I had just finished speaking on a panel about domestic abuse when she came up to me.
“Thank you so much.” She said. “I especially related to what you had to say about the second level of abuse you receive when family and friends don’t support you after speaking out about abuse.”
“Yeah, it’s terrible isn’t it?” I said, rubbing my tired eyes. It had been a long day and an intense panel discussion. “No one wants to believe that anyone they know is capable of such awfulness. It’s a blind spot most people have.”
A few other people were waiting to speak to me and the woman left.
That night a friend of mine who knew the lady said that he had been chatting to her after the panel. They had been talking about her brother who my friend knew to be very violent and abusive towards his current girlfriend.
“I don’t know what to do about him. It’s such a toxic relationship.” the woman said.
Thinking that they were on the same page my friend cautiously said “Yeah it’s terrible what he’s doing to her.”
The woman was immediately defensive and said “She is very toxic, she’s so bad for him. She’s abusive to him you know.”
My friend shut down the conversation quickly. The police had been involved previously regarding this man’s violence towards his partner so there was no question that he had been violent and abusive towards his partner.
My friend and I marvelled at how this woman could attend a talk on people not believing that their friends and family were capable of abusive behaviour, could have experienced this very thing herself when she spoke out about the abuse she had experienced and yet not grasp that the situation with her brother and his girlfriend was exactly the same.
About 6 months later I was performing at an event for Women’s Rights. There was a guy there who is well known locally as a campaigner for social justice issues and he performed a piece about equality that night. Several months later this man would enter my life again as I read a letter he wrote to a victim of domestic abuse. The abuser was this man’s friend. In his letter he tried to make my friend believe that she was mad. He told her to stop telling other people what happened to her and to stop speaking out, he told her that he would help her.
He sent a psychological nurse (who was also a friend of the abusive man) to meet her. This man suggested that she had made it all up. This nurse told her not to go to the domestic violence services saying they were all “man-hating feminists”. As a result of these two men’s dangerous interference my friend was suicidal, not knowing who to trust.
Again I marvelled at how this man, who had performed at events to raise money and awareness for women’s issues, could be so publicly against violence towards women, except for when it was his friend who was the perpetrator of the violence. Then he was happy to throw the woman under the bus.
An acquaintance I know threatened violence towards two of my friends in writing, suggesting these feminist women needed “a slap”. I told a friend about it, knowing that she knew this guy. As someone who had previously been very supportive of women speaking out about abuse and violence towards women I thought she would want to know what kind of guy he was. She made all the right noises to me about how awful his behaviour was and then continued to stay friends with him.
I saw them out together a few weeks ago.
I have so many stories like this that I have lost count. All of these people are against violence towards women in theory. But when the oppressor is their friend or their brother or their relation then no. Then seemingly, it is ok, acceptable even for abuse to occur, OR they simply refuse to believe that their loved one is capable of such a thing and the woman must be lying.
But someone is doing all this abusing of women (and of course men can be victims of abuse too, though the percentage of male victims is considerably lower than that of female victims). Statistically where I live it is one in 4 relationships that are abusive. That is 25% of the population here. So somewhere in the region of that number of the people you know are likely to be being abused or are abusive.
Why does our relationship to someone trump their cruelty to others? Why are we so ready to believe “there are two sides to every story/we should not get involved/mind your own business/there must be more to it/she’s no angel either” and so reluctant to believe that someone we know, someone we care about could be abusive? Why is the default position to make excuses for the abuser or refuse to believe the victim?
Domestic abuse specialists will tell you that the perpetrators are exceptionally good at making themselves out to be the good guy, and sometimes even, the victim. They are often the last person anyone would suspect of being capable of abuse. This makes it so much harder for their victims to come forward, knowing that so few people will believe them. Because so few people do believe them.
What about if we all knew the signs to look for? What about if we all understood abuse and how it manifests? What if we as a society decided that respectful communication was the baseline for relating?
I want to live in that world.
And to any woman out there who has been a victim of abuse – I believe you. I mean it, if you come and tell me my son or my brother or my dad or my friend has abused you you will have my support.
My relationship to no man trumps your right to respect, justice and truth.
A bit about Domestic Abuse.
Abuse can be sexual, emotional, financial, physical or a mix of some of these.
Abuse can be subtle. Abuse manifests as consistent and deliberate disrespect.
People with an abusive mindset have 2 core beliefs:
- A core belief in inequality (they are more important than anyone else)
- A sense of entitlement (they are entitled to treat other people however they want.)
Womens Aid 1800 341 900 National Freephone Helpline