I never thought I’d be one of those girls. You know the type – the ones who cling to poisonous relationships, allowing their partner to strip them of their self-esteem, self-love, and eventually, their happiness. The term ‘abusive relationship’ was foreign to me. Although I’d been teased, threatened – and finally – physically harmed, to call my partner an abuser seemed completely over the top.
A couple of times I relayed stories to friends: screaming phone calls, threats to my male friends and blatant stalking. People told me I was in danger, both physically and emotionally. I told them they didn’t understand.
Over time I’d become desensitized to unhealthy behaviour. It started small, a verbal outburst, a threat, a hand gripping my arm just that little bit too tight. Because of the way the abuse snuck in, I didn’t realize as it escalated. A little bit more each time can mean a big difference in the span of a couple of years.
But there was a point when I realized I was slipping, that each incident lead to the next, allowing the hurt that was inflicted upon me to become deeper each time. One day I looked back and pieced everything together. It seemed so simple, from past behaviour it should have been obvious that our relationship would reach that pivotal point.
Even now I feel like an imposter stating that I was a victim of domestic violence (emotional included). I feel as though my experiences are nothing compared to what other women go through, and that I have no right to use the term.
The thing is though, that’s not true. I was a victim – relative to other people’s relationships – or not.
There’s a dark, stigmatic cloud hovering around the terms ‘abuse’ and ‘domestic violence.’ We don’t want to use them or be associated with them. We rationalize, deny, keep on going back.
But it’s not fair to ourselves and it’s not good for our souls. When we see bad behaviour, we have to speak up – especially when the victim is us.
One in three Australian women will experience violence from the age of 15. One in five women have been stalked. Most make it out with a couple of scratches, a bit of trauma. But one is killed by her partner, or ex-partner, every week. As stated by chief of army David Morrison, ‘if we lost someone to a shark every week, there would be, as there already are, laws to do something about it.’ This fact alone is reason to speak up. As one of the lucky ones, I would be doing these women an injustice by staying quiet.
Privilege comes with responsibility. As a white woman, with access to education, enough money, free from racism and foreign cultural restrictions, I need to speak up. It’s my responsibility. And this time, my privilege is in the form of being a survivor of an abusive relationship.
No I’m not suggesting that we should all tell the world about our traumatic experiences. But use them as a starting point for conversation. Consider your experiences, compare them with others – remembering that abuse is not measured in severity.
Allow yourself to be empowered by releasing the fears of associating as a victim. Allow yourself to connect with others who’ve been through it as well. Allow yourself to be that girl, but put it in the past.
Of course I have to acknowledge that this isn’t where the problem lies. The perpetrator is to blame, but our mentality on the subject plays a large role in the outcome.
In honour of White Ribbon day I hope that someone reading this feels it’s their time to speak up. Perhaps that one in five woman will acknowledge her relationship is unhealthy and leave, telling other people about her experiences. Perhaps, if we keep on talking, some of the ones who don’t make it through will. Maybe, through a ripple effect of words, we can save a life.