Friday, November 18, 2011

No Place Of Safety

Speaking OutDomestic 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.

Wrong.

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.




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30 comments:

John Gray said...

well written

years ago I was in an abusive relationship... it only became physical twice ( the second time I got the upper hand after it all started) but it took me a year before I realised I needed to get out.
in hindsight I cannot believe I didn't get out sooner.....

the fly in the web said...

Thanks Steve.
Have visited Wanderlust and posted on the Costa Rica blog.

this is a curse on the lives not only of the women involved but also the children.

Gorilla Bananas said...

There's a prison doctor called Theodor Dalrymple who claims that some women habitually fall for these kind of men. He says they get so used to the violence that non-violent men seem abnormal to them.

Steve said...

John: I think victims of violent abuse are always amazed at how much they put up with; how many second chances are wheedled out of them. It's part of the problem, I guess.

The fly in the web: thank you.

Gorilla Bananas: is this prison doctor real or just an idiot?

Kelloggsville said...

I'm struggling a bit with this campaign. Sometimes things can change. There are more solutions to domestic violence than just ending a relationship. Yes sometimes it is for the best and must happen and the person leaving needs support and help. But I know 2 people who worked through abusive relationships and the violence stopped, absolutely. One is 20 years down the line and the other is 6. In someways it can be harder to say 'I chose to stay'. People just don't understand.

Steve said...

Kelloggsville: I'm tempted to say these 2 successful outcomes are a rarity but in truth I don't know enough about this kind of outcome to comment. What I do know is, for most relationships where there is an abusive partner things only get better - for both parties - when the victim is finally strong enough to say no and leave. Then the abuser is often shocked enough to realize they need to get themselves sorted out. Some, however, never changed but merely go onto a new relationship. All I can say is I would never try and dissuade someone from leaving an abusive relationship - because they will have gone through a ton of pain and shit just to get to that point where they are strong enough to do it.

Owen said...

So what is it that turns some otherwise normal appearing people to turn into monsters when they are alone with someone they supposedly care about ? And how many women end up dead because they can't get out of abusive relationships, or because they try to get away, and only enrage the brute even further ?

Was just watching Roman Polanski's film The Pianist... although that is about another form of monstrous human behavior, you have to wonder just how many humans (mostly male) have a barbarian inside them, just waiting for the right conditions to let it out of its internal cage... ? Sad world.

Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden said...

Good post Steve. I was in the position of discovering and guiding someone through (and out of) a brutal relationship. At the time I read The Cinderella Complex, which has some parallels to Gorilla Bananas' prison doctor.
But if there was validity in it, it was no help at the time. She had to make the move herself. NZ has run a few frank, anti-domestic violence campaigns - one running now - and there does seem to be a change in mind-set here from 'it's non of my business' to 'they need help'. But apparently the earthquakes have made it worse. Have just read that Women's Refuge has secured housing for men! So that women can stay in their homes with their children rather than be the ones to leave.
Another change in mindset to tackling the whole problem rather than just hating men, which was an old approach.

Alienne said...

Thank you Steve; an excellent post on a very serious subject.

Kelloggsville said...

Agreed, I would never persuade anyone not to leave. But I sometimes want to stand up and say I decided to stay (against all advice) but I refused to be a victim anymore, perhaps I and the other person I know are both lucky and rare. Perhaps the 'luck' comes from being with a man who took the 'you ever do that again and I will have you arrested and you will be gone from my life' seriously, but it took 4 broken bones for me to say it. Domestic violence is a complicated issue with so many possible causes, effects and outcomes, I just want people to know that there are more options than putting up, shutting up or getting away and as you rightly say it effects more people than we could possibly imagine, both women and men. Sorry for soap boxing. Thank you for bringing up the unbringupable.

Nota Bene said...

Well said.

Steve said...

Owen: we all have a barbarian inside us. The people who ignore or hide from the fact are the ones who find themselves controlled by it.

Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden: everyone in such a situation needs help but the help the victims need is far more longer reaching and unending. And as with many issues such as this, sadly the needs of the victim are often overlooked in favour of punishing or "curing" the perpetrator. Not that the latter isn't necessary, but society's response needs to be more supportive of the victims and less about justice being seen to be meted out - hope that makes sense.

Alienne: thank you.

Kelloggsville: on the contrary, thank you for showing light on another facet of this issue. It's a deep, deep issue and each case is different, even while may of the motifs might be so common as to be stereotypical.

Nota Bene: ta.

English Rider said...

I expect P had noticed little things, over time, and this confirmed her suspicions.

Steve said...

English Rider: P was a wiser person than I'll ever be.

thispearl said...

My daughter's father was physically abusive to me, when I realized I was pregnant all bets were off and when a mutual friend informed me in that in a drunken rage he threatened to kill me and my unborn child, I broke it off. He (and his parents) still vilifies me for my decision, but I adamantly did not back down on unsupervised visits. She is 20 is a dean's list student, works as a manager at a Pizza shop, and is one of the most intelligent and hard working young people I know. I am so proud of her, but were it not for her life in my body, I don't know if I would have had the strength to leave.

Thank you for speaking on this, and yes it sometime takes abuse to know it. I see it in my students before anyone else does. People have come to respect my perceptions.

Steve said...

Thispearl: you should feel so proud of yourself for finding the strength to come through this - I'm just sorry there others still trying to make you suffer for it. Thank you for commenting here - I feel humbled.

Mark said...

Been away - just catching up. Great post and important issue. DV takes many forms and we need to speak out - I will too.

Steve said...

Mark: thank you - an honour to have you on board.

Trish @ Mum's Gone To ... said...

I've found it quite an eye-opener reading posts about this subject. Very sobering.

Livi said...

So glad your friend found the courage to leave, it's very easy to get caught up in it and believe that you aren't worth any better.

Steve said...

Trish: they are, a lot of them. But they are all tales of survival and that is uplifting.

Livi: sadly, that's part of the "trap" - having one's self esteem eaten away until you have no control over your own life.

About Last Weekend said...

I once wrote a story about an educated very upper class (for want of a better term) woman who was regularly beaten by her husband (never published for legal reasons) and funny how she just went on and one expecting the beatings (unless one day he threw the baby across the bed). As you say it's just about meeting that person.

Vicky said...

Thank you for the great post. And just a reminder mental abuse is out there and is not seen by the public....

Steve said...

About Last Weekend: alas it is far more common than people think.

Vicky: absolutely... and the scars are just as real.

Being Me said...

Wow. Have many thoughts going around in my head. None coherent or worthy of adding here. Just wanted to acknowledge that I read this two days ago... I still don't know how to comment on it! Very sobering post, Steve.

Steve said...

Being Me: if I've sobered up a load of bloggers... job done!

lunarossa said...

You made me cry and brought me back to a past that was not as good as the present. Although I rather forget that past, you made me realize once more how lucky I am now. Besos. A.x

Steve said...

Lunarossa: I'm glad things are better now. Stories such as this make us all count our blessings.

Wanderlust said...

Hi Steve, like @Being Me I read this several days ago but am just now coming back to comment. As I mentioned on my blog, I found reading so many accounts of violence to be difficult and needed to take a break.

I'm so grateful to you for supporting this initiative and adding your voice to the Speak out campaign. Many thanks, my friend.

Steve said...

Wanderlust: any time. :-)