayed and abused to find safety.
One way we can help is by providing a safe place to share. With more than 15 sessions a week, it’s easier than ever to find a Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group session that fits your schedule without having to leave your home. Each session is led by a Certified Betrayal Trauma Specialist.
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
I have Dave Cawley, the host of the Cold podcast, which was produced by KSL, on this week. This is a continuation of last week’s podcast. If you didn’t listen to last week’s episode, please go back and listen to that one first and then join us here today so you’ll be caught up to speed.
Welcome back, Dave.
Dave: Thanks, so much Anne. I really appreciate it.
A Murder Victim’s Life Teaches Us That Abusers Should Be Punished
Anne: Alright, so we’ve talked about the psychological abuse that Susan endured. We’ve talked about how she didn’t recognize it. I want to talk about Josh’s behavior after the murder, which I think was really interesting.
It’s similar to many abusers after divorce, actually. They blame their situation on their victim, they continue to lie and hide and manipulate people. In Josh’s case, he had this huge crime and all these people looking at him and reporters trying to investigate.
In my case, there’s been nothing. Nobody’s been trying to investigate or find the truth or anything and he’s still an attorney and he’s still doing his job and he’s still lying about me and saying stuff that’s not true. For example, his current congregation thinks that he’s this amazing saint and that his crazy ex-wife has done him wrong and they feel so bad that he’s this victim.
Even in this case with Josh Powell, where there’s a murder and someone is missing, and all these police are trying to find the cause and you’ve got all of these reporters who are investigating and, still, Josh is walking around.
He’s got his kids. He’s still functioning, sort of—I mean he’s not functioning super well, obviously, but he’s still walking around. He’s still free. Now, he’s got a lot of eyes on him. His neighbors are probably looking at him weirdly. I’m sure his life was miserable.
Even in his case, he wasn’t immediately struck by lightning or hit by a bus or put in jail. Even in cases of a crime, it’s difficult to hold them accountable.
Let’s talk about the women who don’t have a crime.
Anne: They’re just psychologically and emotionally abused. There is no crime. Why do you think society is so bad at holding these guys accountable?
Dave: I think, in a legal sense, especially here in the United States, we have this concept of “innocent until proven guilty.” That is very important to remember, when we’re talking about someone being accused of something criminally, but a marriage is a civil contract, it’s not criminal.
You are married to somebody who is abusing you and you seek a divorce. Through the divorce, say it doesn’t go well, the person isn’t amicable because what divorce is ever amicable, but the mind games and petty ways in which very manipulative men, in particular, can work that system to their advantage or try to hurt or undercut their former spouse, it doesn’t rise to that criminal level.
I think a lot of people, in broader society, don’t want to feel like they’re passing judgment on somebody without proof or evidence. The very nature of this kind of abuse—that manipulation, financial control, and emotional abuse—is that there is not a trail of evidence.
Even if you were able to take it to a police officer or a prosecutor, they would say, “Well, what is the crime? There is nothing in criminal statute that this violates.” That person, then, is able to go back into society and say, “Well, look. I’m a good guy. I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Anne: “I’m the victim and she was mad at me.”
Anne: My ex says, “She kicked me out of the house for no reason and then she wouldn’t talk to me.” He doesn’t say, “…because I sprained her fingers and I had a no-contact order from the courts.” He doesn’t tell people that part.
A Murder Victim’s Life Teaches Us That We Aren’t Alone
Dave: Right. We need to, in a cultural sense, and in the broadest way possible, confront our own perceptions on abuse in relationships and start retraining ourselves about how we react to these kinds of situations. Me telling the Susan Powell story resulted in more people than I can even tell you reaching out to share their own personal experiences.
Even talking to you here, Anne, about your relationship, I think is in a similar vein. A lot of women are dealing with this right now and have never found somebody who they felt safe being very candid with about what they’ve gone through.
I think a lot of us hold these personal experiences close. We don’t share them. There is shame that’s attached to it, there is fear of not being believed.
What I, personally, learned was that, when people are willing to share those stories with me, when women come forward and say, “Hey, your podcast sounded like my life.”
The most important thing I can do is express belief and empathy and say, “I’m so very grateful that you’re safe. I’m sorry you have gone through or are going through this horrible circumstance. I believe you.”
That opens a conversation. I strongly feel that that is the path forward in trying to address why abusive men, in particular, are able to just walk away kind of clean and say, “Well, hey, I did nothing wrong.”
Anne: Or, “You know, it didn’t work out. Some marriages don’t work out.” That’s why I created this community. To be that safe place, because other places they might go and say, “Well, he’s using pornography.” And people might be like, “So.”
They’re like, “Well, it hurts and we’re not having sex and if we do have sex it’s confusing. Then he’s lying and then I don’t know what else he’s doing because he’s lying about this.” And people are like, “Well, all guys use porn. Why are you so worried about it?”
There’s that or there’s an alternative side to that and that’s if they go in and say, “He’s using pornography,” and someone immediately says, “Well, then you have to get divorced.”
Anne: And they’re kind of like, “Well, wait.” They’re in this stage where they’re trying to figure out, “Well, I’m not sure if I want to do that.” So, here, at Betrayal Trauma Recovery, we have this safe space.
We’re saying, “We are all about safety. Safety, safety, safety, and we will help you define and figure out what is going on. We recommend that, while you don’t know what’s going on, that you get to safety quickly. Then, from a safe place, you can objectively observe and find out what’s happening.”
Anne: I think it’s really interesting that Susan, I might be wrong so correct me here, but I get the impression that Susan didn’t know about the pornography until the very end. Was there any indication that she knew about it early on?
Dave: I doubt that she did. I mean, as I mentioned in our last conversation, there is some speculation, by some in law enforcement, that maybe she discovered something and that was a catalyst. I’m under the impression that Susan had no clue Josh was viewing pornography.
Anne: In this case I think it’s really interesting. I’m always asking reporters, when you come across a crime or an abuse crime, will you please always report the pornography? Will you always put it in there because? Otherwise, if they say, “He was a murderer,” but they also don’t know there was all this abuse going on otherwise, the pornography isn’t always reported.
I think another thing that’s really interesting is, let’s say a divorce happens and they’ve been going through marriage counseling for 10 or 20 years, and pornography was never discovered but it was always a factor.
A Murder Victim’s Life Teaches Us That Pornography Use Is A Serious Issue
Anne: That is a serious abuse issue. Where a man has a complete and totally seperate life, a double life that they’re living, that they’re keeping secret from their wife on purpose. Then they get divorced and people are like, “Well, they just didn’t get along.” The truth never comes out that he was abusing her psychologically and living this double life the entire time.
The sad thing is that a lot of times she might not know. She might think, “Well, I just wasn’t a good communicator,” or, “I wasn’t attractive enough,” or, “I didn’t make dinner,” or whatever. I think it’s so sad that there are so many women who are blaming themselves when they don’t really understand the full situation.
Dave: And to the point about why do you not hear it reported a lot, if I can talk to that just for a moment?
Anne: Yeah, that would be great.
Dave: It’s a difficult spot because, especially early on in reporting, a lot of times we’re working from a limited amount of information. The Powell case is very unique in that, in putting together the Cold podcast, we had access to a lot of information that was not available to us when Susan first disappeared. The material that was gained through search warrants and subpoenas and things like that.
When I sat down to tell Susan’s story, I was more informed than I think many of us were at the time that she disappeared about what was going on behind the scenes. Say somebody came forward and said, “Yeah, you know Josh goes on the internet and he looks at pornography.”
That is legal. You actually have a First Amendment right, arguably. The courts have defined that pornography is speech. Obviously, it’s subject to some restrictions, in that we don’t legally allow child porn.
You need a nexus that ties it together and without the context of Josh’s and Susan’s journals and all the stuff with these recordings, it’s very difficult to put that together in a way where you see the broader context.
I’m grateful that, with the rise of podcasting and some of this more long-form investigating, we’re better able to make those associations clearer than you’ll ever see on the 10 o’clock news. I think when you look at Josh as somebody who is leading a double life, to your other point, very clearly, he was never going to allow Susan to see his true self.
A Murder Victim’s Life Teaches Us That Narcissists And Porn Aren’t A Good Mix
Josh was a narcissist, and I say that in the sense of a psychologist actually said, “You have Narcissistic Personality Disorder.” He created a persona, the persona of Josh as a young man, and the older he grew the more solidified that persona became.
The inner core, the true identity of Josh Powell, was not something that—because of that outer shell—anybody was ever going to touch, especially and including his wife. Yes, he’s never going to concede to her that he’s viewing pornography, that he’s taking all these steps that, in my opinion, were preparatory for killing her and cashing in on her life insurance, because that would reveal the deep insecurity in himself.
The little version of Josh Powell that could be hurt because the exterior was all about, “He’s the expert at everything. Nobody is smarter than me. My kids are the best kids and can do no wrong because they’re extensions of me.”
It’s a very interesting thing, I think, with men who are abusive in this way, that they, very similarly, tend to show some of these narcissistic traits where they have this secret life. They protect that secret life to the exclusion of everything else.
I think part of what creates this danger is the idea that when you are exposed, when, say, a spouse discovers this, now this is going to collapse that entire world.
As a man who’s exhibiting this kind of narcissism, when you face that reality of your world collapsing, versus “I’ll just make this person who discovered it, who sees the real me, go away.” I think that’s part of why we see violence, and especially homicide, come into play in those moments.
Anne: Yeah, I think so too. I discovered my husband’s porn use 18 months after we had married in the temple and he had promised me over and over that he didn’t use porn. He’d been lying to me and manipulating me the whole time.
I think it’s really interesting that he went into recovery, and when I say that I mean “recovery.” He became the model pornography addict in “recovery,” and we were actually speaking about his “amazing recovery” and I didn’t know that he was still lying and manipulating me.
Near the end I was like, “This is a sham. You are a fake. You are not in recovery. You haven’t been, and you’re speaking to people as if you are.” That is when the violence escalated.
I was like, “I’m not speaking with you anymore.” I quit my job. I was the PR director of a popular pornography addiction recovery practice, so I quit my job. I was like, “No, I am done! I am not going to be like, ‘Oh, you’re in recovery, you’re such a great guy,’ I am done with that.”
I think it’s also interesting that in the pornography addiction recovery space, which you may or may not be very familiar with, when someone enters recovery, everything in that family becomes about him and his recovery. Let’s make sure he is okay. Let’s treat him like he has cancer.
I believe that that’s actually a continuation of the abuse. I think, at that time, they should say, “Okay, she’s a victim of abuse here. She’s been a victim of abuse for ten years, when she didn’t know about his pornography use. Now we know, let’s treat her like she has cancer and let’s make sure she’s safe and then let’s wait at a safe distance to see if he really actually is a safe person to be around.”
That’s not what happens right now. When a couple goes into clergy and says he’s using pornography, they’re like, “Oh okay. Wife, you support him, be supportive.” I’m like, “What?!? No, no, no.”
Anne: That should never happen because you don’t know what else is going on. Get her to safety and then she needs to be supported while he’s held accountable. I think that’s super important. I’m trying to teach everybody that right now, but it’s not getting very far because that’s too scary. It’s too extreme. It’s too, “No, no, no. He’s not a bad guy, he just uses porn.”
There are so many other behaviors that are happening here that it’s really important to make sure she’s safe before you do anything else because, otherwise, you’ll get a man in fake recovery, who—that could feed into that narcissism, right?
Anne: Then everything’s around her. I mean, I can’t tell you how many families, how many women, are spending tons of time reading books about pornography addiction. “How can I support him? How can I make sure I don’t shame him?” On and on and he’s like, “Great! It’s all about me. The relationship is all about me.”
Meanwhile, she can’t live a life because the whole life is about him and his pornography addiction. They have to adjust everything to fit this new reality to make sure he’s okay, which is coddling an abuser, really is what’s happening and, as you can tell, really making me mad.
Dave: Well, and so like Susan, right?
Dave: With Susan and Josh, we see that when Susan is in therapy, Josh is unwilling to go. Susan writes, repeatedly, that she hopes that, if she goes and he sees that it improves her, that he will then be willing to go as well.
I want to go back in time and sit down with Susan and say, “Susan, you do not understand the way your husband’s brain works because that is never going to happen.” The only time he ever goes to therapy is when she confronts him with, “I’m leaving.”
Susan is the meal ticket. She is doing the childcare, she’s doing the breadwinning, she’s taking care of the house. If Susan leaves, Josh is going to have to work and he’s also going to have to explain why his wife left, right?
He reluctantly goes along, does the minimum necessary in that situation to just keep her on the hook. The idea of “Be supportive of your husband, you’re working together, and he’s going to see how it improves me,” Josh has no interest in improving.
I think a lot of these men who are, again, psychologically abusing their spouses and who are violating that trust, they’re not interested in self-improvement for self-improvement’s sake. It is a form of triage.
Anne: Yeah. With me, what happened, was he was the star. He went to so many workshops and seminars for pornography addiction. He had all the right answers, and everybody was like, “Oh, you’re amazing.”
But he wasn’t going to actually improve himself. He was just going to just get tons of praise and people thinking he was smart and really cool. So, my ex actually loved therapy because the therapist thought he was great.
Anne: It can take different forms.
Anne: When people say, “Well, he’s going to therapy, so he’s willing,” sometimes I’m like, “But why is he going to therapy?”
Anne: Is it because he really, genuinely, wants to change? Can you see that? Is he humble? Is he honest? Is he accountable? Or is it because he loves when the therapists think he’s amazing and he doesn’t really want to change because he loves it? That’s what happened with me over and over and over. He was always the star, the smart one.
Anne: From your podcast, we can see why it was difficult for the law to stop Josh Powell, who was under investigation for murder, because they were trying to gather evidence and trying to get information.
Advice To An Abuse Victim
What hope do victims, like me and my community, have of getting help when it’s “just emotional abuse?” What advice would you give that community? What would you say to Susan before the murder—let’s say five years before?
Dave: Yeah. Susan dealt with a lot, I think, of self-doubt. She knew something was wrong in her marriage, and she took some steps to begin the process of extricating herself from Josh and protecting herself.
In my opinion, there’s no one clear answer as to why she stayed in that relationship–because I hear that a lot, right, “Why did she stay?” Which, in my opinion, is the wrong focus, the focus should be on why do we have an abusive man who is perpetrating on his wife?
But, for the sake of argument, if we take this question of why did Susan stay? A lot of people want to blame the Church. People that maybe aren’t from the community, or even who are, who say, “Well, clearly, she was deluded by her religion.” You have other people who want to blame it on x, y, z.
Well, the truth is I think in any of these situations, in any relationship like this, there are a lot of different influences. Susan feels some degree of fear because Josh has made, I think, some threats to her, probably in some very subtle ways, right.
She expresses a fear, at one point of, “Hey, I’m riding my bike to work on 5600 West in West Valley City, this busy road, and how easy would it be for me to have ‘an accident.’” When her father-in-law is writing in his journal that Josh has mentioned, “Boy, he just sure wishes that Susan would get hit by a car.”
I’m looking at that saying, “Yeah, he’s probably told her as much, right. ‘I wish you’d just get hit by a truck.’” She’s thinking, “Oh my gosh. My husband wants me dead,” so you have fear.
Susan goes to the Temple and she prays about it and she has a feeling that she needs to stay. So, you have all of these contrary forces, emotions. What I would tell Susan is, first, trust your gut. Clearly you were concerned enough to feel fear and then you, basically, talked yourself out of it.
Second, you have more support than you realize. Susan had a network of friends and family, who we see after she disappears, catalyze and become this amazing force to advocate for her and for her story, and they’re still doing that now ten years later. That, to me, is amazing and I don’t think she recognized how strong her support network was.
The third thing I would tell her is, “Susan, if you leave, you’re going to be okay.” Because living with somebody who, year after year, undercuts you and robs you of your positive self-image, who makes you feel like dirt, like you’re unlovable, it makes the idea of going out into the world by yourself ,with your two children, to try to make a go of it, seem very daunting.
I have the benefit of looking at Susan from outside of that relationship, and seeing somebody who is incredibly hard-working, who is bright, who loves her boys, who has plenty of admirers, who has a lot of friends, and who makes friends easily. Even for somebody who doesn’t have all those things, it’s scary to leave and take that step, but it’s also not as scary as you probably think it is, once you are on the other side.
Susan would have been okay, as long as she was safe from Josh. Going back to your point, get to safety. Do whatever it takes to get to safety and then start rebuilding your life, and you’ll be okay.
Anne: Yeah, and, in this case, safety might be psychological. Whatever that looks like for you.
Anne: I’m not going to tell victims what that looks like, but then observe from a safe distance because divorce doesn’t stop the abuse.
Anne: It doesn’t, and people don’t understand that either. They’re kind of like, “Why didn’t you get out? Why didn’t you get divorced?” I’m like, “Well, I’m divorced, but he’s still lying and manipulating and saying terrible things about me and abusing me,” every time I have to interact with him, which is minimal.
Anne: He doesn’t take accountability for what happened. To me, it feels like another abuse episode.
Anne: It’s just another time he’s not taking accountability, and, until he can do that and clean up his mess and be accountable, it just feels like it’s never-ending. I just have to protect myself.
Knowing what safety actually means is really important. Knowing what boundaries really mean because, even women who are divorced—like I hold a no-contact boundary and all of my communication with him go through my father—but some people don’t have that, and they’re still just being continually abused.
They haven’t blocked them on their phone, for example, and they’re continually being harassed or manipulated or even their post-divorce is still somehow all about him, which is not cool. It’s not okay.
Lessons From An Abuse Victim’s Murder
To conclude here, at the end of the podcast, you gave a heartfelt plea to society to call out abuse in all of its forms. For my community, that is a daily prayer, that people will start recognizing this. To conclude, what was your biggest takeaway that you learned about abuse, that you didn’t know before you studied the Susan Powell case?
Dave: I could go on. This is a whole other episode. I have been, and continue to be, educated. I’m not afraid to share with you that, as a child, I was a victim of some child sex abuse, and I think it’s a whole other part of this story and many of this similar kind of situations that we don’t talk about candidly.
I feel like I came to my study of the Powell case with something of an understanding of what it is to be a victim in my own way, but seeing the impact that Susan’s story has had opened my eyes in a big way. Even today having this conversation with you Anne, is a continuation of that process.
It’s a matter of learning and forcing the uncomfortable and being empathetic. That’s my biggest takeaway honestly, I think, from seeing that abusive relationship in very close detail is, at its core, it is a lack of empathy on Josh’s part.
Not showing, what I would consider, a human care for another person’s wellbeing. We need to get back to that and prioritize that in our own families and in all of our relationships. In the people that we work with and our friends.
Being okay with being uncomfortable and understating that we don’t have to always agree or get along to care for somebody else. When someone reaches out to you, is part of your community, as “I’m in this really bad situation” and you have your own life, we all have our own daily stress and stuff to worry about, and that can feel like a very heavy weight when somebody brings that to you.
Sometimes you just want to say, “I don’t have the ability to deal with this,” but what the Susan Powell case taught me is how important it is to pause and recognize that we have opportunities to show empathy for one another, to help one another. That is a key piece in making sure that the next Susan Powell story never ends up on the news because that story becomes, “This woman got out. She got out safely and she moved on with her life.”
Anne: I think one of the most difficult things for people is that people like my ex, not so much Josh Powell because he was so dysfunctional, and he seemed so creepy. Especially when his wife has been murdered, and I’m guessing he can’t get a lot of sympathy. But people like my ex, for example, he would say I didn’t have empathy for him. So, he’s going around saying, “She didn’t care for me.” There’s also this dynamic that makes victims extremely nervous.
Anne: When you say empathy because we go, “Whoa, don’t have empathy for my abuser,” because what he’s portraying is all false and anytime someone kind of believes him or nods their head. There is no way for an innocent bystander to know that.
Anne: There is no way that his congregation, right now, would know that his stories, and their empathy toward him, is feeding his narcissism. They wouldn’t know that. Part of it, I think, is determining truth. I think truth is really important. Empathy is super important, but so is truth, because people need to understand that, in some cases, some of their actions could be enabling true harm and it’s very difficult to determine the two.
I don’t fault people for doing it because it’s really, really hard. Studying this type of, I’ll call it evil, basically, as I’ve done the past ten years, is a really strange study to be like, “Okay, how can we recognize evil, when we see it?” When it’s like a wolf in sheep’s clothing type of scenario.
One of the things I really encourage people to do is, if you’re talking with someone, and they’re giving a story of this terrible woman who is controlling and awful. Find out from her. Just go talk to her and see what her story is, if you can. Sometimes that’s impossible, but being a little bit suspect, I think, sometimes, of men who claim to have been abused or men who claim to have been harmed by women.
That is a really good indicator for people of maybe he is actually the abuser. If he’s claiming to have been harmed by a woman or abused by a woman or that she was controlling or angry. Lundy Bancroft says that that’s the number one indicator that you’ve got an abuser on your hands, and he’s one of the world’s foremost experts on abusive men. In fact, you’d really benefit from reading Why Does He Do That by Lundy Bancroft, if you haven’t read it yet.
Dave: Thank you for that, because I think you’re 100% right. When I do talk about empathy, primarily, I’m focusing on empathy for women who are coming out of these situations. Not so much for the “Woe is me, my poor life” guy on the other side of it, because it’s important to be skeptical. I, as a reporter, am skeptical of everything.
But it’s been a retraining to say, “I’m going to start with belief when somebody discloses, ‘Hey, I’m in an abusive situation.’” The natural skeptic in me wants to immediately jump in and say, “Well, okay. But…” That’s not helpful to women who are coming out of these situations. The empathy that I’m trying to describe is the willingness to start from a position of belief.
Anne: Yeah, absolutely. There’s a lot that goes into this whole topic of misogyny and understanding women and the me-too movement. All of these other factors that came about after. The me-too movement happened after Susan’s disappearance.
Dave: It’s not political. Like, I think me-too gets a little politicized and people start wanting to say, “Well, but not all guys.” It’s like no, no, no. Let’s not do that. Let’s just focus on believing and showing empathy for people who are in bad situations who need help.
Dave: That’s all.
Anne: Yeah. Your podcast was amazing. It was gripping. If you have not listened yet, it is on iTunes. It’s called Cold. It is by KSL. What would we put in the search box for that?
Dave: If you just search cold, it should show up. If not, try cold Susan Powell and it will definitely be the top hit.
Anne: Great. If you have not heard it, I would highly recommend it. It is excellent. Thank you so much for your time, Dave. We appreciate you being here.
Dave: Thanks, Anne.
Anne: In listening to this interview again, while I was editing, I recognized that I was talking a lot. I just want to give a shout out to Dave Cawley for the interview, where he was so willing to listen.
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for using this interview as a way to learn more and to listen to a victim’s story. I genuinely felt that you cared about me, personally, and that you care about all victims. Thank you to Dave Cawley and all men who are standing up for abuse victims.
If you are in a relationship with an active pornography user or someone who you suspect is lying to you or manipulating you, there is hope. We have a Daily Support Group, which is online, so you can attend it anywhere in the world. We have multiple sessions a day in multiple time zones.
Because we understand that many women who go for help when they’re in this type of psychological or emotional abuse situation, they don’t get the help that they need immediately.
They spend one to two to seven sessions trying to explain it to a therapist who doesn’t understand, or they go into a clergy that doesn’t quite understand. Our community gets it immediately, and, therefore, we can help you immediately because that’s what we are here for.
Similarly, when you’re trying to figure out what’s going on, abuse situations are happening sometimes almost on a daily basis, and so you need constant contact from someone who can help you make sense of what’s happening.
That’s why there are multiple sessions a day in our Daily Support Group. To check out our Daily Support Group schedule go to btr.org, click on Services, you’ll see the link for the Daily Support Group. We hope to see you in a session soon.
Until next week, stay safe out there.