Nobody Knows Best
This was first published here. Thanks to @thelionwhoroars for permission to cross post.
A man assaults a woman and appears to try to choke her. In public view. She has red eyes and shows clear signs of distress. Let’s suspend the issue of no one intervening but in fact recording pictures of this assault for later sale. Let’s just look at the incident itself.
Where is the wrongdoing here? Surely it is clear that the aggressive party is doing something wrong. Isn’t it?
Naturally, you’d expect the conversation that follows to be about what a jerk this guy is. That violence of any kind is never ok. That we just caught a public glimpse of what 1 in 3 women can unfortunately expect to experience during their lives, in silence and in private. Are we not collectively outraged at the criminal behaviour of this abusive man? He is the headline, right? No?
Oh. That doesn’t seem right…
Given all the reasons women might stay in an abusive relationship, it seems a more useful question might be “Where do women get the courage to leave their abusers?” or “Why do batterers assume they have the right to abuse?” Source here
The absolute focus of media and the ensuing discussion should be The Perpetrator and What He Did Wrong. I shared something written about the language employed by the media which puts the focus of violent crime on the victim rather than the attacker. This is a powerful not-so-subtle message every time we scan the headlines. We avoid naming the problem. Forthrightly and without shame. His violence is the problem.
The second blow to the victim in this case (and so many others) is the immediate pressure on her to ‘do the right thing‘. ‘People look up to her’. She needs to ‘make a stand’. Examples of this are in articles referred to at the end of this post.
She needs to do bollocks.
Perhaps we can express hope that this person finds a safe place to be tonight. That she be surrounded by people who care about her and will let her cry. Who won’t say ‘I told you so’, ‘What did you say to upset him?’ or ‘You have to do A B and C!’ Then, with important support and a fragile trust, hopefully she can plan the steps necessary to keep her and her children safe and secure for the future. Except this particular woman will be doing it under the watch of the public eye. Horrendous concept.
Victims of abusive partners will be carrying enough guilt, shame and self doubt to last a lifetime. They and their vulnerable children don’t actually need to be dumped on, pressured or questioned about this incident or any other that may have come before it (shocking, I know). Many comment on this topic generally out of ignorance (hey, if you haven’t felt the hell of family violence close to you, that’s bloody excellent news) but also a certain arrogance. This also happens with other victims of crime, most notably, sexual violence.
Some words of caution to the pious and pontificating: You think you know what you would do if this was you. You haven’t got a bloody clue. Oh, you have been in this situation but sorted it like a legend? Great. Everyone is different.
Perpetrators of physical and sexual violence are most often a person known to the victim. Family. Lovers. This means that the incident does not happen in isolation. But nor is it their entire character. It happens slowly. Over time, abusers chip away at their target. They are not swinging their fists upon introduction and are so commonly charming and affable. The relationship between abuser and their victim is complicated and confusing. It is extremely difficult to process the reality that the person you know/trust/love is capable of such vile behaviour. That they could be like that. I didn’t admit in my own mind that what happened to me was rape for…years. I became easily confused, doubted myself. Because abusive acts are so hard to deal with. No one thinks they know people capable of such things. It can take a lot of help/work/time to work through all of the other white noise of trauma to get to a place of understanding which observers seem to reach so readily for us.
So please don’t tell all and sundry that Nigella, or any other trauma victim, should do anything for you. They do not have to assume the position of Poster Child for the rest of us. How they respond to being hurt is NOT a decider of their worth in any way. When you express these dangerous opinions you don’t know who you are silencing in the future. Who you are shaming in the present.
The most productive thing we can all do for victims of serious crimes is advocate for a system that supports victims at all times, a media that focuses on the perpetrators of violence and names the problem and a public discourse that respects those who deserve it.
*Any person who is a victim of such intimate terrorism
The Only Decent One I Found at dailylife.com.au regarding what sparked this conversation
Avoiding Victim Blaming Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness
Everyday Victim Blaming A campaign to change the language, culture and attitude around violence against women and children
Why Do They Stay? Some ideas on the multi faceted influences at play in abusive relationships
White Ribbon campaign to address violence against women in AustraliaDownload this post as PDF? Click here