By Molly Lizzio, MA, LPMFT
Abuse is an ugly issue that most people have strong views about. As a society we repeatedly denounce child abuse; there aren’t many people who think abusing a child is ok. Yet something shifts when it’s intimate partner violence. The shift is subtle, the abuser can still be seen as a monster- however when it comes to grown women being beaten, screamed at, or demeaned there is now an element of blame on the victims. Why would she stay? People don’t ask that of children.
Some will say this is because children have less power and don’t know how to speak out, and my answer would be that power and control dynamics are consistent in abuse regardless of age. The reasons children don’t speak out is often the same as grown adults. As a society we fearlessly stand up for children being harmed; however when women, and even a small group of men, are being harmed in an intimate partner relationship the support is less consistent.
When the discussion of intimate partner violence comes up people ask questions like: “Why would she stay” or “Why doesn’t she leave”. It’s on the minds of everyone, and that alone should be a clue that the answer isn’t very simple. The fact that as a society we ask the same question over and over and over again should lead us to insight that it might not be anything anyone can truly and fully extensively understand unless they’ve experienced it.
One of the problems with understanding abuse is that abuse thrives from silence. It’s very important that people involved in that cycle remain quiet about it, so it can continue. It’s not just the victims who must remain silent; abusers are equally as silent about this cycle. Close family and friends who have suspicions often remain silent, out of fear: fear of the damage to a relationship, fear of what making an accusation will do within a family or even fear from the ramification for a victim if it was being spoken about.
Everyone involved is very silent. When it does come to light, outsiders look to the victim and the message is “shame on you- you should have spoken up”. Have these women no respect? To let someone hurt themphysically, emotionally, mentally? How could she let this continue? What about her children? These are the questions that are asked and the discussions had, then as a society we wonder why people remain quiet when faced with abuse.
Judgment is when questions are raised about a woman who won’t, can’t, or doesn’t know how to leave. That judgment is not helpful. Judging an abuse victim for not helping themselves is like saying they deserve what they’re getting, which is in direct alignment with the justification the abuser makes.
The advice I give is to come at this issue from a place of love. When you love someone and they’re hurting or are living in a way you don’t agree with and you’re worried, the questions sound different. They sound like “How can I help?” “What do you need” “Are you ok?”
When we come from a place of love, care, and concern the conversation changes. It’s time to reinvent how we all view domestic violence. As long as it’s seen as a purely women’s issue it only reaches a certain audience. This is a society issue, and the focus should not be solely on helping women out of intimate partner violence, but also teaching our young people about violence and anger. Arming both men and women alike with healthy coping skills is necessary. Even a simple word shift from “victims”, to referring to women’s as “survivors” speaks volumes.
The biggest thing is to talk about this issue. Break the silence on a large scale, make it something people know about, and our children understand is wrong in any context. This is a painful and misunderstood issue, and we may not ever fully understand all the dynamics at play, however, we have a much better shot when we come at the problem with love instead of judgment.