Most hated stereotype: That abuse victims are a certain type: weak, have low self-esteem, or haven’t been “raised right.”
I still remember how I felt when he slid the 2-carat ring on my finger. I loved him more than life; he was my heart and soul. Spend the rest of my life with you? Without question. Forsaking all others, for better or worse, sickness and in health, til death do us part. Describing him as the “the man of my dreams” would be an understatement. I couldn’t even dream of a man so perfect. Until he wasn’t.
And it’s hard to know when it’s time to give up, right? Especially when you’ve made clear-cut vows in front of God and 200 hungry wedding guests. But it’s even harder when you’re living in fear. That is one reason why domestic violence stereotypes are so prevalent: people don’t know what it’s like to live in constant fear.
Domestic violence victims have been betrayed by the person they love most. Domestic violence victims have been stripped of autonomy and dignity. As time goes on, the violence becomes your new normal. You don’t even know what a healthy relationship looks like anymore.
Still, I needed to find my way out safely. Why do I hate when people say, “you shouldn’t have stayed”? Because it strips me of choice. I demand the right to choose my path. And some choices are incredibly difficult. Staying was a grim choice, but it was the best choice for me. I needed a place to go, a way to get there, housing, employment, and time. I needed time… give us some time. Allow me both choice and time. Leaving can be the most dangerous thing a victim can do. My choice not to leave was a choice to stay alive.
Domestic violence is not an anomaly amongst middle to upper class women, although low-income black women experience the highest rate of long-term abuse. My education, faith, wonderful parents, and social awareness did not prevent me from becoming a victim. That’s an inconvenient truth. We like to believe that these things are far removed from our social circles but au contraire. Someone you know is a victim of domestic violence.
A well-intentioned guy once said, “you too fine to let someone hit you,” as if attractive people don’t experience domestic violence. Even more problematic, I let someone hit me? The reason I encourage the terms “crime” and “victim” is because they imply injustice. If we use this language, we have no choice but to acknowledge the existence of a perpetrator as opposed to a culpable passive participant.
Social media postings about victims can be quite binary. Domestic violence victims are weak, not strong; poor, not wealthy; stupid, not smart. My goal is to interrupt the binary. Domestic violence victims are _______________. That blank space represents the possibilities.
I also embrace the descriptor “victim”, and I don’t view it as a stereotype gateway. It acknowledges the life-altering experience of domestic violence. Calling myself a survivor, while empowering, does not fully describe the destruction. A crime was committed against me. I need to be handled with care. Love is an abstract concept now. I’m broken. I have PTSD and lingering health issues from several injuries. Sudden moves make me defensive. Aggression signals danger. Life will never be the same for me, but it will be my own.
The stereotype of a weak victim is baseless. Nobody was there when I fled; I was alone. I freed myself – no one did that for me. It’s easy to confuse inaction with complacency, and idleness with irresolution. I was not passive, I was surviving. Waiting for the right moment to leave an abuser is an incredibly transgressive act.
I hope society begins to have more compassion for, and patience with, victims of domestic violence. But really, I hope society begins to shut up and listen. That is the first step to retyping our stories.