“She Must Have Deserved It”: An Uncomfortable Reality About Abuse, And Reporting It
In discussing the resistance most victims of domestic violence face when trying to explain things to their friends, someone raised an uncomfortable question about dissecting the abuser’s motivations:
“Is it that hard to believe he hit her for no reason at all?”
Yes, it is.
It’s hard to understand because most people, I’d argue, don’t emotionally understand that other people are different than they are. Oh, they get that there are differences – Coke vs. Pepsi, Stones vs. Beatles, Romney vs. Obama – but 90% of the people I met view their neighbor as basically a reflection of their own morality, and get confused whenever they witness significant distinctions. Naturally, they’re frequently confronted with evidence that people aren’t pretty much all “just folks” under the hood – but when they see this, the dissonance is confusing and painful, so they either withdraw, simplify, or forget.
(This is why people tend to withdraw into echo chambers on the Internet, where everyone thinks like they do. It’s easier than reformatting your entire universe.)
And the good news that emerges from this particular bad response is that most people would never hit their partner. When told, “He hit her,” most people run this information through a I-am-the-world filter that goes something like this:
“Gosh, hitting the person I love? I can’t imagine myself doing that. But that did happen, apparently, so how would that have come to be if I was in the driver’s seat? Well, I suppose if she constantly did something designed to hurt me, all the time, on purpose, maybe – eventually – I might snap and feel horribly guilty afterwards. But what the hell kind of actions would someone take to drive me to that monstrous behavior? Because I/other people wouldn’t just beat someone for no good reason. So what did she do? She must have done something.”
In other words, their failure here is their inability to put themselves in the shoes of a sociopath. And so they focus on the reasons as opposed to the action. Which creates a toxic resistance to the idea that the abused partner wasn’t at fault.
Their central fault is that they assume, erroneously, that there must be some large driving force behind this disproportionate response. But there isn’t. The truth is that a lot of domestic violence comes from men – and women – who are eager to display power by punching powerless folks in the face. Where most people would only resort to brutality when backed into a corner, knowing the emotional damage a beating does, the abuser views physical pain as just another tool to be used in a relationship, mundane as arguing and chore-swapping.*
As such, I think the best way to fight this insidious idea that the abused brought this abuse upon themselves** is to change the narrative.
What we need to get across in the case of domestic abuse is that this is a different breed of person. This is not you and me, this is a man or woman who views the world in a way that thinks of hurting someone as just another method of control. He may be friendly, he may have made you laugh over a beer – but underneath, if he thought pain would be a better way of getting you to do what he wanted than humor, he’d drop the beer and tear your fucking hair out.
They’re not you. And you gotta fight to get that one across, but when you do you’ve opened up a tool that gets a lot more societal justices created. Because once you get – really, fundamentally accept – that the world is not full of Mini-Mes and in fact some people’s experiences has led them to something catastrophically different from you, whole worlds open up that you can begin to shape to better ends.
Because the women who got hit? They didn’t do anything that warranted an ass-kicking. They just are with someone who thinks ass-kickings are a-okay, and the problem lies with him, not her.***
* – And when you’re unfortunate enough to run into another sociopath with an easy out to violence, that sociopath genuinely sees the situation as “She deserved it,” giving a similar end. It could be argued that most people are then sociopaths. But given the comparative – comparative – rarity of domestic violence in the Western cultures I’m familiar with, I don’t think that’s the case.
** – The kernel of truth within this otherwise-scurrilous claim, I think, is that if you’re a victim of abuse, you need to be very careful as to who you date. Children of abusing parents are fifteen times – fifteen times! – as likely to wind up married to an abuser as so-called “normal” people, which means that your abuser broke some vital instincts within you. If you’ve got that kind of background, date slowly, trust carefully, because your parents have wired you to be drawn to other abusers. This is no different than anyone else’s bad instincts in relationships, of course – except that if I go on autopilot, I wind up with a psychodramatic relationship, and if you do it you wind up broke and desperate with a woman kicking you in the ribs. So if you’ve been abused? Be vigilant. Be careful in who you choose to love. Because goddammit, you deserve better than that.
*** – Or with her, not him. Domestic violence isn’t man vs. woman, it’s abuser vs. abusee. Please remember that.