For Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Remember That Love Doesn't Hurt
Love does not hurt you
Love fills you with strength and beauty
Love knows no abuse
The first time someone I (thought I) loved slapped me, I was stunned into silence. I was 16, he was 24, and while there were so many things wrong with our pairing, the physical and emotional abuse were the worst. How does a 16-year-old respond to a hard slap across the cheek in response to saying something he would later say made him feel like "less of a man", when he is bigger and is much stronger? My ears ringing, I paused, completely silenced and stunned that he would strike out at me rather than discuss whatever I said that upset him. It seemed excessive, and I found myself (oddly) doing more to make sense of it than process it as wrong.
Image: Crystal via Flickr
He was an abuser. He was a statutory rapist. He was a shadow of a man who preyed on the young and vulnerable. He knew my story, my experiences with other traumas. He knew my weaknesses and my insecurities. He never loved me. I'm not sure he ever actually liked me. He wanted to use my body and manipulate my mind. And I let him. For years, I held onto the idea that everything I experienced with him was my fault, that I should have known better getting involved with a man who was dead wrong for having sex with a minor and engaging in any type of romantic affair. I blamed myself for "letting" him treat me like crap and it shaped how I would go on to approach (or avoid) relationships going forward.
Yes, I know now that it wasn't my fault, but it took a very long time for me to get to that place of reconciliation. I didn't tell me parents because I knew for sure my father would end up in jail after killing him. I didn't tell my friends because they seemed to think it was cool that I was dating an "older guy." I carried this with me , silently, for years, barely admitting to myself that I was in that kind of relationship. I, the strong, bold, intelligent, brave leader way beyond her years in maturity and ability, was in an abusive relationship before I legally became an adult.
October is Domestic/Intimate Partner Violence Awareness Month, and I write this to draw attention to a few things:
Don't assume that DV/IPV victims fit a certain "type." For example, men are victims of nearly 3 million physical assaults. Children are also victims of domestic violence, often bearing witness to incidents that can traumatize them. Yes, women are more likely to be direct victims of DV/IPV, but we can't ignore how it has an impact on entire families. There are no age limits, racial, religious, or sexual orientation restrictions.
Don't assume that victims of DV/IPV are weak or stupid, or deserving of the treatment because they don't "just leave." Women are 75% more likely to be killed by their partners if they leave than if they stay. Economic factors play a big role, especially during tough times and recession. Women, especially mothers, are often fearful of leaving an economically sound situation to face homelessness. Domestic violence is the third leading cause of homelessness.
Turning away from someone in an abusive relationship because of how it makes you feel can be detrimental for that person. While it may take someone a long time to reach a place of feeling comfortable and safe enough to leave an abusive relationship, what will help in that decision-making process is knowing there are people upon whom she or he can rely. When you get so frustrated that you give up and distance yourself, you are possibly closing the one open door that provides a guiding light to the end of the tunnel. Talk to someone about how bearing witness to the situation makes you feel and seek help for how you can be supportive. Documenting things you notice, bruises, marks, comments made, etc. with dates and times can prove to be valuable later on when charges are being pressed, for example.
Awareness is key. Educate yourself about the signs and symptoms of an abusive relationship. If you're in an abusive relationship, please check out Safe Horizon for resources and ways you can get help. Talk to someone you trust not to go back to your abuser with information you provide.
It's not your fault.
It is never your fault.