This got me thinking about why domestic abuse is still such a hidden crime and the simple answer is.....because society keeps it hidden and effectively silences the victims. Nobody wants to hear about the frequency of domestic abuse and how high the statistics are. If they hear about it they feel uncomfortable because they may have to acknowledge that this issue is huge. According to World Bank data more women aged 15-44 are at risk from domestic abuse/violence and rape than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria. Facts like this show that all women are vulnerable to domestic abuse and this is why people ignore it - its just too scary a thought to handle.
Domestic abuse victims are silenced throughout their suffering. Ironically the silencing starts with themselves. The abuser will have been on a charm offensive for the initial dating period and the victim will have spent most of their time praising the abuser to all their friends and family. They will have told them that they have met their "dream man", "Mr Right", "Prince Charming", everything will have been perfect. Their facebook will have been plastered with happy photos of them together, going to new places, having fun. Once they have fallen for the abuser, the abuse will be drip fed in like a poison. Amidst the "happy times" they will now experience some absolutely awful times. Their instincts which were previously in tune will now be silenced with explanations they cling to like "he's under stress", "it must've been a bad day", "you always take things out on the people you love". They will be in a constant state of confusion and won't know which side of their partner they are going to experience next...this is wear the phrase "walking on egg shells" comes from as they will be trading carefully so as not to bring out the "bad side". Characteristics + behaviour that would have previously sent them running now won't because they are too busy silencing all those niggling doubts about their abuser with the attempted justification "I've seen how fantastic he can be so this must just be a glitch".
During this time the abuser will have isolated them from their original support network. The victim may not see friends and family as much as the abuser will have wanted their partner all to themselves, or may have got stroppy when they suggested going to meet a friend for a drink, so they don't go in attempt to keep the peace. Instead of confiding in people, the victim remains silent and keeps all her doubts to herself.
It is only when the abuse gets worse and more frequent (which it will) that the victim will firstly start admitting to themselves that this "perfect relationship" is no longer what they have always dreamed of, but instead a living nightmare. At this point they may reach out to a friend. Depending on how much the friend knows about domestic abuse will depend on the helpfulness of the advise given. In fact the victim may be advised that they stick with the partner as he must be having a tough time and it will probably pass...and again the silence continues.
The victim may then not feel able to speak up again, and at this stage their abuser may be threatening to "break their neck" or hurt them or their family if they do tell anyone. The abuser may tell them that "no one will believe you", and their first experience of confiding in someone may have proved this.
My advise to all victims of domestic abuse is listen to your gut instinct. Try and filter out all the empty words and promises your abuser has been saying. Forget about the character he was at the start of the relationship...as this was nothing but an act. Focus on how he treats you now. Nice men don't abuse in any way, even if they are having a bad day. Stop silencing your niggling doubts and start listening to them. Your gut instinct is there to protect you and the minute you start to listen to it is the minute you turn a corner and can seek help to leave. Always get advice from a domestic abuse charity or helpline as these people understand the complexity of the crime whereas your close friends may not. Leaving requires safety planning and the experts can help you.
Unfortunately the silencing continues after the victim has escaped from the abuse. If you speak up about domestic abuse your friends will mistake this for not being over the relationship. The reality is completely the opposite. For me I knew I was completely over the relationship the moment I felt able to disclose to friends that what I had actually been through was domestic abuse. I was no longer silent I had found my voice and was beginning to be myself again. I found my voice after I had ended the relationship, and by this time felt it was pointless going to the police which is the one thing I regret. In fact a lot of domestic abuse crimes are left unreported as the victims are fearful that they will not be listened to and won't be believed.
Like a lot of domestic abuse survivors even now 3 + years on I feel the need to raise awareness of this crime. The reason for this is quite simply to stop other women experiencing what I did. I want to help others and wished I had read about these types of relationships before meeting my abuser as I am sure I would have seen the signs earlier. The response I get to this campaigning is often negative. Friends don't want you to "keep harping on about it", strangers will go as far as telling you something isn't abuse when you know it is because its something you've experienced. However, there will always be someone who listens to what you are saying and has a rethink about the healthiness of their own relationship and that is why its worth it.
With the stats so high why isn't domestic abuse in the papers more often? Well the truth is that domestic abuse crimes can be frequently seen in the papers but the silencing continues as they are not reported as such. The most serious of domestic abuse crimes against a woman is her murder. Yet when we see reports of a man killing his partner we rarely see the words "domestic abuse" or " domestic violence " in the article...... in the news the silencing of this crime continues. Instead we are given quotes from friends saying that they had "seemed happy ", that this man was acting "out of character", that they are completely shocked that he could act in this way, that it was an "isolated incident". Was it a "mental breakdown", was it "financial problems", did he "flip" because she was having an affair. These are all attempts to justify what is in fact a domestic abuse crime. No the friends may not have suspected a thing, the couple may have seemed happy because as we have seen victims do not tend to speak up about the abuse happening to them behind closed doors but it DOES happen....and the murders are the fatal results.
The press will dig deep and focus on the woman's behaviour to try and find an excuse for this brutal murder instead of acknowledging that this is an act of a domestic abuse perpetrator whose driving force is control, and taking away someone's life is the ultimate act of control. Of course the perpetrator will also do anything to excuse this act and may tell us that it was some sort of "dreadful accident". People who have no knowledge of domestic abuse will readily buy into this theory as it allows them to keep in their happy bubble where men just don't kill their partners. Women on twitter have also gone as far as forming groups that worship these killers, by campaigning for their innocence, attacking the dead woman's behaviours, questioning her morals whilst not thinking anything of the morals of a man who shoots his gun. They also get aggressive with the people who don't fall for this theory and attempt to silence them by getting personal and blatantly denying the experiences of people who have actually survived domestic abuse.
Domestic abuse by its very nature is a hidden crime. I would urge anyone who has survived it to speak up and add to the growing voice of people on social networking sites who refuse to let this crime be swept under the carpet. Add your voice to the growing number of voices who say that:
- 2 women a week being killed due to domestic violence is 2 too many.
- 1 in 4 women suffering from it should be 0 in 4.
- Domestic abuse perpetrators are always the ones responsible and never the victim.
- Victim Blaming is not acceptable and only adds to the problem
- Domestic abuse education is needed urgently in schools before and during dating ages to teach children what it is and how to spot the signs.
- Children need to learn what a healthy relationship is and boys need to be taught to view women with equality
- Domestic abuse should NEVER be romanticised even if it is in a "popular" book like Fifty Shades
- Domestic abuse crimes should ALWAYS be reported in the press as domestic abuse and the words used to be used more frequently in newspaper articles
The silencing is what keeps domestic abuse alive. Speak up and end the silence.