Sarafina Bianco debunks two myths about abuse: a closer look at common misconceptions during Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
1. It’s a women’s issue.
Domestic violence is more about people than women. The further into my recovery I’ve made it, the more I’ve realized labeling abuse as a women’s issue is detrimental to the cause. Sure, most domestic violence messages and resources are directed at and for women, and—I think—that’s simply because the dynamics of abuse have changed.
When women predominantly stayed home to raise kids, allowing their husbands to be the bread winners, it was much more difficult for them to leave. How could they without an income? How could they become independent without a society that understood the dynamics of abuse or liberated women from archetypical roles in society? Then trailblazers started seeking equal rights and opportunities for women to get into the work force so they could live successful, independent lives. Shelters and non-profits grew. So did awareness of abuse against women.
It’s difficult to find a media outlet that doesn’t cover female survivors’ stories. And it’s even more difficult to find one that covers abuse against men. Men are predominantly seen as the abusers, not the abused. Also, the ramifications of witnessing abuse—of being a secondary survivor—are hardly touched, leaving the boys and girls who watched one parent abuse the other are left even more victimized, with no support and feeling as if their voices don’t matter.
Domestic violence is everyone’s issue. Just because we see more of one side of the story than the other, doesn’t mean we should ignorantly assume nobody else suffers. It’s when we close these avenues of discussion that society runs the risk of never understanding how deeply rooted the issue is, and that blocks our ability to eradicate it.
2. One survivor’s story is not more important than another.
While I went to group therapy sessions or talked to other survivors online, it was incredibly common for me to compare my abuse to theirs. All of this, I should mention, happened very early in my recovery. If, for instance, another survivor told me they married their abuser, then it was easy for me to say, “at least I didn’t marry him,” and label them, dissecting their decisions to make me feel superior in some way. On the flip side of that argument, some survivors will look at me and say, “if I hadn’t married mine, I would never have stayed.”
These comparisons of our stories do not lead to a better understanding of anyone. And, in truth, they only serve to make each of us feel alienated, just as we did while we were being attacked. Looking back, I think the comparing enables us to retain a level of ignorance. If I was able to say, “I would do this,” or “I definitely wouldn’t have done what she did,” then I still feel safer and convince myself it could never happen again.
Sometimes survivors are harder on each other than society. Sometimes it’s easy to label someone else, instead of looking at the hard facts. Because, if I can’t belittle someone else for their decision, then I’m scared that maybe I could make that decision myself. Maybe my husband could become my abuser. Maybe I would excuse and tolerate it at first and hope he would change. Maybe my experience makes me more likely, instead of less, to ignore signs of my kids being abused. Maybe.
And that’s a lot to deal with, especially when your brain is already exhausted by the past. Our futures are where our safety sits. If the possibility of being abused again surfaces, then we feel hopeless. So we don’t allow that possibility in our thinking.
If survivors want to overcome and raise awareness, then we need to stop insulting one another for having a different story from our own.
The world is watching us, especially this month. It’s our time to start sharing every story we can. It is my hope that more men, more same-sex couples, and more secondary survivors begin sharing. And it’s also my hope that those of us who lived to tell our stories will stop judging one another because of our differences. In fact, our differences are what will help better educate society on the dynamics and prevalence of abuse. I, for one, want to embrace it all.
With more voices, we take back our power.
It’s time to unsilence the violence.