Domestic violence is an issue that we all, I’m sure, like to keep at arm’s length. It’s something that most of us don’t like to think about. I mean, hey, we know what it’s about anyway, right? We don’t want to be brought down about it. It happens but not that often and it happens to other people; people we don’t know.
I can guarantee that in your surprisingly wide circle of friends and acquaintances you will know several people who have experienced domestic violence in some shape or form. Several; not just one, several. Some will have been affected directly, some indirectly. Either way it leaves you feeling messed up.
My first encounter with domestic violence was when I was 18. I was young and naïve. I’m glad therefore that I was not directly involved because I would not have known what the hell to do about it. I was working at British Telecom at the time and had a friend that I shall only refer to as R. R was sparky, vivacious, funny and totally madcap. She was a couple of years older than me but seemed a lot older than that. She had an Asian boyfriend and both were heavily involved in the local band scene at the time.
One day she came into work sporting a split lip. She talked about it quite freely during a tea break. They’d been set upon, her and her boyfriend, by some white guys. If we thought she looked bad we ought to see her poor boyfriend. It had been a horrible attack. Undoubtedly racially motivated.
We all made the right sympathetic and outraged noises.
All apart from one of the older women among our colleagues who sat very quietly and said nothing.
I only know what happened next because R told me years later. While the rest of us had returned to our duties, this older colleague – let’s call her P – had sat still and asked R to wait. Once they were alone P had simply said, “You need to get out of the relationship now. He won’t change. This will not be a one-off. He will cry and he will apologize and he will swear that it will never happen again but he won’t change.”
When R finally told me the truth of what happened many years later – that her boyfriend had habitually hit her – the relationship was long dead. She’d finally left him after a couple of years. And P had been right. He had hit her again. And again. And again. Each time afterwards he had been sorry. Heart wrenchingly, heartbreakingly, genuinely (I’m sure) sorry. He had cried. He had sobbed. But he had not changed. He had not admitted that he himself needed help.
In the end he had exhausted R’s capacity for forgiveness. Thank God for that (despite the irony).
R had been lucky. She had found the courage to leave him. She had found the courage to admit to herself that it was a bad situation that could not be fixed. Found the courage to admit to me that she had lied about the racist attack to protect not just herself but also her boyfriend.
Because when you are the victim of violence you are hit with a double-whammy. Fear and guilt. And those are pretty effective weapons to keep someone silent. To keep someone complicit.
I often wonder now about P. How did she know? I was too innocent to pick up on the signs that R was undoubtedly giving out but not P. She saw the whole situation in an instant. From experience maybe? It’s hard to speculate. P was a strong character. I can’t imagine her being caught up in a relationship like that.
But why not?
It only takes falling in love with the wrong person. Nobody is born is a victim. Nobody chooses it.
But our most intimate relationships can bind us to the wrong people in ways that are very difficult to break.
And you can’t tell what someone is like just by looking at them.
You have to listen too. And even then, sometimes, that is not enough.
Today I and many other bloggers are Speaking Out about Domestic Violence. I was asked to participate in this campaign by Wanderlust and have been proud to do so. If you also wish to join the campaign or just to show your support it is not too late. Simply visit Wanderlust’s blog and sign yourself up.
Thank you for listening.