When my history of abuse and domestic violence comes up I am often told how I don’t “fit the bill” as someone who has been a victim. I am educated, strong-willed, vocal, and intelligent. I am not an alcoholic and I am not an addict, so people have a really hard time imaging how I could allow something like this to happen to me.
There are those who believe that people who are smart and have a solid foundation can’t be victims. They don’t get abused. They believe you would have to be stupid to stay with someone who hurts you.
Sadly, this is a common theme when we discuss abuse and domestic violence within our communities. We tend to buy this image that we’ve been sold by the media – those who come from domestic violence situations are poor, pregnant, and barefoot.
We often see stereotypes of southern, ignorant, uneducated women falling victim to abuse in movies. We almost always see the opposite, too – rich men who have the power so they can abuse the women in their lives, because women don’t leave rich men.
Reality is far more diverse and scary than our stereotypical ideas of domestic violence. Very rarely do we see the real story behind abuse and how a person ends up in a situation where they are sharing a home with someone who hurts them.
Warning signs are very subtle.
It may start off as a really great relationship. You may have known each other for years before perusing a romantic relationship (this was the case in my situation).
It may start in sad childhood stories of abuse and their own victimization. Your partner will make you feel for them with their own sad stories. This happens so when the abuse starts, you think it isn’t them, just their childhood coming back to haunt them.
Abuse rarely begins with a physical blow.
It may start with them making really subtle remarks about your appearance, how you talk, how you walk. They will comment on your intelligence. They may not call you stupid, but they may catch something really insignificant – as in a misspelling or a mispronunciation – and make a remark that makes you doubt yourself.
It goes from comments that don’t really seem like insults to very blatant attacks. This process can take a few months to a few years. Your self-worth and image will start to erode, and you usually don’t notice it happening.
The abuser may cheat.
They may or may not see other people behind your back… but they will cheat. They will want other people, they will insinuate it, and you will believe it. They may comment on other people’s bodies, compare you to how other people look.
They have already started attacking everything about you, so when this starts, you will blame yourself.
In those moments when you get mad and start to stand up for yourself, their sob story begins again: They are so sorry, their bad history is coming back to haunt them. They love you so much, you are the best thing that has happened to them, and you make them a better person.
You may buy it and they will straighten up for a little while. For abusers, it is a game. They want to control you.
Many domestic abuse victims will stand up for themselves.
There may be a day when you don’t buy their story anymore. There may be a day when you challenge them. This will cause an abuser to feel like they don’t have the control – that is when they get violent. They will get mad. They will attack. It is out of desperation to regain control. Very rarely is physical abuse a consistent daily occurrence. It usually happens in spurts.
You may fight back. You may run. You may hide. You may scream for help…
Regardless of how it happens, it gets to a boiling point, and then it ends.
It may end, because your abuser released all their aggression onto you. It could end, because you fought them off and got away. Maybe you hurt them bad enough that they left you alone. Perhaps you got ahold of the cops in spite of the struggle from your abuser trying to stop you. Maybe your screams alerted your neighbors and they called for help, then came to your rescue. However it happens… it ends.
In the aftermath, things often become more difficult.
If law enforcement wasn’t called, then you have to navigate your home with your abuser in it. They may storm out after the physical altercation, perhaps for fear of the police being called, maybe to just create space between you and them.
There is a possibility the abuser will stay near you after their attack, but regardless of whether they stay or go, you are an emotional wreck. Your abuser may be a bundle of emotions as well, which is usually why victims keep their abusers around. Victims sometimes feel bad for their abuser – the incident may be explained away and rationalized.
If cops show up and you fought back, there is a chance you are treated like the aggressor even though you were defending yourself. The cops may be annoyed to get an “insignificant” call and treat your situation like a joke.
You will most likely be in shock, you will be hurt, you won’t really know what all happened – it will feel like a blur. You may have neighbors as witnesses to help defend your actions. You may feel shame over your situation. You may begin weep, shake, and feel nauseous. Your abuser could be there still, telling you that you deserved it.
If the police were called, you have to be prepared for the fact that cops very rarely care. They might arrest everyone present, because they don’t know what to think.
They assume if you are stupid enough to get abused, then you are probably a lost cause, anyway. Some may assume you are just an addict and they don’t care about you.
They have their preconceived notions as to what a victim is, just like we all do. A person can come from an affluent background and grow up under terrible circumstances and daily abuse. Another person can be dirt poor and have the most loving and accepting family.
Abuse doesn’t just happen in homes where drugs are being abused. Abuse doesn’t happen strictly in bad neighborhoods. Abuse can happen anywhere. To anyone.
I dealt with all of the biased notions from police officers. I wasn’t any of those things — I graduated, I worked hard, and I took care of myself. I didn’t do drugs. I was a “good girl.”
And my abuser? He was “the good guy.” No one would have ever thought he could do something like this. He was intelligent… So intelligent that he manipulated me for months until he had enough control.
I went through an abuse and forgiveness cycle three times before a police officer showed up who saw me for me. He didn’t buy my story of just wanting to leave. He told me all I had to say is that I needed help, and he would help me. It took three occasions of the cops being called before someone saw me as a human being, not just a dumb domestic violence victim. I was a girl who needed help escaping from my need to save another human being. The police officer who helped me told me I couldn’t save anyone if I didn’t first save myself. His wisdom changed my life.
I do not wish my experiences on anybody. Experiences where the justice system failed me, where my abuser got to go free because of shady policies that delay justice and make prosecution a burden for the victims.
I am happy that I grew from my experiences, and that they didn’t crush me. I have grown only stronger, more vocal, and I wouldn’t pause for a second before defending myself again if I had to.
In the aftermath, I get to help people like me: smart, driven, amazing people who happened to love someone who wasn’t worth our love.
We were loyal to people that didn’t deserve our loyalty. We shared our goodness with the world, and like most good people, we gave too many chances to those who were undeserving.
One of the hardest parts about telling my story is fighting the preconceived notions as to what a victim looks like…What is even more difficult is sharing that because I was once a victim doesn’t mean I am a victim any longer.
I am a survivor. I am a conqueror.