It’s Domestic Violence Awareness month so allow me to Aware you. So many people think of DV as some scummy dude beating the crap out of his girlfriend in some shack. When they think of a woman who “allows” herself to be in that sort of relationship they think of a weak, unwashed, poor, overwhelmed, ignorant woman who was probably born into poverty. I’m here to tell you that those perceptions couldn’t be farther from the truth. DV is NOT just about being hit. It encompasses emotional. mental, sexual and financial abuse. Abuse is about control. One person wants to control another. When they can’t control, they get very angry. They take their anger out on the victim. It’s not right, it is not the way “normal” people go about having their needs met, but an abuser is not “normal”.
Abusers are not just men and they are not just “bad boys”. Most abusers appear to the rest of society as normal, upstanding citizens. It can’t be said enough, abuse is about control (or the illusion of control). The abuser wants TOTAL control over their partner. It stems from a personality disorder which may or may not be connected to a mental illness or an addiction. It has some to do with their upbringing, possibly a trauma, possibly their environment, but definitely a “screw up” in the wiring of their brain. As far as the person who becomes involved with an abuser, sometimes it is a person who’s own upbringing, environment or personal mental health/addiction issues make being with an abuser feel comfortable and familiar. It is a complicated issue. And not one easily remedied.
Statistics show that an abuser, with professional help, has about a 5% chance of changing and those that DO show signs of change actually only change abuse tactics. They might go from being overt to covert, they might stop physical abuse but switch to emotional abuse, or stop sexually abusing their partner only to financially abuse their partner. Most of the abusers I know ARE “nice guys”. Young people need to be taught, both boys AND girls, how to treat others. They need to see it modeled by ALL the adults in their life. Their parents, school officials, church, coaches, medical professionals, every single adult. Controlling another human being is basically impossible. We all have choices. Sometimes we need help to make the best choice for ourselves. Support and education are going to help…but not just for the person in the abusive relationship, for ALL of society.
I have heard recently that I don’t look like someone who would have been in an abusive relationship. That I don’t seem like the type who would have “allowed” that. Yes, well, I’m not sure how to take that. I know it is meant as a compliment or because the person telling me that sees me as “strong” or not that “type”. This is further evidence that there is no “type” of person who becomes a victim of an abuser. It can and does happen to anyone. There are only two outcomes to being in an abusive relationship : freedom or death. We always have a choice. Always. The choice might be between life or death, it may be between homelessness or warmth, it may be between poverty or comfortability. I’m not saying they are easy choices by any means. That is where we, as a society, can step up and help and support. We can ease the transitions, we can support the choices that will lead to lives being free from abuse.
The most dangerous time for a person in an abusive relationship is when they are trying to leave. On average, it takes a person 8 attempts before they finally break free. That might look like the victim leaving, demanding change from their partner, seeing some change, going back, having the abuse start again, leaving, demanding change, seeing change, going back, having the abuse start again…it looks like insanity to the rest of us. But make no mistake, a person involved with an abuser is invested in the relationship. The abuser truly is a powerful person in the life of the person they are abusing. No victim wants to be abused. They don’t. They don’t ask for it. They want what we all want. To be respected, loved, treated with kindness, trusted. An abuser knows that. And an abuser uses that to their advantage to stay in control of the relationship and ultimately the victim. 70% of DV murders occur when the victim is leaving or has left the relationship. Many of those murders are committed by a partner who had NO history of physical violence against the victim. He may never have hit her, but as soon as he knows he has lost all control over her, he has nothing left to lose.
Some people leave after the first punch. Some people leave after the first rage. Some people leave after hearing rumors. Those people are not better than those who stay. They are just less invested. They are not stronger or smarter than those who stay. They just have a different path. I hope that those people who have had a brush with DV would be able to be compassionate and kind rather than condescending and that they would use their experience to really look inside themselves and find a way to help those who need it. Never underestimate the power of isolation. But never underestimate the power of support. We are only as sick as our secrets. DV is a dangerous thing. For the victim, the family, the friends and for all of society. We can change. We do have the power, it lies within our choices. We are not weak, we are not helpless, we are brave and we can do this, together.