Several years ago I had just found the courage to leave an abusive relationship. By this stage I’d been receiving help from the Domestic Abuse services for over a year, having been ready to leave a year earlier only to find out I was pregnant. The D.A counsellor advised me not to leave until my baby was born, so I stayed. Even though the man I was with was financially and emotionally abusing me. He was also neglectful of my physical needs, leaving me without food or water for over 24 hours when I was to sick to walk, and he would mock me when I complained of the pain that caused me to have to use a walking stick for the final 2 months of my pregnancy.
I had a Skype conversation with my closest relative, my sister, then living on the other side of the world to me. During the call my sister was very dismissive of my concerns about the relationship with Sean. After I got off the call she sent me the following email.
I felt the email exchange was worth putting in the public arena (with names changed) as since this time I have supported many women who have been in similar situations to me and in EVERY single case at least some members of the woman’s family have reacted in what I would consider to be a fairly appalling way to the news that their sister/daughter/niece has been a victim of domestic abuse.
Here’s what my closest relative had to say to me:
“Hello darling, I’m feeling very sad after our conversation and wanted to write to say that I hope you are not upset. I felt like I had to say something to you about how concerned I am about you, but I understand that this is a very difficult thing to talk about, especially as I am not there. I have been worried about you ever since you started talking about domestic violence in your relationship with Sean, initially because the example you used (which was about how he spoke to you when he brought you soup in bed one day when you were sick) was so far removed from my understanding of domestic violence. Since you brought this issue up I have looked a little into domestic violence, and while I don’t know as much as you or (obviously) someone who works or is trained in domestic violence, I am still concerned that the situations you talk of as domestic violence aren’t domestic violence. I believe that you believe Sean acts abusively towards you but even from the most basic look into what constitutes verbal or emotional abuse, the situations you have told me about do not meet my understanding of such. I know that the counsellors at the clinic have told you that it is a situation of domestic violence, so perhaps there is more to the abuse than you have told me, but I also don’t think you would have gone to a domestic violence support service if there wasn’t some part of you that already believed you were in a domestic violence situation. I think that part of why I doubt whether the situation is domestic violence is that, for example, all of the books you have read except one do not support your claims of domestic violence, but the one book you have chosen to believe is the book that supports your idea.
Despite that, I think if you believe you are being abused then something is terribly, terribly wrong in your relationship and I am so happy that you have left the relationship and moved out on your own. I have wanted to say something to you for a long time but decided to wait until after you had removed yourself from living with Sean before I said anything because I didn’t want to add to your stress, and I think moving out is a very good thing, and I also don’t want to be one of the people in your life who does not believe you. This is the most serious of situations and you know that I love and support you no matter what. The only reason I am writing this, and telling you what I think, is because I am worried about you, worried about your wellbeing and your relationship with Sean. The repercussions of saying something to you are too severe for me to say any of this without having thought long and hard about it, and there is no-one in my world who I love and trust more than you, or want better for.
I don’t know what to do from here. I would like to talk more with you about it but I understand that you might not trust me to talk to me about this any further. Again, I am only expressing these concerns because I am worried about you. It has nothing to do with not wanting to hear it or denying that it is true – it just genuinely doesn’t seem like domestic violence to me, and I am worried that these allegations could cause serious harm to you or your kids or Sean. If there is more than I know, I apologise so very much for doubting you, but I hope you will take these words with the love and concern that they are intended with.
Lots of love, Cass xxx”
“Of course I am upset. I am extremely upset and I’m also very, very angry.
When someone comes to you to say they are being abused how irresponsible and how arrogant to not take that extremely seriously. Added to that you have not even read the material I asked you to read. You then questioned my sanity after not bothering to find out more information or read the book.
I have repeatedly told you about Sean’s treatment towards me, the financial pressure he has put on me (which is financial domestic violence), the continual disrespect, the physical and emotional neglect, and the emotional abuse. None of these things were isolated incidents, they have been the hallmarks of our relationship since the very start. You said in our conversation earlier that you believed that some of the things Sean had done were abusive. If you believe that some of the things he did were abusive, then it stands to reason that he is an abuser, and therefore I am being abused.
The level of disrespect in our relationship is extremely high. In order for there to be disrespect there has to be a belief in inequality and a belief in inequality is the basis of domestic violence.
The DV services state that emotional abuse is worse than physical violence as there are no outward signs. I am unable to show you the deep wounds to my psyche from being continually disrespected, from being called lazy and useless, from having my work and contributions constantly devalued, from severe physical neglect, from the cruelty I have experienced. I am sorry I never got a punch so I could take a photo or file a police report so that you would believe me. I would rather have been punched than have what has happened to me over the last few years as from a victim’s point of view it is the more subtle forms of abuse that are harder to pick up on – there is nothing so obvious as a fist to let you know you’re being abused. If I’d had a punch in year one I’d have known and been the hell out of the relationship.
If you genuinely don’t believe I have suffered emotional/mental abuse then I would ask you what is it exactly that you think emotional/mental abuse is? What has to happen for you to believe it is abuse? How have you lowered your standards so much that you cannot see that his behaviour towards me is abusive? This attitude you have is indicative of a very big problem with the general population’s ignorance about DV. You think that these very low standards do not constitute abuse. This makes me worried for you, about the kind of relationships you have had/may have if you cannot see that this is abusive. How can you protect yourself from abuse when you have such a poor understanding of it? How can you be a responsible member of society without a knowledge of abuse?
I have consulted more than one domestic violence service and been told that I am a victim of domestic violence so my belief is based on professionals who work in this area, who work with abused women every day combined with the book they recommended I read, Lundy Bancroft’s book. It is Lundy Bancroft who is asked to speak and provide information to Domestic Violence services here and in America, not the authors of the other books I bought from Amazon (not from the recommendations from trained professionals).
I went to the domestic violence services after picking up one of their leaflets and reading the checklist and seeing that I was able to answer yes to some of the questions they use to determine if a relationship is abusive. I did not believe I was in an abusive relationship but having explored every other angle I thought I would go and see them, even though the whole thing made me feel very uncomfortable. I told the counsellor why I was there and relayed experiences I had had during my relationship with Sean and I was told very early on that I was most definitely in a relationship with an abusive man. You have stated in your email that you have looked a “little” into Domestic Violence. I would like to ask what books have you read or professionals have you talked to? And why did you not read the book I recommended? (the book that was recommended to me by trained professionals, and the book that they told me to ask my friends and family to read).
You made it sound as if you believed I had a desire to believe that I was in a DV relationship. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am also wondering if you think I am making up or embellishing stories for the DV services to validate my so called ‘desire’ to be in a DV situation. I really don’t know what I’m being accused of, but it feels very sinister as well as being incredibly upsetting and unsupportive. Consider the possibility that I am right and you are wrong, how awful, how sinister would it be to discredit your own sister in this way?
I find it really shocking that with your limited knowledge on abuse you still feel it’s ok to question the validity of what I’m telling you, this despite the fact that Sean himself is able to see that he has been abusive and that I have seen various professionals with years of experience in this area who say the same thing.
I am going to go through your email bit by bit.
Hello darling, I’m feeling very sad after our conversation and wanted to write to say that I hope you are not upset.
How inhumane to not think I’m going to be upset by your distressing take on my situation. How could you have such a high level of detachment to not think I would be upset when you yourself say you believe that I believe I’m being abused. It would be impossible for anybody in my situation to not be upset. How can you have such a lack of judgement about what will upset me?
I felt like I had to say something to you about how concerned I am about you, but I understand that this is a very difficult thing to talk about, especially as I am not there. I have been worried about you ever since you started talking about domestic violence in your relationship with Sean,
This is very condescending and patronising language. Also I am distressed by your use of the phrase “ever since you started talking about dv” as if a woman is not supposed to talk about dv. You should be concerned that I’m in this situation, not that I’m talking about it. The motto for the DV services is “break the silence” there is a very important reason for this. What use breaking the silence though if when you do people don’t believe you?
initially because the example you used (which was about how he spoke to you when he brought you soup in bed one day when you were sick) was so far removed from my understanding of domestic violence.
What exactly is your understanding of dv? Someone with a knowledge in this area would know that that situation re the soup was a perfect example of a person with an abusive mindset. It was not even a very subtle example, it was no small thing. My physical needs were forgotten about and I was spoken to very rudely when I was in a vulnerable situation and unable to look after myself. The whole situation that day showed Sean’s lack of humanity, he was not even remorseful about his behaviour. As my sister I would have thought that you would have been shocked and distressed to hear that I received such a poor level of care when I was so ill. How much worse could he have treated me for you to agree that his behaviour was abusive. I experienced a high level of physical neglect that day. I am the one with a lot of knowledge in this area and yours is the naive and crude understanding of what the reality of what dv is. If this is your level of understanding you need to learn more, for your own sake at the very least.
Since you brought this issue up I have looked a little into domestic violence, and while I don’t know as much as you or (obviously) someone who works or is trained in domestic violence, I am still concerned that the situations you talk of as domestic violence aren’t domestic violence.
How can you make this judgement that it is not domestic violence when you agree yourself that you have only looked a “little” into the subject. How arrogant of you to assume you know more than people trained in this area. The main person I have been seeing has been working 15 years as a counsellor and 15 years as a Domestic Violence counsellor, I am certain she has more knowledge in this area than you.
I believe that you believe Sean acts abusively towards you but even from the most basic look into what constitutes verbal or emotional abuse, the situations you have told me about do not meet my understanding of such.
Why would you even say this? Of course I believe what I’m saying! Why would I say it otherwise. How patronising! What made you think that having a basic look at something allows you to make a judgment about it (especially one so serious and with such serious repercussions!) Also there is no such thing as a basic look at DV, it is a complex subject that requires assimilating a lot of emotionally difficult information.
I know that the counsellors at the clinic have told you that it is a situation of domestic violence, so perhaps there is more to the abuse than you have told me,
“Perhaps”?? This word in this context carries detachment and it is also incredibly patronising. I’m getting the impression that you are speaking as if you know more than I do about this and speaking down to me.
You need to learn more about how to support people in a dv situation. You are being patronising and condescending. Are you aware of this? It is very disrespectful to communicate with me in this way, especially when I’ve told you that I have experienced significant disrespect in my relationship. would you not be trying to be incredibly respectful and careful in your communications with me given the experiences that I’ve had?
The information I have already told you about my relationship should have been sufficient to convince you of the abuse. When you don’t understand DV you don’t think that information is sufficient. Also I would ask why you did not enquire about if there was more to it? If you felt there was even the possibility that there was other things happening you didn’t know about (which of course there was) then you should have asked. Instead you have made judgements based on small amounts of information.
but I also don’t think you would have gone to a domestic violence support service if there wasn’t some part of you that already believed you were in a domestic violence situation.
You state this like it’s an accusation? What is it I’m being accused of exactly? Having a suspicion that I may be in an abusive relationship? What would be wrong if I did??? Are you suggesting that I ‘wanted’ to be in an abusive relationship? What is the subtext to what you’re implying? Are you suggesting that I am trying to create this in my life because I believe it and not that I believe it because it is a reality?????
I think that part of why I doubt whether the situation is domestic violence is that, for example, all of the books you have read except one do not support your claims of domestic violence, but the one book you have chosen to believe is the book that supports your idea.
As stated above the one book I’ve “chosen to believe” is the book that was recommended to me by the domestic violence services. They only recommended that one book as there is a lack of good books on the subject available. To put this statement in this way is really offensive. Can you not see that? You are questioning my sanity and my ability to think logically and rationally. You show a gross lack of awareness in respectful ways of communicating. You are talking down to me. If you read up about dv you will see how detrimental this is to a victim as you are hitting me with the same stuff I’ve been living with. You are crossing boundaries and you are giving me hidden motives.
Despite that, I think if you believe you are being abused
you are constantly saying “I don’t believe you”
then something is terribly, terribly wrong in your relationship
If you really believe me that something is terribly terribly wrong would that not be a big warning sign of the possibility of abuse????
and I am so happy that you have left the relationship and moved out on your own. I have wanted to say something to you for a long time but decided to wait until after you had removed yourself from living with Sean before I said anything because I didn’t want to add to your stress, and I think moving out is a very good thing,
So patronising. really offensive.
and I also don’t want to be one of the people in your life who does not believe you.
And yet you are.
This is the most serious of situations
and yet you are not taking it seriously.
and you know that I love and support you no matter what.
If this is not your intention I do not feel supported by you. I do not feel that you are being very loving either. I told you of a situation where your sister was sick and unable to care for herself that her partner did not give her food. When he finally came to the room after leaving me for 24 hours without food or drink and I asked for food he went to the shop and when he came back he told me he forgot to buy me food. When he said he’s make me soup and I said I didn’t want to be any trouble and I’d just have toast I was criticised and spoken rudely too. He did not apologise for his treatment of me or show any remorse. This situation is a perfect example of abuse and yet you cite this story as being of no consequence.
The only reason I am writing this, and telling you what I think, is because I am worried about you, worried about your wellbeing and your relationship with Sean. The repercussions of saying something to you are too severe for me to say any of this without having thought long and hard about it, and there is no-one in my world who I love and trust more than you, or want better for.
I think you should be worried but for different reasons than the one you are. Imagine the possibility that I may be right and think that you may have been concerned because you thought your sister was losing her sanity rather than being concerned because your sister was being abused.
I am glad that you realise that when you accuse someone of being mad when they say they are being abused that they will be upset. and there will be serious repercussions. You are right on this front.
I do not believe you thought long and hard about this as if you had you would have done more research and read the book I asked you to read to arm yourself with more information if you have a gap in your information you need to get the resources to find more information.
You did not need to think about it at all, as your thinking on this subject is erroneous. It is also very arrogant to think that all you had to do was a bit of thinking about it, as if you have all the knowledge.
You’re not doing any asking here – you are showing a marked lack of humility. You did not do this, you did not take care in how you dealt with this situation.
Exactly what do you mean by trust in the above statement? You have shown no trust in my judgement. I am very concerned if there is no one in the world you trust more than me when you do not trust me.
If you genuinely want the best for me would you not acknowledge the wrong in a relationship where I am not even given food when I am ill.
I don’t know what to do from here.
read the book
I would like to talk more with you about it
not until you read the book
but I understand that you might not trust me to talk to me about this any further.
Good, I am glad you have some awareness of the impact of your patronising and naive ways.
Again, I am only expressing these concerns because I am worried about you.
Can you please start considering the possibility that I am in an abusive relationship before you jump to the conclusion that I am mad. What is more likely?
It has nothing to do with not wanting to hear it or denying that it is true
even though you are denying that it is true.
– it just genuinely doesn’t seem like domestic violence to me,
that’s because you have very little knowledge of dv.
and I am worried that these allegations could cause serious harm to you or your kids or Sean.
It is not the allegations that have caused the harm, it is the continued exposure to abuse that has harmed us all. In a really big way. This statement contains a subtle threat, it is the most sinister thing you have ever said to me I think. It is another attempt to silence me, why do you not want me to talk about the abuse I have suffered? This will have serious repercussions for my family if I don’t deal with this. How irresponsible of you to try and silence me talking about this when it is so big and will have such an effect on all our lives. You are accusing me of possibly causing harm to my children, which is a really serious accusation to make. Do you realise that? All because I am trying to speak out about what has happened to me.
If there is more than I know,
what you know should be enough, and would be enough if you had done more research. These are not conditions that any woman should not see as serious.
I apologise so very much for doubting you,
Do you know what doubting a person who comes to you looking for help with abuse does to that person?
When you have raised your awareness sufficiently to understand the enormity of what you’ve done then come to me with an apology that fits the crime because the apology you’ve just given would technically be seen as a non apology.
but I hope you will take these words with the love and concern that they are intended with.
If you haven’t read the one book that I asked you to read before you spoke out you have shown little love and concern for me. You started to doubt my sanity and expressed that to me before doing any research. How is that loving to question someone’s sanity? That is not loving. I’m telling you I’m being abused, I’m being bullied and you don’t believe me. Would you not think you needed to check that out? Would you not ask lots of questions about what’s happening and arm yourself with information? That would show concern for me.”
I wanted to share this as so many women are not believed or their concerns are dismissed when they speak out about the abuse they received from an intimate partner. And when you’ve just left an abusive relationship you’re often re traumatised by the responses of loved ones. I call it the second punishment. We are punished for speaking out about what happened to us. We are silenced, mocked, dismissed and ignored. Even women I know who have had bruises to show have been treated like this after speaking out about their abusive ex partners.
It takes courage to tell someone you’ve been abused.
If someone shares their story of abuse with you, please, please believe them.
By an Anonymous Survivor.
(Recommended reading: “Why Does He Do That?” By Lundy Bancroft).