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March 20, 2023 8 min read
Women fight a daily battle for equal treatment in society. A battle that should be somewhere adjacent to over by now, but is far from it. In the era of #Metoo and the women’s marches, sexual assault and harassment are being openly discussed, and the public is much more educated about rape and rape survivors than they were a mere five years ago.
People have opened their eyes to see the unfiltered awfulness of what survivors of sexual assault are left to contend with. These movements have instilled bravery when it comes to people speaking up and reporting. Now there is a solid sense of community and understanding of survivors that did not exist 20 years ago.
The progress these movements have achieved is astounding.
But the same cannot be said about educating the masses on domestic violence. The stereotypes and stigmas surrounding abusive relationships haven’t seen as much of a change as my mind has throughout the years.
Yes, domestic violence survivors will get heartfelt sympathy and empathetic cooing, but it’s not uncommon for all that to be paired with a good critical side-eyeing.
Sexual assault is viewed as something terrible that happened to someone. Domestic violence is regarded as something terrible a person allowed another person to do to them.
I realized a long time ago that people don't like, or are afraid of what they can't understand.
That lack of knowledge may be responsible for the contempt of some harbor toward domestic violence survivors.
This annoyed me to no end.
I thought if only domestic violence survivors could make the publicsee. If only they were given the chance to speak out. To come together and educate the masses like sexual assault survivors were.
Humans are a voyeuristic species after all. It’s in our nature to grab a microscope and a magnifying glass to carefully examine a stranger’s reasons why.
That was it! The cliche light bulb switched on. The steps to an idea were formed.
Creating a dialogue, educating the public about the whys and how's could potentially translate to better help for women seeking to escape an abusive relationship.
I was well aware not many would step forward. After all, they had been through, why on earth would they parade their stories to the public? Especially when they know a considerable amount of that public holds an unsavory opinion of them?
But if they had the opportunity to speak out without sacrificing their anonymity…
And so it began.
It would be a step in the right direction. A baby step, granted, but a baby step beats standing still every time.
I wanted real people answering a real question uncensored and in the heat of the moment. No scheduled interviews, no trained violent relationship experts or mental health specialists.
I needed the answers from the everyday women I passed on the street. After some digging, I stumbled across a private domestic violence survivor and awareness support group. The group was decently large, but I doubted my chances of being given access to it in any capacity, interloper that I was.
But nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? I typed out a message to the group founder/leader before I lost my nerve. I explained to her that I wanted to be the voice the members of her group could communicate through without facing fear or judgment.
I requested her permission to present one question to the entirety of the group: What is one thing you want people to know about the reality of living through domestic violence?
To say the next few days were emotionally draining would be an understatement. Reading all the posts on the group’s page was like reading the private diary entries of a thousand strangers.
There was suicidal ideation, pleas for help, photos of bruises, cuts, gashes and blackened eyes.
Self-hatred and hopelessness were repeating themes. Women expressing the terror they felt over their abuser finding them again was recurring. Some women had gotten out of the relationship years ago butstilllived in fear of their abuser locating them.
There wasfury at how the legal system manages domestic battery cases in specific states.
Women were assisting other women with mapping out their escape plan. Women whohadescaped their abusers were convinced there was no better future out there for them, they saw themselves as nothing more than damaged goods.
Cunning abusers had brainwashed their partner to believe they'd win custody of the kids if they were to leave them (how could they be seen as a fit parent if they’d been unable to protect themselves?). Because, you know, obviously the hothead going around beating people creates such a warm and loving family atmosphere. Take notes, Hallmark.
People didn't have the resources or financial stability to leave the abuser.
He'd promised never to do again. Look, it'd been months since he last experienced an "episode”--this was a slip up--please don't give up on him!
He'd threatened to kill family members or pets if she everdreamtof leaving him.
One of the most haunting, not to mention heartrending, posts came from a mother of a woman in her early 20’s. She’d begged for the women to get out before more mothers ended up losing their daughter as she’d lost hers. This was the accompanying description for the handful of photos she posted.
The photos were taken at her daughter's funeral.
The funeral had been open casket.
Victim shaming was sprinkled in some of the comment sections. Why people spent their free time blaming and taunting members of a support group was beyond me.
Women celebrated the anniversary or marked the years since they’d broken free of their abuser. I learned that abusive relationships are a mental prison as much they are a physical one; abusers thrive on wreaking full mental warfare on their partners.
After much lurking, still wary of being scorned as a group intruder, I posted my own story as a family member of a domestic violence survivor. Next was the explanation of the article I was planning to write and all it entailed.
I posted my question.
Most group members were too caught up in their hell to set aside time for introspection. But I did secure some thorough responses.
“The fact that domestic violence is out there, and that it is real. So many people still do not feel this issue is real. They just sweep it under the rug and look the other way. Domestic violence victims are typically afraid to speak up either because they are either afraid of the abuser, or no one believing them. And men that are abused are ashamed they were abused in the first place.”
Fear of the abuser can run deep. This stumps some people--how can one ordinary human being be so terrified of a fellow ordinary human being?
It's not such a head-scratcher when you take into account, it’s common for abusers to be narcissists or sociopaths.
People with these personality disorders are a far cry from your average John and Jane Does.
They tend to be ruthless, with no care for the safety of others or themselves. They will stop at nothing to preserve their self-pride and public image. Losing at anything is unacceptable. At their ultimate worst; narcissists and sociopaths are a kamikaze of a human being.
Ain't no mountain high enough when they are feeling determined.
Example: my sister's abuser once rallied for weekly supervised custody visits with his child. The show this man put on was almost disturbing, that’s how convincing his emotional delivery was. He was the epitome of the father who would be lost and bereft if he was cut off from his child.
So what happened with those visits he fought so doggedly in court for?
After it became clear these visits weren't an automatic avenue to my sister, they ended.
That first visit was the one and only he ever showed up for.
“The betrayal is the worst. The man you are in love with is abusing you. It is the most crushing thing to wrap your head around. You wonder if he ever loved you, or were you simply a target from the start?”
The group taught me the course of a relationship turning abusive can be a lengthy one. It doesn’t rapidly escalate from dreamy romance on the first date to vicious stomach punching after the third. You can be years into a marriage, built an entire life with and around, this person before their violent side emerges.
Abusers take methodical steps to guide their target exactly where they want them.
Their suggestion to move from the city to the countryside may be a step in separating their target from family and friends. Isolating them from their loved ones would mean they’d have no one they could readily run to, or confide in.
“That it's not just easy to "just leave"..... Everyone tells you to leave, leave, leave--but don't understand the inner workings of why it’s not that simple. And asking why we stayed? That's a loaded question too. Because the reality is not the same for a domestic violence victim as it is for the rest of the world, and that trauma bond is real. Even if you know in your heart you're going to be ok financially or whatever without that person, it's the emotional bond that is so, so hard to sever. My ex would have killed me if I didn't finally get up the strength to realize I needed to get away for both my safety and my sanity. People who have never been in this situation can judge and question easily from the outside, but until you have truly been a victim of it you will never understand the amount of mental and psychological damage it does to one person. I would love to tell you life goes back to normal once you leave, but it doesn't. My life is riddled with nightmares, anxiety, and fear I can't shake even though he's now sitting in a prison cell. It changes who you are and who you become. We grow from these experiences, but are forever changed because of them.”
There you go. You got you the whys and explanations. Did alter anything for you?
Perhaps you’re looking at the problem from the wrong angle?
The reality of life as a domestic violence survivor isn't a laundry list of whys and character flaws. It’s a list of symptoms of a worldwide epidemic.
Women are demonstrating their power and ability to persist nevertheless in this era of highs and lows. In the pursuit of equality and respect, we have come leaps and bounds.
Giving a voice to the survivors gave me peace of mind along with honest faith that domestic violence will one day achieve that critical level of public understanding.
One day victims will be able to report without hesitation. They’ll create an escape plan because they’ll know they don't deserve their partner’s horrific treatment of them. They will rest assured that the law will protect them. Accessible resources and support will be bountiful.
I’m conscious of the fact that writing this will not turn the world on its axis, but if it opens even one mind I will consider it a resounding success.
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