I worried about the next time he would yell, threaten or hit her. What would happen then? Would he land the punch that ended her life, would he strangle her, would he succeed in pushing her down the stairs, break her bones and leave her suffering and unable to call for help? As most of us know, an abuser doesn’t quit.
We live in a world where a woman is assaulted or beaten EVERY 9 SECONDS. It’s highly likely that every single person reading this story knows someone who’s been victimized. Just think about that for a second – your sister, friend, mother, aunt, cousin, colleague – a woman you know has been violently assaulted by an intimate partner or a complete stranger that picked her because in that moment, she looked like an easy target.
I know quite a few women who have been violently assaulted. The one I know best is my mom. Throughout my teens and into adulthood, I’ve watched her go from one shitty relationship to the next. From one angry alcoholic to another. From men that assaulted her spirit to men that violated her body. I was never sure what to expect when she called me, and half the time I didn’t answer because I couldn’t handle another conversation about her newest boyfriend, husband or male companion that she may or may not be sleeping with. On one particular Saturday night, I answered my phone and heard her sobbing and shouting “GIVE ME BACK MY PHONE!” Then a slap or a punch or a shove, and her voice farther away now, crying, “NO, NO, NO.” And then the phone disconnected.
I kept dialing her number and getting no answer. I called everyone I could think of to find out where she was, who she was with and what the hell I should do. I wanted to call the police, but I had no idea where to tell them to go. I had no idea if she would defend this guy or accept help and allow the police to take her to a safe place. So, I did nothing. I sat in my room and cried because I felt so helpless, and because I couldn’t believe she’d give away her power. I cried because I knew that she desperately needed me and I wasn’t there.
When she called me the next day, she acted like nothing happened. She told me she was out with her most recent boyfriend, the same one that kicked in her door and threatened to push her down the stairs because she made an offhand comment that offended him. They’d been drinking and things got out of hand, but she told me not to worry because she had everything under control. I asked her about the details – “Did he threaten you? Blacken your eye or your mouth or your arm or your stomach? Are you afraid he’ll hurt you again?” She refused to tell me anything, to implicate him in any way. “I’m okay, sweetie, don’t worry.”
But I did worry. I worried about the next time he would yell, threaten or hit her. What would happen then? Would he land the punch that ended her life, would he strangle her, would he succeed in pushing her down the stairs, break her bones and leave her suffering and unable to call for help? As most of us know, an abuser doesn’t quit. He hurts others because it makes him feel good, because he can and because beating up a woman who barely stands five feet tall and weighs 120 pounds is just so easy.
I wanted to hold her, tell her that she was valuable and worthy of being loved in a kind and gentle way, that hugs and kisses feel better than insults, threats and fists. But, I also wanted to shake her, tell her to wake the hell up and start respecting herself just a little bit, tell her to stop giving away her power to the most despicable kind of men.
I realized, though, nothing I said mattered because she’s never really been capable of making better decisions. She suffers from depression and borderline personality disorder and hasn’t been able to stick with therapy long enough for it to make any real or lasting impact. She takes prescribed medication for her depression, but also self-medicates with alcohol. Over time I realized that I couldn’t save her, I couldn’t make her see what I saw in her, I couldn’t love her enough to keep her safe. I eventually came to understand that her illness prevented her from being in healthy relationships. Every man that she dated preyed upon her vulnerability, saw her weakness and exploited it.
So when I see, hear or read people victim shaming, I think of my mom. I admit that I’ve harshly judged her decision making, but I’ve never blamed her being abused. I may be unsure she’s capable of making better decisions, but I’m absolutely certain that her choices in no way justified the actions of the men that hurt her. There is no justification for hurting another human being just because you can, just because it makes you feel good. None.
I can’t understand victim shaming because the victim doesn’t move the hand that hits her, she doesn’t close the fist that punches her, she doesn’t thrust the penis that penetrates her. She doesn’t come up with the words used to dehumanize and destroy her. This, every word of it, is the reason that I believe society needs to start putting the shame squarely where it belongs – on the perpetrator and NOT the victim.
So I’m proud to have co-founded Speak Your Story – a website where victims of assault, particularly female victims – can have their voices heard. I spend a lot of time scrolling through the site’s Facebook news feed, reading and responding to comments on articles that affect women. Recently, in so doing, I’ve been alarmed by the growing number of people participating in victim shaming.
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. So if you need help, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY). For more information about how to help stop domestic violence, you can also visit the website for the National Network to End Domestic Violence.
Teal Cracraft is an attorney and the co-founder of SpeakYourStory, a website dedicated to sharing the unfiltered stories of women. When I’m not advocating for the voices of all women, everywhere, to be heard, you can find me at raging dance parties that take place every night in my living room with my husband and two year old daughter, Sage.
Image via Google/borisbajic.net.