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Not to People Like Us: Domestic Abuse in Upscale Families

Susan Weitzman’s new book, Not to People Like Us, Domestic Abuse in Upscale Families, is an excellent primer on the fundamentals of partner abuse: what it is, what are the signs and symptoms, theories of causation and interventions. It is also a fascinating examination of a significant segment of abused women, those from what she calls “upscale families,” who have until now received very little attention. Dr. Weitzman has worked with these women in her own practice, and she did research about them for her dissertation, the basis for this book.

Weitzman systematically lays out the reasons that these women—highly educated with high incomes, often professionals themselves married to top professionals in their fields—have not been on the radar screen of domestic violence advocates and often have not been able to access resources that might assist them. As Weitzman describes, the reverse bias is based on false assumptions that these women have their own resources and can get out of their dangerous relationships on their own. It is compounded by a “veil of silence,” perpetuated by the myth that domestic violence doesn’t happen to the affluent woman. Too often, even when these women ask for help, their request is greeted with disbelief and dismissed.

Weitzman provides important insights into why women with the financial and professional resources to leave find it so hard to extricate themselves from abusive relationships: wrenching disruption of their and their children’s lives; loss of income and status; as well as fear for their lives. Too frequently high-achieving women, who have mastered so much in their lives, feel that they can overcome this challenge too, much to their detriment.

Weitzman also makes clear that too often these abused women are turned away by the professionals from whom they seek help. A cultural climate, she argues, needs to be created so that any woman who comes forward does not have to fear that her claims will be met with derision. Doctors, social workers, lawyers, clerics need to be sensitized to the fact that abuse cuts across all socio-economic strata.

This is an excellent book, accessible to the lay public and substantive for professionals in the field. Hopefully it will be widely read and will help put to bed the myth that the well-to-do woman is safe from abuse.  

Anita Altman is an executive at UJA-Federation of New York. She is also the founder of the UJA-Federation Task Force on Family Violence.