Please see the edit at the end of the post.
Because of several high-profile domestic violence cases in the last year or so, I’ve been having a lot of conversations that fill my brain with ick. I know we’ve been over at least some of this ground before, but I’d still like to take the time to present the following trufax:
- Very few abuse victims are eligible for sainthood. This does not mean they deserve to be hurt.
There are people out there who have been abused who are drug addicts,* who talk too loud, who text on their phone while driving, who hold appalling social views or who make their poor defenseless dogs wear sweaters. This does not mean that they deserve to be hurt, either emotionally or physically. And if you think that it does, then maybe you should take a long, hard look at why you think violence is the solution to every problem, ever.
- In numerous cases, physically abusive situations begin with both partners physically or emotionally harming each other. This does not mean that what occurred doesn’t “count” as abuse.
I think one of the best examples of this phenomenon that I’ve ever read is Janine Latus’ If I am Found Missing or Dead. In the beginning, Janine hit her husband right back, or even initiated fights. By the end of their marriage? She was completely dominated by him, to the extent that he was forcing her to get unwanted plastic surgery and was tracking her movements online. Oh, and yeah, he was still hitting her,** and she’d stopped hitting back. Funny how abject FEAR does that to you.
The fact that a relationship began with both partners behaving horribly does not negate the fact that one person escalated their violent or controlling behavior far beyond what the other person was doing. To whit: I don’t give a shit if Rihanna and Chris Brown had a “tumultuous” relationship and that she like, totally hit him before that night. He’s the one who escalated to nearly bashing her face in. Saying that she “set that situation up,” or “is equally at fault,” is like saying that it’s okay to respond with a nuclear missile strike when someone shoots an arrow at you. These two actions are not equal. Why on earth do you think they are?
- Violence is never a reasonable or appropriate reaction to emotional pain.
Sometimes it feels like one, but it’s not. As SK wrote about the Tiger Woods scandal over at The Antisocial Ladder:
If the situations were reversed and Tiger had gone tiger on Elin’s car windows, we’d have a completely different scenario. Because Elin did the vandalizing, we default to the ‘woman scorned’ trope, not a domestic violence one. Whereas, if Tiger had the club in his hands, it most definitely would have been the latter.
[. . . .] it’s troublesome that some men and women may think there are no consequences to [vandalism] or that those actions don’t represent a kind of violence that shouldn’t be tolerated by anyone because it’s an acceptable pop culture narrative. Ladies, do we really want to aspire to barbarism? “Me angry! Me throw club at car!”
There are some situations where you may feel as though violence is justified—such as when you find out that your millionaire sports star husband has been cheating on you with dozens of women. But violence is not an appropriate response to emotional anguish. I understand the urge to break shit or break heads when you’ve been dealt that devastating an emotional blow, but seriously. No one deserves to die because of your pain.
- Victims of domestic violence WILL stay, even at the risk of their own lives or the lives of others.
This does not make them “stupid,” or “selfish,” or mean that they “deserve what they get.” This merely means that they are caught up in the twisted internal logic of an abusive relationship: no one will ever love me more than this person, if I leave this person, I will not be able to survive on my own, my children deserve to know their father, etc. A person who is being abused lives in a nightmare world where nothing really makes sense anymore; they are not looking at things in a calm and rational manner, because they are too afraid to. One woman who was later murdered by her husband put off leaving him because she didn’t want her children to have to change school districts. Yeah, you read that right: she had gotten to a place in her mind where it was more important that the kids stay in the tony suburban school than that she be safe. She didn’t feel that way because she was stupid or gullible: she felt that way because she’d been married to this man for years and had been completely undermined by him for that entire time.
- Victims of domestic violence are often afraid for their own lives and/or the lives of their families.
A person may stay because they’ve been conditioned to stay, or they may stay because they’re certain that they’ll be murdered if they don’t. It does happen with distressing regularity. Remember that every time you ask yourself, “Well, why didn’t she just leave?” She may literally have had a gun to her head.
- Victims of domestic violence are often already members of marginalized groups, and that marginalized status is used to undermine them and their claims.
It is not a coincidence that most victims of domestic violence are women. It is also not a coincidence that when you look into victims’ backgrounds, they often contain mentions of things like mental illness and drug addiction. My mental illness was a GREAT weapon for my dreaded ex to use against me: do you have any idea how assiduously he informed our entire sophomore class that I was crazy? What a busy little bee he was! Oh, and the fact that I was fat? Like his birthday and Christmas all rolled in together!
Thing is, I had been taught to hate my body because it was fat, had been taught to take what I could get because I was fat—our cultural attitudes towards the overweight are directly linked to my relationship with that young man. Having the confidence and the education that I have now, I would NEVER have accepted any of his shit: but I was eighteen and had spent every moment since puberty being told that I was ugly and worthless and would never get a man (and should therefore just go ahead and die already). I was pretty much a perfect target, because even though I knew that what he was saying and doing hurt me, I could not make myself believe that I deserved anything better or that I would ever get another boyfriend if I left him.
It’s hard to go against 18 years of social conditioning, y’all.
As for my mental illness…I was not diagnosed until nearly five years later, but when you are crazy, there are signs. OH ARE THERE EVER SIGNS. I don’t think anyone, even the people who loved me, would have ever described me as “playing with a full deck” until I was put on medication at the age of 23. There was something obviously “off” about me, and everyone knew it, including me. This made it incredibly easy for the ex to undermine me with other people, because who believes a crazy girl? Hell, I half didn’t believe myself.
So the next time you think, “Well, she SAYS he did this, but she’s crazy/stupid/an island girl, and you know how THEY are,” just stop it and shut the fuck up. You are just mindlessly repeating a social script, and it benefits no one but a person you would find completely abhorrent if you actually knew the real them.
- Sometimes, victims of domestic violence ARE totally “normal.”
The woman I mentioned, the one who didn’t want to leave her husband because she didn’t want to make her kids change schools? Yeah, she was “normal.” She was middle class, white, no mental illness, reasonable intelligence, thin, and with a loving, stable family. She even taught preschool at a church kindergarten. There was no “reason” for her to get involved with this man, for her to end up being murdered by the father of her children. No reason that we can shift on her, anyway.
Fact of the matter is, although plenty of victims of domestic violence have big skeletons in their closets, plenty of others don’t. There is no rhyme or reason, no magic formula that says, “This person will be hurt, and this person will be safe.” There is no quality that makes you impervious to abuse. There is no way to guarantee that this will not happen to you. The only thing you are doing when you look for a reason or for an excuse is making it that much harder to get help if you need it. Promise.
So seriously, for the sake of everyone, including yourself? Accept these facts as facts and behave accordingly.
*I don’t personally feel that being addicted to drugs makes you a “bad person,” but I’ve seen a lot of “Oh, well, whatever, she’s a druggie, too,” with the Mueller/Sheen debacle, so I thought I’d at least tacitly address it. My point was that if you honestly believe that a person has to be perfect in order to not “deserve” being abused, then we’re all fucking screwed.
**ETA: As Janine pointed out in comments, her husband’s physical abuse ceased later in their marriage. Sorry for the error.