Earlier this week, I opened Facebook, and the first photo in my feed was a woman’s face partially wrapped in gauze, her eyes and cheeks purple and swollen. This woman is part of a small online writer’s forum I belong to. She posted her photo and story in that secret group because it was the only safe space she could.
Her ex — whom she had left for being abusive — had broken into her home a few days prior and assaulted her. Like millions — millions — of other women, she had been violently attacked by a man who was supposed to love and protect her. Like millions of women, she was afraid and confused. Her story was shocking and horrific, but not terribly uncommon. Not nearly uncommon enough, anyway.
I’ve never been hit by a loved one. I’ve never been afraid of an intimate partner. I can’t imagine the confusion, the fear, and the undeserved shame that women who have been abused experience. I can’t offer an “I’ve been there,” kind of solidarity, and obviously, I don’t wish that I could.
But that doesn’t mean that I can’t help.
The photos of that woman’s face prompted me to spend several days reading stories about domestic abuse survivors. I’ve read story after story of woman after woman who has hidden her bruises, found herself explaining away abusive behavior, and genuinely wondered if the man she loves might actually kill her in his next fit of rage. I’ve read story after story of partners who have made it sound as if their wives or girlfriends provoked them into beating them bloody, who have apologized profusely for the violence, and who have promised multiple times that it would never happen again.
I’ve read these stories more to try to understand the abused than the abuser. I know most women in abusive relationships find themselves in those situations unwittingly. I know that abuse often comes on gradually, that it’s not as black-and-white as “If a man ever hits me, I’m out of there.” I know that strong, healthy, smart women can spend years in unhealthy and unsafe situations they don’t know how to get out of. I know that violence can happen with words as well as with fists.
Domestic violence statistics are sobering, to say the least. One in 4 women in the United States will be victims of severe violence at the hands of an intimate partner during their lifetimes — 1 in 4. That means that all of us know women who are in or who have been in abusive relationships, and most of us have no idea. I wish I could snap my fingers and make those statistics disappear, but I can’t.
What I can do is be there for women who find themselves trapped in dangerous love. I can be a safe place — a harbor for those of you who feel lost in a stormy sea of anger, blame, shame, and fear. I can and will believe you when you tell me you feel afraid or unsafe. I can and will tell you — as many times as it takes for you to hear it — it’s not your fault, that his blaming words are bullshit, and that nothing you did made hurting you OK. I can and will find you the help you need.
I will be a safe physical place, as well as a safe emotional one. I won’t ask you why you stayed or why you waited so long to get help. Emotional manipulation is a hallmark of both verbal and physical abuse, and I know that asking you those questions will only deepen the sense that somehow you brought this upon yourself.
I won’t ask you why he got so angry, since I know you’ve asked yourself that question a thousand times and there is no reasonable answer. I won’t ask you how you can love someone who hurts you. I know that love doesn’t always make sense.
But I will tell you that someone who loves you should not hurt you. I will tell you from the bottom of my heart that you don’t deserve to have your body or your heart violated. I will be the bridge between you and the authorities and hold your hand through that scary process. I will offer you whatever strength and support you need.
I will believe you, and I will believe in you.
If you are in a relationship where you do not feel 100% safe, please, please, please tell someone. Tell a friend. Tell a stranger. Tell me. Don’t be afraid that women like me who have never been where you are won’t understand. Don’t be ashamed to admit that you are in a situation you don’t know how to get out of. Don’t be embarrassed that you are one of the 25%. You are not alone.
Those are not trivial words. That statement is 100% true, no matter how you look at it. You are not alone.
My writer friend shared her story here, anonymously, in the hope that other women who may see themselves in it will seek help.
Please, tell someone if you are being hurt. If that doesn’t work, tell someone else, and keep going until you find one of us who can help you reclaim your safety.
If you need a secret place to escape to, please check out the site www.domesticshelters.org. You do not have to stay with an abusive partner. You do not owe them anything. You do not have to suffer through this. There is no judgment here. Just solidarity and support, sister.
Tell me. Tell someone.
You are not alone. You can do this.