Jane Ruffino originally posted this on Facebook. Facebook took it down. Fuck you, Facebook.
Exactly a year ago, my then-boyfriend put me in a headlock and punched me until his hand shattered. The only reason I didn’t die on my bedroom floor on the night of May 3, 2012 is that he didn’t know where to put his thumb when he made a fist. It wasn’t the first time, nor, I’m sad to say, was it the last time, but it was the one he got caught for, and the one I can’t get sued for talking about.
He spent the night in a hospital, having his hand rebuilt with pins. I spent the night strapped to a trolley in a different hospital, having everything x-rayed. I left with stitches in my face and my blood-soaked clothes in a Dunnes Stores bag. He left the hospital five days later, in a cast, and with a diagnosis of “work and home stress”.
I still get concealer in my scar (and it is still sore), and I’m still not totally safe, but I’ve started to rebuild my life, and it’s getting pretty good. But while my life improves, dudes are still beating up women.
As much as I’d like to shut up about this and have people stop identifying me with something that happened to me, it’s not that common for an abuser to be convicted. I’m in a position to do something that many women are not, so I’ll keep talking until dudes stop beating up women.
We all know victims, so we all know perpetrators. It’s always someone you wish it weren’t. Believe me, I know this better than anyone.
Even though you can’t make a relationship with a violent dickhead safe for his girlfriend (or possibly for any woman), we can make the world safer for women by making it harder to get away with cracking our faces open.
Here’s some of what I think we need to do differently.
1. Swap your sympathy for empathy, and get angry: Nothing could get better for me until I got really angry, and empathy helped me get there. Empathising with me means you’ll stop asking me why I stayed, and assume that, like with any violent crime, it could happen to anyone. Empathising with him means you accept that it’s done by seemingly normal human beings, and not by easily identifiable monsters.
I do appreciate the “Sorry for your troubles”, but I’d rather you be angry with me than sad on my behalf. I know the sympathy comes from the right place, but it can feel a little like a pat on the head, and even a bit isolating. We live in a world where you can beat your girlfriend nearly to death and walk out of a criminal court straight into a pub for a burger and a pint. That should piss you right the fuck off, so if you don’t think it’s my fault, then don’t make it all my responsibility.
2. Trust us: Women like me lose the ability to trust ourselves, and we don’t often speak believably about what’s happening until it’s well in the past. Even I sometimes don’t believe me. And yes, we all take them back. It seems to have undermined my credibility with a lot of people, forever. Because hey, if I hadn’t been exaggerating all along, then why would I take someone back after he put me in the hospital?
I managed to gloss over the time I woke up with a pillow being pushed to my face. I didn’t want to believe he was capable of it any more than you did, so you should probably trust that I’m not going to make this shit up.
3. Start calling bullshit: Does your friend, your brother, your colleague insist that his girlfriend or wife is“batshit crazy”? Does she sound like a wild-eyed shrieking harpy who is totally ruining his life? I’ll tell you something: having the shit slapped out of you makes you a little crazy. Five weeks after I contacted his family to ask them to help him, I was in the hospital with a busted face. They hadn’t believed me because they’d been told I was crazy. I’m not, by the way, which I feel the need to say because trauma does all sorts of things to you, whether or not you ever get your face broken. But maybe if someone had started calling his bullshit years ago, he wouldn’t have ended up the way he is, and I would not have to rebuild my life and my sense of self.
Try it. Next time some guy says “She’s crazy”, assume what he really means is, “I’m an enormous dickhead with no respect for women.”
4. Stop looking for the truth: My account is true and real, and verified in a criminal court, but his account also represents a world he truly lived in. The fact is, we were both delusional. He believed I was a monstrous asshole, and I thought if I stopped being such a monstrous asshole, he would stop throwing things at my head and be the loving boyfriend he promised he’d be – if I only changed a few more things about myself.
It’s a Venn diagram, where the overlapping bit was “Jane is an irredeemable piece of shit”. It’s when I started insisting I was a worthy human being, when the punches and the slaps would start. You can rearrange the data points all you like, and get a hundred different versions, but there is no grey area between two overarching perspectives where you’ll find the truth you’re looking for. That crisscrossing of narratives applies to normal human relationships, but these were two competing and incompatible narratives, neither of which were rational.
This was a situation where I was trying to have a normal relationship with someone who once threw a pint of beer over me to prove he wasn’t an alcoholic. OK, so maybe that is a little crazy.
5. Let go of the checklist: You know the one. You Google “emotional abuse” because someone was a dick to you, and there it is. It’s a useful guide, perhaps, but you can’t identify abuse through a Cosmo quiz. Yes, abusers fit a profile, and in some ways, they’re all the damn same. They all try to smash your computer. They all put your phone through a wall. They all search your fucking email. And they all cry and beg for your love right after you’ve cleaned up the glass they smashed at your feet.
But there are times when we all fit the more minor things on those checklists. I’m talking about the name-calling, the voice-raising, the times we manipulate and goad and cajole our partners; it’s not OK, but it doesn’t make your relationship an abusive one. I’ve seen you cringe and turn all confessional when I tell you about things he did -– you’re like me, trying to make absolutely sure the same terrible tendencies aren’t in you. Every one of us probably has the capacity to turn into despots, or become complicit in terrible acts. Being mean doesn’t make us despots, but covering up domestic violence does make us complicit.
Working only from a checklist makes it easy to ignore the enormous difference between acting like a dick in an argument, and wanting absolute power over your partner. I’d hate to add up the amount of money I spent on therapy, desperately trying to understand if I was really the abuser all along. Until one day the penny dropped: sometimes I am a fucking asshole,but that doesn’t make me an abuser. Maybe this is obvious to you, but it was news to me. And yes, I still feel the need to prove it over and over, and I’ll never fully believe it myself.
Even I’m still looking for the truth, and I’m never going to find it.
6. Get over your need to diagnose: We live in a pathology-obsessed world. “He sounds like a psychopath.” “That’s sociopathic!” “How totally psychotic!” “Is he bipolar?” I don’t know, and frankly, unless you’re his doctor, it’s neither your place nor my place to slap a diagnosis on someone based on my description of him, especially given the bias I have since he cracked my face open like an egg.
Diagnosis is also what he used on me, as part of his pattern. I was Google-diagnosed with everything from premenstrual dysphoria to narcissistic sociopathy to -– wait for it -– Munchausen’s By Proxy (I told him I thought he drank too much). I think diagnoses are partly a form of excuse-making, but also, sometimes people are just assholes.
If you want to ask what diagnosis is most likely for him, try to be satisfied with “gigantic piece of shit”.
7. Focus on the perpetrator: Outside of gender-based violence, is there any other crime where the focus is so much on the victim that the criminal becomes practically invisible? Remember his name; forget mine: his name is Mark Patrick Kenneth Jordan and he broke his hand off my face. I get that it comes from a good place when you say I’m the last person you’d think it could happen to, but there’s an uncomfortable implication that it had more to do with me than it did with him.
In fact, he used my outward confidence to his advantage; it made me less believable, and it made people question me. Because rather than seeing me as the sort of person who sends work emails with my neck strapped to an emergency-room trolley, my ability to cope made me look suspicious. I don’t know what’s more humiliating: knowing people think I’m a domineering and irredeemable asshole, or people knowing how easily I caved on just about everything.
But until we shift the discussion from “Why do so many women get abused?” to “Why do so many men beat their partners?” it will continue to be a sympathy-driven discourse that puts the onus on the victim to stop getting her ass kicked.
8. Cut out the platitudes: It’s not that I don’t understand what you mean by “There’s nothing you could have done” or “Nobody deserves it” or “Even if you were batshit crazy” – I get it, but those phrases are meaningless. When I say that I want to find out why I am afraid of spiders but not the guy who smashed a door to splinters with his bare hands, I’m not blaming myself for staying. When I talk about the things I did wrong, I’m not blaming myself, I’m actually kind of revelling in the fact that I’m now safe to be a complicated and flawed human being without getting a smack for it. Just respect my intelligence and my agency, and accept that I am able to grasp the complex dynamics; I still want to understand why I had such terrible risk assessment.
I think that people are pretty good, generally, that most people try to do the right thing, but platitudes are part of an “I don’t want to get involved” attitude. You’re involved, like it or not. You think I wanted to be involved?
Stop spouting cliches and talk for real. As long as what you say isn’t worse than “you fisheyed c*nt”, you can be sure I’ve heard worse.
9. Stop raising awareness and start demanding consequences: The week of Mark’s sentencing, Women’s Aid did a balloon launch. Women’s Aid is an indispensible organization that does great work, but what does PR fluff achieve? How much more aware of violence against women do you need to be before you do something? And are we so afraid of women’s anger that our own organisations are resorting to nice-girl complacency?
Pretty much every one of my calls to the cops – even with a barring order in place – was met with dismissiveness and impatience. They won’t start taking women like me seriously until the community makes it impossible to get away with beating us up.
It’s a crime against the state, which means the victim is only a witness. Violence against women is a crime against you.
10. Don’t hit women: It’s statistically likely that some of you reading this hit your partners, or will eventually. If this is you, then, hey – go fuck yourself.