I Got To Leave. I Was One of the Lucky Ones
The drip-drip-drip of coercive control is a torture that is difficult to describe to someone who doesn’t already understand.
On average, the police in England and Wales receive over 100 calls relating to domestic abuse every hour.
In Britain, a woman is killed by a violent partner every three days.
It is estimated that one in four women will experience domestic violence at some time in their lives.
A woman is assaulted an average of 35 times before she seeks help.
We all tell ourselves stories. In our stories, sometimes we are strong, sometimes we are weak. Sometimes we are the authors of our own destinies, and sometimes we are subjected to the will of others. Our stories don’t always reflect reality, but they do help shape it.
Eighty-six days ago, my story changed forever.
Eighty-seven days ago, this was my story.
I was happy. I was safe. I was married to a good man, we had happy children, and I was protected from the worst of misogyny due to my privileged status as a white woman with a healthy family income. I was surrounded by a supportive network of family, friends and acquaintances. My life was secure.
Merely a day later, that entire story fell apart when my husband attacked me for the first and last time.
I hesitate to tell the full details, knowing with surety that many of us have experienced the same, and how upsetting it is to be reminded of our own traumas.
It could have been worse. I “only” had one small bruise on my chin. And although my jaw still hurts, the pain is fading at last.
In many ways I have been very lucky. My abuser admitted his guilt and was immediately charged. I am safe, I remain in the family home and my children are protected by many wise professionals. I have been the so-called perfect victim, doing everything necessary to keep me and my children safe.
It has been the most painful, horrendous experience of my life, and the aftershocks will be felt for years to come, I am sure.
Despite doing everything “right,” I have been subjected to the most disgusting victim blaming and DARVO tactics by my so-called support network. Instead of believing me and trusting my reactions, they denied my experiences, and attacked me as if I was in the wrong. I have had to drop nearly everyone in my day-to-day life who I thought I could depend upon. I have begun to recognize how abusive patterns of behavior are replicated throughout many of my relationships, and this has been incredibly difficult and uncomfortable to acknowledge.
A woman is assaulted an average of 35 times before she seeks help. And now I know why—the lack of support from family, friends and greater society is a huge burden placed upon the victimized woman.
My abuser had nearly 20 years to hurt me. He constantly tried to make me small; the drip-drip-drip of coercive control is a torture that is difficult to describe to someone who doesn’t already understand. When he finally decided his verbal assaults weren’t enough to keep me down and used physical force to hurt me, he had everyone around us convinced we were a happy family, we had a solid marriage, and that he was a good man. The story I told myself was very believable to everyone around us.
I still had my phone in my hand when he walked away from the destruction he caused, threatening to do it again as he went down the stairs. I rang the police as soon as he was out of my sight, adrenaline and shock dulling my thoughts and slowing my replies. My children huddled in my five-year-old’s box bedroom, listening as I described the incident. The world shifted during those moments, our lives forever altered, our story changed irrevocably. I didn’t know how strong I would have to be in the days ahead.
At first, I was worried for him. Did he have a mental breakdown of some kind? Was his health issue causing some sort of imbalance in his brain? Why would he do such a thing? Why?
Clarity came quickly once the shock began to wear off and I realized I had two options: I could remain living with someone who proved himself capable of extreme violence, or I could leave him forever.
I chose to leave.
But our friends, our family, our community—they didn’t have the same experience as me. They didn’t see his face, they didn’t hear his voice, they didn’t have the bruise. Their story remained the same, and they couldn’t quite believe me.
They thought I was overreacting.
They thought I was too angry.
They thought I was too emotional.
I was none of these things.
I’ve decided to share my story because I know I’m not the only one. Not by a long shot. We are all walking wounded, whether we have a similar story to tell or not.
We live in a violent society. Violence against women is so commonplace as to be unnoticed. This is why so many of my acquaintances thought I should forgive my abuser, should go back to him, to preserve their world view, to preserve their mental story. My life is not valuable when my anger threatens their worldview. I no longer care.
Not every woman can share her story. Some women still live with their abusers. Some women are not safe. Some women are being killed—slowly, drip by excruciating drip.
Some women don’t know they are being abused, because—like the goldfish who doesn’t recognize it is swimming in water – abuse is everywhere, all around her, and it is normal. Some women recognize their abuse, but have no way of escaping.
And many of us—if not all of us—are wounded by society. We live in a misogynistic, abusive culture and we can’t necessarily escape internalized misogyny.
How many women told me I was overreacting, in their words or their deeds? Too many.
How many women have been made uncomfortable and scared by my anger and my reactions? Too many.
How many women wish I would have just kept my mouth shut and remained the “happy housewife”? Too many.
I argue that we are at war. Women are constantly subjected to consistent abusive tactics, whether it is the more subtle forms of the pornification and hyper-sexualization of women in general, the barrage of targeted physical and verbal abuse in public, or the abuse that happens in private, behind the closed doors of their own homes.
According to Women’s Aid:
“One study of 96 cases of domestic abuse recorded by the police found that men are significantly more likely to be repeat perpetrators and significantly more likely than women to use physical violence, threats, and harassment. In a six year tracking period the majority of recorded male perpetrators (83%) had at least two incidents of recorded abuse, with many having a lot more than two and one man having 52 repeat incidents. ….The study also found that men’s violence tended to create a context of fear and control; which was not the case when women were perpetrators.”
Women are targeted across the world, just for being female:
- Female genital mutilation; three million girls are targetted world-wide, each year.
- Child sexual exploitation and abuse; minimum estimates are 15-20% of girls world-wide.
- Trafficking; 79% of all human trafficking is sexual exploitation, and victims are predominantly women and girls.
- Child marriage; 15 million girls under the age of 18 are married each year.
- Domestic violence; affects one in four women in their lifetimes.
- Rape; 85,000 women experience rape, attempted rape or sexual assault by penetration in England and Wales each year.
- Coercive control; reports are on the increase, and are strongly linked to domestic violence against women.
- Murder by a romantic partner; 84% of all victims killed by a partner or ex-partner are women.
The list is much, much longer than this.
Entire economies depend upon violence against women. According to a study entitled “Trafficking Terror: How Modern Slavery and Sexual Violence Fund Terrorism” by Nikita Malik, there are clear links between terrorists, criminals and traffickers. A summary of this report by UKAid states:
“Key findings include the plethora of benefits that modern slavery presents to terrorist groups by attracting, retaining, mobilising and rewarding fighters and the clear links between terrorists, criminals, and traffickers. While terrorists seem to commit sexual violence for ideological reasons, ransom payments and trafficking indicate that this may also be an important source of revenue.”
In her essay “Freedom Now, Ending Violence Against Women,” Andrea Dworkin writes:
“Women will never be free unless we are not any longer treated as objects, which includes sexual objects. We are human beings; we are the center of our own lives. We are not things for men to act out on. We will never be free unless we stop the notion that violence is okay. It’s not okay. Nobody has a right to control another human being through violence. We cannot continue to sanction violence as a way of life—for both victim and executioner. Women are not ever going to be free unless all the institutions that support hurting women end—including the use of pornography by men, such that the hurting of women becomes a form of sexual entertainment; including the exploitation of women in prostitution, such that men have a right to lease women's bodies for sexual release whenever they want; and including incest, now the reigning model of male-female relations...
“All the people who can’t hear the screams have got to start being able to hear them. Those who can’t see the bruises on women standing in front of them have to be able to see them. They also have to have something they can do about it, and somewhere they can go when they hear, when they see.”
Eighty-seven days ago, I didn’t fully understand that one woman’s pain and suffering is all women’s pain and suffering. We are all walking wounded in this war on women.
Eighty-seven days ago, this pain was an abstract concept to me. I did not recognize that I was already part of it, that my life was already influenced by the suffering of women everywhere. I was slowly being boiled away, cooked in the evils of male violence.
With the strike of my abuser’s hand, something inside of me woke up. Something inside of me became strong. The theoretical was transformed into the practical, and I changed.
What helped me most through these changes is the acknowledgement of this shared trauma. It is the awareness of this common pain.
In her essay, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” Audre Lorde describes the importance of this collective healing:
“For women, the need and desire to nurture each other is not pathological but redemptive, and it is within that knowledge that our real power is rediscovered. It is this real connection which is so feared by a patriarchal world. Only within a patriarchal structure is maternity the only social power open to women. Interdependency between women is the way to a freedom which allows the I to be, not in order to be used, but in order to be creative.”
Eighty-six days ago, my story changed. I don’t have the full picture yet; I don’t have all the words to describe my new story. But I know this: It includes all women, everywhere, and in spite of the challenges I face, in spite of my and my children’s trauma, I stand up. I stand up for myself, I stand up for my sisters, I stand up for women everywhere, and I feel privileged in doing so. I will continue to fight against the oppression of women everywhere, because this is my story. This is who I am.
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