Barriers to Reporting – “those women” and “those men”
Two of the pillars that underpin the many barriers to reporting domestic and sexual violence are the myths of “those women” and “those men”.
Those women are weak, dishevelled, vulnerable. They stare out at us from sexual and domestic abuse awareness posters, with their black eyes and tear-filled eyes. When we experience abuse we don’t see ourselves as “victims”. We’re not like “those women”, we’re different. We are strong and competent. We have jobs, are good mothers and we certainly are *not* victims. The other thing we are certain of is that the person who has hurt us is not one of “those men”.
Those men are monsters. They are sociopaths who don’t have feelings. The man who hurts us isn’t like that. He’s a good man; he’s not one of “those men”. He is just stressed with work, he was hurt by his dad and that’s why he does it. He doesn’t mean it, he’s not one of “those men”.
Our friends and family see our situation. They know it’s not abuse, because we’re not one of “those women”. We are their sister, their friend, their mother. They see us laugh, watch us fight back, rarely see us cry and they know that we are not one of “those women”. So they never suggest we report it and they don’t consider learning more about domestic or sexual violence because we’re not like those women.
Our friends and family also know that the man who hurts us isn’t one of “those men”. They know he’s a “good dad”, that he’s never actually hit us. And even if he did, it was only once and he didn’t mean it and work had been stressful and we’ve made our bed, so we should probably just lie in it. He isn’t a monster, he’s not one of “those men”.
The professionals who are involved in our situation know we’re not one of “those women”. The marriage counsellor, the health visitor and the teacher. They don’t notice the signs because we don’t have “victim” tattooed on our forehead. Perhaps we’re not from the same socio-economic group as “those women”. Maybe our children are privately educated, maybe our career proves us to be far to capable to be one of “those women”.
And the professionals certainly know that he’s not one of “those men”. He’s a good one or maybe an invisible one, but he’s certainly not a bad one. The marriage counsellor talks of how we both need to work at things” and tells us how his tears show how much he wants to change.
Occasionally we manage to overcome these myths. We begin to realise that “those women” don’t exist. They are a product of the patriarchy to keep us oppressed. Finally we go to the Police, we begin to tell our stories, perhaps we escape and end up in a refuge or accessing a service. Then we discover that many of the professionals we meet begin relating to us as one of “those women”. We become patronised and looked down on. And the one who was hurting us. He is either ignored or perceived as a monster. Social workers fear confronting him, so all the emphasis is on us. Police officers either see him as a monster and us as a feckless weakling, too stupid to make better choices, or they see him as a “good one” and begin to advocate on his behalf to us. “Honestly, he didn’t mean it, I’ve never seen a man so cut up about what he’s done. Are you sure you want to press charges?”
Sometimes we are so far from the “those women” descriptor that we begin being labelled as a perpetrator. Nobody believes we could be the one who has been hurt. We’re too feisty, too strong willed. We don’t wear the right clothes or cry enough.
The “those women” and “those men” myths are pervasive across society. We each have a responsibility to consider whether we believe these myths. To acknowledge our own culpability in the perpetuation of these myths, and then to educate people. To complain about the portrayal of those who have endured abuse and to hold to account media outlets, organisations and individuals to communicate the truth that there are only “us women” and that those who choose to use abusive behaviour are not monsters.