How To (Actually) Deal With Victims of Abuse

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Hiya! My name’s Esha. I’ve had a pretty shit time of late. My victim support officer suggested a great way to combat said shit time would be to write about it. Frustratingly, there’s a lot of shit stuff I’d like to write about that I’m not able to share publicly at this time. However, some shit issues that I think are shit I can talk about. So here, welcome to shit!

Look at us, teetering on the brink of this exciting era where women are actually heard when they speak! In spite of the deeply saddening circumstances that’ve catapulted these dialects before us, you’ve no doubt noticed the recent flurry of inspiring women’s voices that have graced our computer screens. Coinciding with this, I’ve recently been a huge advocate of a fantastic thing I’ve discovered where you call out hurtful bullshit vehemently for all to hear. Namely, violence against women. An issue that’s so present yet occasionally so neglected.

Like pretty much everyone ever, I wasn’t told what an abusive relationship looked like. My understanding of what constitutes sexual violence still develops with each therapy session. I’m also no pro at exercising compassion myself – initially I handled anger with the perpetrator via shading women he was supposedly sleeping with – something that’s gross, insecure and ultimately something that’s not going to relieve the hurt and black eyes or prevent them being dished out in the future. (Side note: also remember to always chill on doing things out of the burning fires of vengeance.) Which is why when it comes to issues concerning violence against women, everyone needs to tread with caution. The swift blocking on Facebook of someone making accusatory claims just won’t do. Such actions merely provide another means by which abusive individuals are easily allowed to fail to face up to allegations.

Sure, I sound like a right fucking stickler. But once you’ve smashed out a few stints cooped up in your room due to a bruised face these matters become pretty damn important. Abuse still goes overwhelmingly unpunished and a few small tweaks in attitude can actively aid change because silence is of no benefit to a victim of abuse and no one should have to keep their abuser’s secrets.

Of course all cases need to be reported accurately and with extreme precision – but the feeling of being shot down is not only unbearably dehumanising – it has serious implications. Yes, it’s absurdly painful and upsetting to be dismissed. (Just FYI, it kind of feels a bit like someone’s shoved an important digestive system into a blender.) But the effects aren’t just emotional – they’re much more sinister- silence sets a dangerous precedent for women.

Bottom line folks: women deserve the right to be believed and insufferable superiority in any form (be it one’s place of work, social status or even age) frequently seems to act as a pitiful means of protection. This needs to stop – as does treating people with suspicion and scorn. There is just no room for bias when it comes to this stuff and unless we back women up, abusive behaviour will continue to thrive.

Hearing women use their voice to strengthen mine has been an unfathomably empowering experience. Be it friends, councillors or strangers on the internet – I can’t thank you all enough. They’ve spoken up for me even when it’s been an uncomfortable subject to do so about. Their zero tolerance approach to abuse has shaped mine – and it should be an approach adopted across the board. Being heard and taken seriously shouldn’t be some sort of privilege granted to a select few, and the sooner people realise that a difficult, complex and manipulative relationship does not excuse abuse, the better. Fuck your fickleness and fuck your clique.

The reflexive disbelief of woman says a worrying amount about our society, huh? But why the inherent scepticism? Often, bringing attention to an abuser seems worse than actually being an abuser. Of course nobody enjoys hearing about abuse. It’s horrible, dark and depressing. Yet this doesn’t excuse our grim – and downright dangerous – tendency to let it fester in the shadows. Surely we’re all aware that neglecting violence because it’s close to home and tough to look at does a shit job of preventing it? Sadly, our culture – as it stands – is aggressively compensatory. We’re not so good at getting mad and getting even: we can be forgiving to the point we disband entirely the goal of supporting victims in favour of perpetrators and their popularity. The truth is an unsettling amount of shitty behaviour still appears to be collecting beneath the carpets of sexy digital media companies and the like.

It does seem, particularly of late, that we’re getting rather alright at calling out said bullshit. People are increasingly deterred from protecting perpetrators just because they’re people they’ve previously admired or trusted. We seem to understand more frequently that just because you interned for someone once and they didn’t smash anyone’s face into a wall – doesn’t mean they’re not capable of doing so. This is positive but not always the case. Call them out. Hold them accountable for their actions. Take their space away. Don’t be bewitched by their proximity to ‘cool’. Stop making it impossibly hard for people to build cases against people of influence. Slowly but surely the gross and ancient act of looking the other way when it comes to assault is starting to erode – but there’s still plenty of work to be done on all of our behalves.

Women are still required to jump through hoops before the validity of their story ceases to be questioned. Unfortunately, we’re yet to develop a puffer machine that detects terrible scumbags who should eat shit for eternity. So often perpetrators come across as normal, good people. And I get it, you can’t vet everyone, but unfortunately ‘the person I know wouldn’t have done those things’ or ‘no but he’s a really nice guy’ don’t quite cut it when it comes to abuse – and the sad truth is you probably didn’t know that person quite as well as you thought – you’ve likely only seen the side of them that appealed to a victim in the first place. Stop deifying abusers as saints. Nothing stings more than being left bruised and bloody by someone who’s so nice to everyone else. People we love are also capable of perpetuating violence – it’s called being a complex human being. People responsible for violence are more often than not people we love and trust, and I also get that digesting the information that someone you previously thought was perfectly safe may actually be an abuser is tough. But it must be done. Otherwise we begin to edge dangerously close to victim blaming and, once more, reflect culture’s penchant for making it virtually impossible for victims to be believed or heard – plus it just so happens you’re doing a pitiful job of championing female empowerment while you’re at it.

Here are some tips: look into stuff when you can. Investigate. Ask questions. Stop ruling in favour of someone’s reputation at the expense of another’s life. Acknowledge that someone is responsible for violence and act on that revelation because interrupting the cycle of violence is the only means by which it can be prevented. This isn’t me summoning a lynch mob or suggesting the collective villainizing of an individual; holding friends accountable doesn’t necessarily mean you have point blank abandon them. Help them recognise what they’ve done is wrong. Help them get help if you think that’s what they need – but call them out. Only this way will they be able to achieve a level of respect for their victims and the unquantifiable torment they’ve inflicted upon them.

The thing is, no one is willing to put themselves on the firing line and mistrust seems worryingly ingrained within our culture. From my own personal experience, I would go as far as to say that concern for the assault itself is secondary to the credibility of a person’s report. Conversation is more often than not centred around whether or not a crime happened. Never really the crime itself. Why so many questions regarding the veracity of survivor’s accounts? Surely we all agree that it’s better to speak up than stay silent? Surely we all agree no one should be scared into silence? So why aren’t more people seeking to break this pattern?

By whatever means you do it – contributing to the silencing of a person on any level automatically makes you part of the problem. Be it a block, a dismissal or an active decision to ignore someone looking for help: compassion cannot be selective. Every woman who speaks up risks not being believed; being shunned from social circles; having their entire existence crumble around them. On that note, here’s a smashing ground rules to live by: 1) Don’t turn the other way. Don’t ignore it – someone’s saying something important. Listen.

It sucks when people rush to the defence of those who have hurt us. It sucks when people turn away. Maybe you’re thinking that it’s also just this thing called life. Not so much when it comes to abuse. One less dangerous man is a serious and important step forward. As for why people defend assaulters, I reckon there’s a myriad of lame-ass reasons. One that’s explicitly relevant to my experience is as follows: when someone in any position of power is involved – the likelihood is people avoid addressing it at all costs.

Powerful men and the recruitment of young, vulnerable women. This is a problem that’s particularly persistent within certain industries. Especially those possessing status of a blisteringly trendy degree, so  much so that we may feel hotly pressurised into letting a few arse grabs and vom-inducingly inappropriate comments slide if it nudges an internship along. Spoiler alert: once the dude you’re interning for starts talking about the glorious combo that is your butt and leggings – it’s probably time you ducked out. You’d think with all the attention swarming this matter of late things would be progressing – yet a recent run in with a #shit #hot media company suggests otherwise. Or perhaps I just boast a totally unwarranted problem with industries reporting (albeit with excellence and astounding compassion) on the importance of calling out abusive human beings, while simultaneously employing such individuals. Is it not the social responsibility of industries to avoid such hypocrisy and avert the criticism of matters of which they too are guilty? Pretending to be something you’re not is dangerous enough as it is – truth always come to light – but there’s other ways in which hypocrisy can be detrimental. Abuse transcends all socioecomomic categories – but can be more swiftly eliminated from some (particularly companies who cover issues of violence on a daily basis such as the media) than others. Dragging the tragedy of domestic violence into light via a 2000-word piece is a fantastic vehicle through which one’s able protest against the horrors of abuse and acts as a giant leap towards said elimination – however will fail to truly contribute to the exile of violence from communities as long as a known abuser is perched on the payroll of its publisher. The employment, and therefore endorsement, of any person actively oppressive to women in itself is a failure to act for the benefit of victims and preserves the stigma of abuse and its troubled relationship with silence within an industry from which it could so easily be eradicated. When a company is externally so strongly associated with equality surely this should be echoed internally?

The issue with power dynamics (that’s one person being in power, and the other not) is that this differential can be taken advantage of and is of course unfathomably intimidating. If industries that are particularly powerful and influential do not make an example of abusers, then they are undoubtably enabling and excusing incidents of unprecedented violence. A lack of consequences is just another method of silencing. At worst, it’s a nod of approval, a gesture of support. Put perfectly by Jackie Fuchs, ‘No one want’s to be kicked out of the exclusive club.’ Impunity for offenders must be abolished within industries. One’s big, fancy, and most importantly ‘cool’ job should not take priority over the wellbeing of a human being and industries knowingly housing abusers have an obligation and most importantly an opportunity to counter this devastating trend and cut ties. Set the example that treating women atrociously is unacceptable and refuse to let a person’s reputation bounce back buoyantly. Put an end to the epidemic whilst simultaneously helping victims not to live in fear of counteraccusations and then BAM – you have progress.

In general – it’s also important to remember not to be uber judgemental and do your upmost to steer away from the snubbing of an individual because they failed to handle an abusive situation in the ‘correct’ way. Let’s all try and remember that misplaced judgements occasionally get the better of everyone and thankfully not all of us can comprehend the amount of emotional uproar victims endure and that ‘WHY ARE YOU FUCKING HIM? WHY ARE YOU FUCKING HIM DON’T YOU CARE ABOUT THE TERRIBLE THINGS HE DID TO ME?’ message was likely sent under the influence of debilitating turmoil. We need to shake this dire habit of looking to the behavior of a woman to explain why she’s been left stippled with bruises.

Another ace nugget of advice: we should always be supportive of other women. This has been a relatively new one for me. It goes something like this: lets stay true to ourselves and constantly take actual action for women’s rights. Listen to your heart. Surely it’s not worth backing someone if it means you can’t do that? Recently, women are doing a fantastic job of harnessing the power of media to ‘set the record straight’ as it were. A monumental amount of us identify as feminists –  and we can all agree that the empowerment of woman is top of this agenda, so let’s not forget about our investment in said empowerment when it counts most. It’s all of our jobs to take action for the women’s rights we claim to hold so dear – and convenience has no place here. It’s not about picking and choosing who you support and when – to sound like a roaring douche – practice what you preach. No doubt you find the idea of violence against women abhorrent, so why not do something about it? Choosing to believe a woman is a start. Choosing not to stand by an abusive individual at the cost of your core values is a start. Less and less people will experience domestic violence if we speak out against it, but none of this is going to work if we don’t band together and focus on cementing this ‘Believe Women’ sentiment as a movement, not just another social media moment. Don’t seek to shut another woman down.

Then there’s that whole thing regarding men’s inability and downright refusal to hold other men accountable. Absolutely fuck that. To any guys out there maintaining silence due to fear of being excommunicated from your ‘boys club’ – please take this opportunity to sort it the fuck out – hold your fellow men as accountable as they deserve to be held. We must hold our friends to standards because, inevitably, failure to do so would make us an enabler. Such avoidance acts as another avenue through which we’re in danger of preserving the abuse – letting it slide.

Not to mention the effects of shunning are also devastating. I spent pretty much the duration of January crying into pillows/my mum over strangers on the internet who had blocked me. Me being a pathetic tosser aside: each speck of abusive behaviour we let go has the potential to snowball. The protection of assaulters reiterates the narrative of abuse: I can do anything I want to you. It does not matter. I will get away with it. The act of silencing means survivors of abuse will never experience anything even remotely approximating justice, fairness and most importantly – closure. We’re all running around doing this totally weird thing where we fight each other instead of uniting and fighting back. Never make someone feel as though their opinions are void of value. It’s a hideously isolating experience to find yourself subject to. It’s important to remember that the effects of sexual violence will irredeemably impact an individual’s entire existence – and the rejection of your reluctance to believe contributes staggeringly to the empowerment of someone whose dignity has been destroyed.

From what I now understand of violence, it’s about power. It’s about entitlement and the desire to use another’s body for ones own, selfish gratification. It’s centred around unequal dynamics within which a person actively prioritises their own needs over another’s. It reeks of the ways that patriarchal structures encourage men to prioritise their needs over women’s while using them as sexual objects geared solely towards their own satisfaction. THIS is why it’s important not to turn away from violence, and victims of it. What we must understand about survivors of violence, is that they had absolutely no control over what happened to them. Why? Because of the ways power is still all too often distributed in our culture. But we’re in a position to change that. We can give back some of that control simply by listening. There’s millions of girls out there who don’t feel they have a voice. Why not give them one? Why not trust women? A whole bunch of voices trumps one, right? By listening we can give more women hope and courage to come forward. The more we learn about domestic abuse the more sense we can make of it. The more we listen, the more we can speak out against the darkness.

I understand I’ve been a bit lary about all of this. It’s all very new to me and I look forward to the day I can detail my own encounters with violence. For the time being there’s a couple of things I’m newly striving to achieve. Let’s be brave, let’s make things better. Let’s band together. Let’s drive the change. Let’s share stories. Let’s all offer our support and solidarity to women. Let’s listen. Most important of all: Let’s BELIEVE women.

Words by Aisha Nozari.

Illustrations by Miranda Sharp.

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