I’ve written a bit about abuse and trauma, mostly in the form of facebook posts, waiting for an opportunity to put my ideas together more cohesively.
It’s summer, in the desert, during a pandemic where my most socially responsible behavior is to stay home.
Especially for women, home is more than just a place to sleep. It is often community, work, identity, investment. Why then do we insist, even if a breakup is necessary, that it is the victim who must leave? Why not support the victim in removing the perpetrator and protecting the victim? Why is the assumption that it is her move, not his?
(I use gendered pronouns because that is the essential paradigm of abuse, that gender would apply to any victim or perpetrator. It is also my frame of reference, my lived experience. If you need different pronouns, please feel free to substitute your own. )
Victims of domestic violence are told the perpetrator won’t and can’t change and the only recourse is for the victim to leave and it is the victim who must change. DSM diagnoses pathologize victims but not perpetrators. His violence is normal. It is her “willingness” to be a target that is considered sick; that the victim didn’t heed red flags or make better choices, didn’t see the patterns, that victims think of themselves as victims, play the victim (this is a game?), that survivors are superior to victims.
I use the term victim quite intentionally in my writing. There should be no shame in being a victim. It is BY DEFINITION, NOT A CHOICE! Some victims don’t survive. Making a moral or spiritual distinction further maintains the focus on the victim and not the perpetrators.
BLAMING THE VICTIM FURTHER NORMALIZES AND ENABLES THE PERPETRATOR.
There are many reasons a victim may have to stay. There is often extreme push back on victims who do change. The most dangerous time for a victim of an abusive relationship is during or after she decides to leave. Victims who fight back or push back are often identified as problematic, disruptive, unpleasant or even violent. The prisons are full of victims who fought back. Victims who kill their abusers routinely get longer prison terms and harsher verdicts than serial abusers who kill their victims.
Why is abuse always put on the abused to stop? Why is it the abused who should leave? (Often sent to spaces called shelters that are abusive, controlling environments that remove the agency of their clients and underpay and over work their staff).
Why is the removal of the victim the explicit solution?
Why do we insist that abusers won’t or can’t change? Why do we not instead, hold them accountable, in community? Why do we continue to present abuse as a personal problem and the personal choice of the victim instead of the systemic issue of power and oppression?
I am not saying we shouldn’t support the victim if they want to leave. I was addressing the mandate that the victim is the one who is told to leave, told it is their responsibility to leave and is told that to get help, sympathy or support, must leave.
Victims are rarely provided with sufficient resources to stay or leave, but the agency should be the victim’s.
There are even programs that refuse to help a victim if they don’t want to leave, especially if they don’t want to break up with the abuser.
There are few if any systems of support to protect the victim and hold the abuser accountable.
Also, the mandate to leave seems to only apply to heteronormative– in form if not in substance– domestic relationships.
People in abusive work situations are told to learn to work with difficult people. Monday morning blues are the generally accepted indicator of how pervasive and normal workplace abuse is.
Children with abusive parents are told that the family unit must be preserved and it is the parents who have to change.
Parents who have abusive children (yes, it happens) are told it’s all their fault (as if there aren’t other systems pressing on children: ex-partners, people in power, media, etc.)
My understanding of abuse and trauma has been empowered and informed by several important books and some articles, that I link to below.
One of the most important books on my shelf is Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery. Herman describes how systemic trauma is, and for women, how abuse, at the earliest age is common and pervasive and that one traumatic experience often puts the victim in positions that are retraumatizing. These are more than just the victim’s patterns. These are social patterns imposed on marginalized people, often in a squirrel’s wheel that can be difficult to escape.
Patricia Evans provides the anatomy of abuse and what the abusers think. Those books are essential especially for people dealing with gaslighting, moving goal posts, confabulations and false accusations
Also available free, in PDF:
The Verbally Abusive Relationship, Expanded Third Edition: How to recognize it and how to respond Paperback – January 18, 2010