This subject is a bit more heavy than what I usually write about, but it needs to be said. With all that has been going around in the media and social networks about Ray Rice’s video showing his assault on his then-fiancee, there has been a lot of victim-blaming. And it needs to STOP.
It is so easy for those who have no experience with any type of abuse to judge the woman and say she could have left, or that she allowed him to continue to abuse her so it’s her fault. But what many people don’t know is, it is not that easy to walk away. Lately, there has been a hashtag on social media, #WhyIStayed that has been trending. Women have been telling their stories on why they ultimately stayed in an abusive relationship.
It is easy to read these accounts of physical, mental, and financial abuse and blame the women. It is easy to stand on the outside, looking in, and wonder how weak these women must be to not walk away the first time they were mistreated. We can judge and say “I’d never be that stupid; I’d fight back or walk away the first time.” But really, without being in that situation, can you really say these things?
When I was younger, I was taught that men abusing women was NOT okay. I grew up in a home where my dad never laid a finger on my mom. My parents came from families where the men never hit the women. So I was lucky. I was shown a way of life free of physical abuse. However, many of my friends were not as lucky. They came from families where the mother was abused by the father, the sons hit their sisters, and ultimately, the girls were married to men who would hit them as well.
The first time I encountered a friend who was physically abused, I was shocked. It didn’t seem real; yet her bruises told me another story. I felt helpless; what could be done? She would run away to her family, and they would send her back to her husband. She had children; her husband threatened to take them away. He of course would buy her gifts as an apology, but just like clockwork, he would abuse her yet again. It was a vicious cycle.
Because she had no support from her family or the community, she was stuck in this circle for a while before she finally summoned up enough courage to walk away. Of course, the community saw it as defiance of her husband and blamed her. But she stayed strong, got a job, and found a place to live. Today, she is finally free from that life.
Over the years, I have seen other types of abuse. Emotional abuse can be just as scarring, since the man can strip you of your identity and self-worth. What we need to realize when blaming the victim is that if they already have low self-esteem (which men who abuse try to find from the start), then it is easy for them to be sucked into a whirlwind of emotional abuse. And since these women are afraid to speak up, the continue to let their abuser proceed with the torment.
Financial abuse occurs when a woman doesn’t work, or if she does, he money is managed and controlled by her husband. This makes sure that she always relies on him for anything she needs, and also secures the idea that she cannot leave as she will have to financial means to do so. Her husband will control where she goes, what she buys, and anything she wants to do. Along with emotional abuse, this will result in the woman feeling helpless to try and leave as she does not know how she will survive on her own, especially if she has no family or friends to stay with to get her on her feet.
I have seen all these types of abuse in my life. The one thing that I can tell you, is that women in these relationships often will hide what is happening to them for fear of humiliation. They do not want their closest friends and families to know that they are victims of these lifestyles. A lot of times, since they see the victim being blamed for not walking away, they are embarrassed to share their story. But, not anymore. It is time we stopped judging and blaming them for staying. We need more dialogue. We need conversation and understanding.
The reason women don’t walk away is not because of the power of their abuser; it is because they are afraid that when they turn for help, they will be greeted with a mob, pointing accusing fingers at them.
Let’s change that.