A ranty, funny, dead-serious intersectional feminist blog.

Victim Blaming by Any Other Name

Guest post by Sid

domestic-violence-400x258I have had five full-blown relationships in my adult life.

Three of those relationships were abusive.

Guy one (G1) was fine in this regard, as was guy five (G5). They each had their own issues, of course, but they weren’t abusive.

Guy number two (G2) choked me one day. We had been together for well over a year, closing in on a year and a half. Some months later, he dragged me with his car for about twenty feet. Any time I tried to break up with him, he sobbed and sobbed, berating himself until I recanted. He yelled at me if I disagreed with him, prayed before a meal, or called him out on one of dozens of pathological lies.

Guy number three (G3) also choked me, but it was much softer. It was as though he didn’t intend to actually hurt me, but wanted to remind me what being choked was like (because of course he knew G2 had done it) and wanted to show me he could do it just as easily. To my mind, this is just as bad. It was more threat than act, but it amounted to the same. Some months later, he was holding my hand while angry and crushed it. It hurt for several days.

Stop_Domestic_Violence-150x150Guy number four (G4), though…he’s the tricky one. He didn’t choke me. He didn’t drag me with a car or crush my hand. His thing was all about how much I wasn’t listening to him. He was also quite tall, so when he felt I wasn’t listening to him, he would bring himself up to his full height and grab me by the arms—tightly, so that I couldn’t get away. He would then push his face into mine so that my head went back, and he would scream at me.

I struggled away whenever I could, but often I was backed up against a wall or into a corner and had nowhere to go.

I would scream back, of course, because I felt trapped and threatened, and I was trying to understand what was happening. Any time we had an argument, if I tried to step away from it to calm down and sort my thoughts, he would follow me after just a few minutes. In one of our homes, as soon as I closed the bedroom door behind me, I would sneak out the sliding glass door and walk down the street so I could get some peace. It wasn’t long before he figured that out, though, and ran down the street after me. A couple times, when I’d gotten far enough that he couldn’t see me, he came after me in his car, window rolled down and sobbing for me to get in.

Honestly, I just wanted thirty minutes to be alone. I couldn’t get five.

When we moved, my office didn’t have a sliding glass door (or a window on the first floor), but that’s still where I went when I wanted space. When he still wouldn’t respect my request to be alone, I started sitting in front of the door. It didn’t have a lock.

abusealoneThis worked for about ten minutes, at which point he panicked and forced himself into the room. This happened so many times, I couldn’t even tell you how many. I often ended up hurt because the door would throw me into the wall or would hit me, or he would step on me on accident because I was right there on the floor. Once he was in the room, he would start calm, but would eventually escalate, sobbing about how we had to work this out right now and no I couldn’t take any time to work through the problem on my own. Often, it would take us back to him grabbing me by the arms and pushing his face into mine, and screaming.

Like I said, my office didn’t have a lock. But the bathroom did. Once I locked myself in there with my back against the door. He used a credit card and forced his way in. I got hurt this time because I was leveraging myself against the door by pushing against the toilet with my feet, and eventually my knees gave out.

I started leaving the apartment when we argued. But I would literally need to run, because he would be after me in about two minutes. It was kind of amazing, actually. The first time I went to leave, he looked at me and said, “Really? You really think you have to leave the apartment?” He was aghast at my lack of trust—after all, he’d agreed to give me time to think in my office. Again. Two minutes later, he was behind me on the street, begging me to come back with him.

Finally, I started heading for the stairs instead of the elevator—but I went upstairs instead of down. That was the one thing he never figured out. I finally had some time and space to think—about being a grown woman who was hiding on the floor above her own just to escape her boyfriend who literally made a habit of chasing her.

This relationship did not last.

Now, was I an angel in this relationship? Good God, no. I mean, I tried. The good times were so good that we were engaged, and we both thought our relationship was fine. (I didn’t notice the pattern, see. Not at first. Not for a long time.) At the end of the day, though, I was not my best in this relationship, as much as I wanted to be. As much as I tried to be. But that doesn’t mean—and will never mean—that I deserved what I got.

1-800-799-SAFEWhat makes him tricky, though, isn’t that he never choked me or took a direct swing. What makes him tricky is how entwined he was with so many of my other friends. They had become our friends, and it didn’t seem right to air all our dirty laundry to them. I told two of my very closest friends, though, which was difficult because they were also very close to him. And then one of my friends said something I didn’t expect.

“Well, you know, I think a lot of it came down to you two just not being right for each other. I mean, I don’t think that’s his real personality.”

I could have the very specifics of the words wrong—it was a few years ago now—but the sentiment is dead-on. And I was confused. I had been trying to attach the word “abusive” to this relationship as I sorted through the wreckage (I say “trying” because, as with many things, it is difficult for a victim to call out what is true), and this reaction made me feel all the more like I shouldn’t attach that word. It made me feel even more strongly that the problem wasn’t him—the problem was that I evoked the reaction.

I fought with myself for a long time on this one, and honestly I don’t know when in the last three years I settled on the word “abusive,” but I know it was more recent than not. Maybe it was when I heard this same friend say that she couldn’t imagine what goes through people’s heads when they defend a friend of theirs who was called out for assaulting another friend. “How can you look someone in the face and say that he wouldn’t do that? That it was just a misunderstanding?”

I don’t know. How can you?

Or maybe it was just this last week when I stood two feet away as she hugged Rosie and said, “I unfriended that guy because I couldn’t stand to hear him say on Facebook how he was…” something. I didn’t hear the end of the sentence. I was too far inside my own head trying to figure out how it was that B was so despicable she couldn’t stand to be friends with him on Facebook, yet she had managed to remain very close friends with my abuser since I left him.

Abuser. That’s such a strong word. I look at it even now and think, “Come on now, Sid. Surely that’s not the right word. He didn’t even hit you.” Honestly. That’s the thought: “He didn’t even hit you.” I know better than that, and still.

oneinfour

The thing with a lot of victim blaming, I think, is that it comes from a place not of malice but of pleading. When you say, “You must have misinterpreted the situation,” you’re not really saying, “You’re a liar and I don’t believe you.” At least not most of the time. Sure, there are people who outright say that, but I think even they are really saying, “Don’t let this be true. Please, just leave me any margin for error so I can continue to hang out with my friend who has never shown this horrible side to me.”

It works like this, I think:

  1. You acknowledge the accusation is horrible.
  2. If the accusation is true, then you feel you can no longer be friends with the accused.
  3. You have never seen the accused display any behavior like this; in fact, you would declare the accused to be one of the nicest fellows you know.
  4. As a result of (3), you choose to believe that it couldn’t have been as bad as it sounds. Your natural inclination is to assume there was a misunderstanding.
  5. You report this to the accusing party.

Voilà.

You aren’t trying to disregard your friend’s feelings—in truth, you’re just trying to protect your own—but what you’ve done here is opened the door for second-guessing. Second-guessing something that was probably hard to talk about in the first place. Without even intending to, you have silenced her.

Victim blaming isn’t something any friend sets out to do. (Anyone who does so openly and candidly is honestly not a friend—I have stories about that, too.) Victim blaming is something so subtle it can slip by us without so much as a glance.

PosterHeartAfter my first two abusive relationships (G2 and G3), I was re-applying for a job as a dispatcher. During one of the interviews, the abuse came up in conversation. My interviewers informed me that these relationships proved I had poor decision-making skills and denied me the job. (Before you jump into legality, I can’t prove that was the reason. It was, though.)

It took me several years to get over the shame and the self-blame of those first two, but now I won’t apologize when I tell you that I have been abused. I won’t shrink away and say, “I…I know I should have gotten out sooner, but…” I notice the signs now, and I avoid them. In the case of G4, it took a while to notice the pattern, but when I did—and I realized it was slowly getting worse and worse—I got out, six months before the wedding.

Getting out isn’t as easy as it sounds, and I won’t look down on anyone going through a similar experience. Women in these situations need help and encouragement—not shame, not blame, not doubt. Strength.

My roommate once asked me what my biggest regret was, and I said I didn’t have any. “None at all?” “Nope. Because it’s all important. Our pasts make up who we are, and I like who I am. I wouldn’t be who I am without everything that’s brought me to this point. It’s all important.”

It’s a part of my history. I can’t change it, and honestly, I don’t know that I would given the chance. Not changing your past doesn’t mean you have to relive it, after all. I love and appreciate every lesson I’ve learned, however hard it was.

I don’t make billboards about my abusive relationships, but I don’t make any effort to hide them. And sometimes people still try to shame me—whether it’s with words, body language, or a sudden, superior attitude. It doesn’t work, though. Here’s a quick tip: you can’t shame me about my life, my choices, my hobbies, my aspirations, my friends, or my past. It’s pointless trying.

tumblr_lskm8yBOJJ1qewc6co1_500

You can’t shame me because I am not ashamed.


Read Sid’s previous MMAS articles in Sid’s Stuff. Follow her at @SeeSidWrite.

13 responses

  1. Pingback: Violations and Villains and Apologists. Oh My. | Make Me a Sammich

  2. Pingback: Article Index | See Sid Write

  3. Thank you for sharing. I understand it takes a lot of strength to put it in words. I can also identify with the process you went through -it’s almost identical to mine. Although it’s hard for me to read about abuse, I ultimately feel better for knowing I am not alone. We are not alone in this. Our experiences and feelings are not singular, we are not at fault. Reading and talking about our experiences is what made me move on.

    One of the pains that still persist after all these years (I left my marriage 5 years ago) is the ease with which all his friends who knew about what was happening could still stand by him. All these people who looked at me as if I was the one who was wrong. All these people who rushed to make excuses and chastise me for ‘breaking his heart’ by leaving.

    So thank you and all the previous posters for sharing. I am becoming stronger through all of you.

    April 10, 2013 at 9:09 am

  4. Mary

    It took me years to leave my husband. While he never physically abused me, I was berated and diminished in every way possible. I believed I was stupid, clumsy, a poor decision-maker, homely, bad with money, etc. etc. etc…. because I was told this everyday “for my own good”.

    These sentiments were often expressed in front of friends and family because public humiliation proved a useful tool. I’d weather it as long as I could, my eyes tearing up, waiting until the verbal storm wound down. I’d ask permission to go to the bathroom and wash my face, and when I would return, everyone would be laughing and talking as if it never happened. After all, it wasn’t like he hit me. But they wouldn’t make eye contact with me.

    These are my same friends and family who stuck by him and shunned me when I finally did leave. They said they didn’t understand why I would break up a happy home, why I would hurt him so much. I became brave enough to say out loud that I didn’t want my daughters (3 and 5 years old at the time) marrying a man like their father.
    And that stunned and confused my friends and family, who chose to abandon me and take care of him. After all, it wasn’t like he hit me. I wasn’t abused or anything….

    Yes. Yes, I was.
    I carry this awareness with me, and I will make eye contact and call the proverbial spade a spade.

    Thank you for calling it a spade. Thank you for recognizing that it wasn’t your fault, and you didn’t deserve it. Thank you for sharing.

    January 17, 2013 at 6:52 pm

    • Sid

      That is horrifying. I’m so sorry. I’m so glad you got out of that situation, though, especially with two young girls in the mix. Of course you don’t need me to tell you that you made the right decision, but you did. Thank you for the kind words.

      January 18, 2013 at 4:45 pm

  5. This. All of it. I understand this. When I was finally able to get out of my abusive relationship I tried to tell my cousin and close friend. Even after I told him he continued to stay roommates with my ex. This hurt me so much, and it continues to hurt. I’ve never talked to him about it. Maybe I’ll forward this to him. Thank you for sharing your story.

    January 17, 2013 at 8:15 am

    • Sid

      I’m so sorry that’s happened. I hope forwarding it helps–I actually sent this to the friend I mention above before it published, and it opened that path of communication for us, which I didn’t know how to breach any other way. So sending this to her helped us a lot. I hope it can do something similar for you.

      January 18, 2013 at 4:43 pm

  6. JackieP

    Great honest post. Abuse is abuse, whether it’s yelling, emotional or physical. Thank you for sharing. Very brave of you.

    January 16, 2013 at 10:51 pm

    • Sid

      Abuse definitely takes on different forms. It can be hard to remember that, but it’s so important.

      Thanks so much for the comment.

      January 17, 2013 at 5:14 am

  7. Sid, you are so amazing. Truly you are.

    January 16, 2013 at 10:44 pm

    • Sid

      Thank you, Bridget. :)

      January 17, 2013 at 5:13 am

  8. Wonderful post. Thanks for sharing your story with us. I am so sorry you went though all of that. You’re amazingly strong to help tell your life so that others can gain strength from you.

    January 16, 2013 at 10:33 pm

    • Sid

      Thanks so much. I do hope others can find strength, or maybe even just start to see patterns they couldn’t notice. Sometimes it takes someone else pointing out a pattern for us to notice.

      January 17, 2013 at 5:13 am

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