Words have the power to be dangerous, and when you are speaking in terms of domestic abuse, semantics do matter. So often, statements and quotes offered up in attempt to encourage a survivor of domestic violence actually end up having the opposite effect. How many of us will internalize what you said without seeking clarification, maybe being influenced to change the meaning attached to the simplest of words that could result in us reassigning blame to ourselves? How many of us would momentarily protest but give up once we have been talked over enough? How many of us would speak up in our defense and make our voice heard?
Opening up and holding a dialogue open about how abuse happens is imperative. With the number of reported cases climbing, and taking into consideration the vast number of victims not coming forward, it is urgent that we talk openly about it. However, much of what others say in many cases assigns blame to the victims and survivors. If you truly want to learn and understand the signs of abuse, the dangers we face, and how we are affected, we will engage you in conversation. However, even related to my preferences, I see the wrong message being sent. The message you send by what you say may cause someone further distress, so it is imperative that we change the language we use.
Some examples of things I have raised exception to in conversations I have had with others having no experience with abuse:
- To endure by force and to allow do NOT mean the same thing. When you tell a survivor of domestic violence that they cannot allow someone to treat them this way, the message you can be sending to them is that they somehow bear blame for the actions of the abuser. As if somehow if I wanted to, I could have stopped a man who had a hundred pounds on me from throwing me against the wall and choking me. It says to me that there is something I failed to do to stop him. I no more allowed what was done to me, entirely against my will, about as much as I allow it to rain. He is the only one who had control of his actions, and he chose to hurt me.
- To ask what we did to make the abuser harm us is not the same thing as asking why the abuser though they had the right. I know to a certain degree that many say this because they truly have no grasp or capability to fathom how another human being could willing do this to another simply because it is what they are. It really is irrelevant what I said or did prior to each instance of abuse. What matters is that he chose to do this, and you should be focused on why he would something like this to another human being, why he thought it was okay. And there is no act or word that ever justifies using violence against someone, no matter what it is.
- To ask why we stayed is not the same thing as asking why the abuser gets away with what they do when others begin to observe the signs or witness acts of abuse but turn a blind eye. The reasons we stay are as varied as the actual demographics of those enduring abuse. Asking me why I stayed again implies that something was wrong with me or that it was not as serious as I say it is. In actuality, I believe many of us tend understate these acts of abuse more than you would guess. Instead of focusing why we stayed (which really is referring to the conditions that had us trapped), instead search for reasons how the abuser continues to get away with what he / she does without consequence. Ask if the abuser’s family knew about the violence, did law enforcement agencies not take reports seriously, did others see acts of abuse and turn a blind eye?
- Telling you reasons we stayed is not the same thing as making excuses. I had many reasons why I stayed. The influential forces for me were actual physical entrapment, extreme isolation, financial distress, and desperate fear. For some there are children involved. Many victims are not allowed to work, do not have control of their finances, and rely on the abuser for even their most basic needs. When you are cut off from others, when your movements are controlled, when you are held in invisible shackles of fear that are so real to you that they might as well be iron fetters, these are not excuses. They are not ways to brush off responsibility onto a scapegoat. They are real, and some are extremely difficult to get loose from. We are not making excuses when we say we could not leave because we were trapped. We are simply telling you our story as it happened to us, and these reasons give you additional insight into the frightening personalities of those who abuse. We don’t want your pity. We want you to open your eyes and treat us with compassion, to take our stories with you and hopefully choose to use them to help others.
- Saying we chose to stay is not the same as being trapped. You cannot look me in the eye and tell me I had a choice to be where I was, because you can never fully know the extent of the traps laid for me. In addition to the mental trap of fear, many of us endure varying degrees of actual physical restraint: being cut off and forcefully isolated from others, being subject to monitoring our of whereabouts, who we are around, phone calls, texts, emails, and postal mail, being held inside the home for days (or weeks) at a time, and even being physically followed and watched from afar. If we are cut off from everyone, monitored, have no access to money, have children to care for and protect, and buried under threats – some of which are carried out to give us proof they will follow through – how can you say this is not truthfully being trapped? Being trapped is not a choice. Instead focus on the fact that we made a choice to try to escape. Be glad that we did.
- Saying abuse is only physical is wrong. There are actually MANY types of abuse, only three of which imply any physical action against the victim: physical, sexual, and stalking. There is also verbal (usually the first type employed) which progresses to emotional (and are often used simultaneously and can include gas lighting), financial, spiritual, and cyber stalking / use of technology to monitor and restrict the victim. Only physical and sexual abuse can leave visible marks. With the exception of serious injuries, these heal. Also, saying the abuse that poses danger to the victim is only physical in nature is denying the profound impact that verbal and emotional abuse actually exacts on those who endure it. To successfully arrive at a point where an abuser is able to also employ physical abuse, they use verbal and emotional abuse to manipulate, confuse, and brainwash the victim long enough and insidiously brutal enough that they completely empty out self-esteem and value. they prime their victims, and the impact of the emotional abuse – insults, threats, conditioning through fear, control of every last aspect of your life – lasts for years after we leave. Our confidence is destroyed, taking along with it our objectivity, ability to make decisions, trust, and security. Emotional death is a slow, painful process that was far worse for me than any physical punishment I endured.
- Generalizing and stereotyping victims is not okay. We are distinct individuals that come from diverse backgrounds. You cannot categorize us and say, “This only happens to the poor, to the uneducated, to certain races.” The truth is that it can happen to any of us at any time. Whether or not you choose to acknowledge it, abuse does happen, and it can happen to a parent, a sibling, a friend, and even you. What makes an abuser so dangerous in this aspect is how malicious they are. They have honed over the ability how to manipulate a person into a mental state prime for abuse. We, however, cannot look at a man or woman walking down the street and know they will abuse us. It happens to you as you are unaware, and you do not know it is happening until it is too late. Being abused has nothing to do with demographics, and implying so merely passes it off to someone else so it does not have to be dealt with.
- We do not like to be spoken of as a generic file folder with a number assigned to it. We are not statistics; we are human beings who have feelings. We have a face, we have a voice, and we have a name.
- Domestic violence is not a private matter. It is a string of crimes that stretches for miles behind us. You would not tell a victim of a home burglary it was their fault. Kidnapping, bank robbery, car-jacking, gang violence, etc. You would not look at them and say they shouldn’t air their dirty laundry in public. As such, the regular assaults we endured are also crimes. We were repeatedly violated in ways that had just the relationship between us ans those who abused us been in a different context, it would be called a crime.
Instead of asking why we stayed, ask how we got the courage to leave. Ask us how we became brave enough to leave, regardless of the risks we face when doing so… for a rough period of about two years, but for those with children it can be considerably more. They are often forced into a position by the family courts to allow visitation with the abuser, and must maintain open lines of communication regarding to care of their child(ren), and it comes with a guarantee that the abusive party will use this line and their children as a way to continue to manipulate and emotionally abuse the survivor.
Ask us to share our stories so you can better spot the signs. Ask us where we found the strength to endure. Ask us how we have overcome. Instead of viewing us as pitiable, see us as the hope, compassion, courage, and love we carry with us each day. That which we share selflessly with others, not just so our voices are heard, but so that others have hope, so that others can be encouraged, so others don’t have to endure abuse or lose their lives trying.
Speak of us as lights in the darkness, not as broken and discarded.
Speak of us, speak to us with kindness and dignity.
Speak to us with love.
Reblogged this on C Going Raw – HCRV and commented:
The right words
Reblogged this on Ladywithatruck's Blog and commented:
Powerful Post and oh so true!!
I teared up at the last bit there Amy…no words…really powerful post, thank you for continuing to be such a bright light…you do encourage and save everyday I am certain.
Thank you for your comment… As always with these kinds of posts, I saw one too many things that grated the wrong nerve on the wrong day, so I decided to give everyone a little advice on something they might not even see as being an issue.
Reblogged this on Narc Raiders and commented:
A must read and a must share…
“They are often forced into a position by the family courts to allow visitation with the abuser, and must maintain open lines of communication regarding to care of their child(ren), and it comes with a guarantee that the abusive party will use this line and their children as a way to continue to manipulate and emotionally abuse the survivor.”
Thank you for this post.
You’re welcome sweetie. *hugs*
Hugs right back…..
Reblogged this on Teela Hart and commented:
I have children and I am forced to deal with this issue on a regular basis and I can say that this hits the nail on the head in every way.
Thank you for making this post Sweet Marie.
Thank you. All truths that should be part of DV education.
I think with everything related to DV that needs to be addressed, this is definitely something that falls by the wayside. There are many urgent things that need to be handled when transitioning from an abusive home, but when it comes to healing, this is also urgent. Why take shots at someone’s vulnerability and cause them to doubt themselves?
To me, the MOST important thing NOT to say to a victim is any variation of the following:
“It takes two to tango…what was your part in this? Like Dr. Phil says, ‘There are no victims! There are always two sides to the story and I don’t want to take sides until I hear his side because neither you nor he are right or wrong, just different.'”
AHHHHH! People misquote that tango saying completely. It only takes one person to be an abuser and that leaves the other person to be, you guessed it, the “VICTIM”…so, yes, Dr. Phil, there CERTAINLY are victims. Dr. Phil’s own website has an article about verbal abuse on it and he calls the recipients of the verbal abuse ‘victims’. And if they seriously think the abuser will tell the truth on their side then they are oblivious to how abusers operate. And lastly, there most certainly are right and wrong and moral absolutes. These people think they are so enlightened when they spout crap like this but all they do is hurt the already beaten-down victim and encourage them to go back to trying harder and receiving even more abuse. Yes, the world needs be educated on this BIG TIME and the Dr. Phil’s of the world need a good piece of duck-tape over their mouths.
Just sayin’. 😉
I am quite sure that if they were to endure abuse themselves, then they would be compelled to urge the change in language and how discussions with survivors AND current victims of abuse are approached. They seem to fail to keep in mind that they bear accountability when handling these things.
Thank you so much for this. The paragraph about emotional abuse, in particular, really spoke to me.
You’re welcome… it’s URGENT to keep in mind that verbal and emotional abuse is where it all starts… it’s how they get us to the point they can add others methods of abuse, because once we’re completely emptied of all self-worth and love for ourselves, how can we have the motivation or the energy to fight the rest? Verbal and emotional abuse leaves damage behind that takes years to reverse, and I truly doubt that it will ever all go away.
Beautifully written. Thank you for writing this!!!
You’re welcome pumpkin 🙂 I sure you have some you could add.
well-put. I have to confess here that I was one of those people who used to say that I would NEVER allow someone to abuse me. when my sister ended up in an abusive relationship, I asked her why she wouldn’t just leave – why she would accept that type of treatment. I didn’t mean to offend anyone when I said things like that, but I was ignorant of the problem – totally unaware of the severe emotional abuse and manipulation and just ignorant to think that there was something I could do to prevent it from happening to me.
this is exactly why your blog is so important. thanks for always speaking out, lady! love you! ❤
I am sure that many people can say they were once in your position. At the heart of it, I truly believe that attitude is perpetuated by the fact that we AREN’T TAUGHT or WARNED it CAN happen to us… we’re always taught that it happens to others and that it isn’t our business. We’re taught that relationships work out to be fairy tales, and that societal attitude must change. Look at the millions of people who are being harmed by it? It’s now so out of control that they really should start implementing Healthy Relationships classes in school starting in elementary school. How can they know it’s wrong if no one tells them is and gives them examples of the way healthy relationships work?
Well said. Being asked, “why didn’t you just leave?” gets old. I try to use it as a springboard to dive into why victims actually don’t leave and the fact I hammer on in blog posts that the risk of homicide goes up 75 percent when you leave an abusive relationship. If it was as easy as just leaving, we would have done that years before we actually did.
Prime example of why people who do not have first hand knowledge should not speak on things they don’t know. It’s easy when you’re on the outside of the situation to make assumptions and give a million and one examples why they would or wouldn’t do or allow this. It’s easy to surmise when the weight isn’t bearing down on you like a mountain and you are sealed in the pressure cooker with the roaring lion.
“Sealed in the pressure cooker with the roaring lion.” WOW. SO well said!! That’s exactly what it feels like. I’ve been out for years and finally feel healed but just reading that line brought that dark and HEAVY and hopeless feeling all back to me for a moment. THANK GOD I am out now. Blessings to all!
It wasn’t my intention to make anyone relive that feeling. I apologize to you, but for those who have never been through abuse, it pretty much sums up my experience. I hope the moment has passed.
No worries! It’s good for me to feel that horrible feeling now and again to remind myself that I NEVER want to go back to that!! The reminder is always immediately followed with such a feeling of gratitude for having survived and the knowledge I now have. It is also mixed with a great feeling of happiness at being FREE!!! 🙂
Reblogged this on Blog Of A Mad Black Woman and commented:
Amy is spot on with this post.
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Reblogged this on evenicanrise and commented:
I HIGHLY SUGGEST THIS AMAZING TED TALK VIDEO! If you don’t have time to listen to all of it, start at 3:00. You will see how much language does matter. God bless this man for his work! http://www.ted.com/talks/jackson_katz_violence_against_women_it_s_a_men_s_issue
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Reblogged this on A Muslim Survivor of Domestic violence.