One of the reasons its taken me so long to confront what happened to me is because I was very busy telling myself that it wasn’t so bad… compared to what others have gone through.
There’s a part of me that still feels this is quite a rational point of view. After all, its backed up by some well publicised facts about violence against women.
The stats below are a direct quote from a 2005 ABS survey:
- 363 000 women (4.7 per cent of all women) experienced physical violence
- 2.56 million (33 per cent of all women) have experienced physical violence since the age of 15
- 1.47 million (19 per cent) have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15
- 78 per cent of female victims of sexual assault knew the offender
These stats tell us that violence is prevalent in Australia. But they don’t paint a picture of the demographics, of the lives of the women who’ve been affected. They don’t tell the stories of what happened, to whom and why – which must be as unique as the individuals in question.
Before I was assaulted, its fair to say I thought I would never be ‘one of those women’. If pressed for more details, I’d probably say that ‘those women’ were most likely lower income people, weak and dependent people. I had some idea in my head that most women who experienced assault were in violent relationships. That they were most likely putting up with it, staying on with their guy for some misguided reason. I felt great sympathy for them, and I could see they were emotionally reliant on the men that hurt them – that was my very limited view.
When I was 20, and just before I left for Sydney, my flatmate Colleen, had a violent boyfriend. He was younger than her, possibly a little crazy and he would hit her. They were on/off and Colleen’s friends were doing their best to help her see the light and dump him. But I’ll never forget my surprise and horror when she came home late one night and told me they were getting married. The first thing out of my mouth was not ‘congratulations’. Instead, I asked her about the violence… and she spouted words that could’ve been lifted directly from some cop drama. “He told me he loves me. He said it will be different this time and that he won’t hit me any more”. Riiight.
Luckily the relationship self-destructed before they even got close to getting a marriage licence! But most unfairly, my opinion of Colleen changed from that time on. I began to think of her as a little pathetic. I lost respect for my friend – just a smidgen.
And I truly never imagined that it would happen to me. I never saw it coming, never expected it, not even in the seconds before his fist first connected with my face.
Of course, I wasn’t in a relationship with this man – let’s call him Andre – he was someone that I had been seeing for a few months but I’d called it off. I’d already realised it wasn’t what I wanted, but I was still happy to be friends. Before that one twisted night, there wasn’t the slightest hint of the crazed, angry, aggressive and frightening person he revealed himself to be. Before he actually hit me, when he was just yelling and being abusive, even then I wouldn’t have picked what was to come.
And then it happened. Since that time, I’ve been in denial about joining the ranks of women who have had violence done unto them. Here are some of the little stories (and the sub-text) I’ve been telling myself and my friends:
“It was just one night, after all” – (of course! No big deal really)
“There’s no chance in hell I’d be one of those women who’d stay in a violent relationship” – (so that makes me different, a bit better, not as pathetic, right?)
“Some women are injured very badly, and ongoing – but I was lucky” – (yeah I just got away with a black eye, a possibly fractured cheek bone and some broken glass)
“I don’t have that much to complain about really” – (of course not, post traumatic stress is a breeze!)
“I feel a bit embarrassed talking to a counsellor, because what I went through was pretty mild” – (Surely I’ll be okay in a few months)
Nice stories huh? They are all great strategies for compartmentalising the raging grief and pain I was going through. Mostly because they are partially true and logical, and it was easy to get agreement from other people when I said these things. Even if they didn’t pick up on my sub-text, in my mind they’d agreed to that as well.
Clearly, I’d already drawn a line in the sand between me and the ‘other women’ who go through assault. I was still trying desperately not to see myself as one of them, those people I thought of as weak. Obviously all those years ago, I bought into the stereotypes and because I’d always seen myself as strong and independant, I couldn’t let myself identify with my fellow “assaultees”.
Like my other little strategies, it’s true, there is always someone with a worse story – but that can’t detract or minimise your own experience. It doesn’t help. It doesn’t change or fix anything.
Thinking about my old flatmate from all of those years back, I can say this much – assault as viewed from the outside tells you nothing. Ofcourse, you might be upset for a friend who’s gone through this kind of experience. You might even think the way I did, and see your friend as weak. Please try not to though!
Here’s what you need to know: This sort of violence is penetrative. It is soul rape. It has the potential to rearrange your inner world, to tear it apart, turn it upside down. I say ‘potential’, because not everyone reacts to assault in the same way, ofcourse. But its a very strong person indeed, who walks away from being assaulted with few ill effects.
At present, I’m in a really vulnerable state, because I’m in the process of deconstructing these strategies, clearing away the lines in the sand and acknowledging to myself for the first time how very damaged I am as a result of being assaulted, even if it was only just one night. Even if other people have had much worse experiences.
This is a good thing. It doesn’t make me weak. Allowing myself to be vulnerable, to face the devestation is incredibly difficult. And actually, its this act of taking care of myself that makes me strong.
I’m throwing away the props and distractions.
I’m blowing down the house of cards I’ve been sheltering in.
“Before that one twisted night, there wasn’t the slightest hint of the crazed, angry, aggressive and frightening person he revealed himself to be. Before he actually hit me, when he was just yelling and being abusive, even then I wouldn’t have picked what was to come.”
Your statements could also be added to your list of signs of abuse. So many women make excuses for men who verbally and psychologically abuse them, denying that they are abusers because they’ve never hit them.
Domestic violence does have warning signs and a man who “just yells and is being abusive” is one of the biggest warnings signs for anyone in a relationship to run and get help! No one deserves to be treated like that, although the pattern is almost always that the abuser will convince you that it’s “your fault.” After the apologies, the victim often justifies staying with the person because “he doesn’t hit me.”
If you are feeling like you’re afraid to communicate with your partner, afraid to tell him something that you bought, did or think, or will do, or are anytime feeling like you’re afraid he will get so mad that you’re walking on eggshells in fear, then this is not a healthy relationship and a signal to get out.
I am glad that you have found this forum to express yourself about the abuse and to raise awareness about the issue. I commend your courage and please know that you have my support.
@Barbara – Thanks so much for your comments.
I don’t know that I’m so much making excuses for his behaviour, as I am trying to rationalise what happened and why I couldn’t see it coming.
I’m pretty intuitive, but not on this occasion! And for that, I held myself highly accountable, regardless of the logical part of my mind that said that wasn’t the truth.
I did have a short relationship with this guy, but I had already called it off by the time he assaulted me – I did already realise he wasn’t someone I was intereste in long term.
But I agree, that’s not how it always plays out for others who are assaulted.
Again, thanks for your lovely words of support. 🙂
Strange…you’re right where I’m at in your process. I wish I could say that I’ve only been assaulted once in my life, but it’s been more than once and in different contexts; a pedophile as a young child, an abusive first boyfriend, a near rape at 26. I feel like I spent most of my 20s reeling from one disgusting episode after another. One night, at the age of 31 I went out to meet some friends. Life was looking up and I was feeling great. Finally, I had stable employment and was moving out with a good friend to a much better area. We were going to celebrate.
And that night, as I returned home a little tired, someone grabbed me from behind and started to drag me to the valley near by. I fought him off. And I was angry…so angry. I was running on anger for three years after…and during those three years I was assaulted not once but two more times by complete strangers; not in a sexual way but in a violent fashion. Then a few months ago, after attempting to date, the anger ran out. And though I’ve kept it together to the external world the fact is I’m now going through adjustment disorder (it’s PTSD, only not as severe.)
I’m finally really dealing with it all and I’m tired of keeping up the facade that everything is okay. Hopefully it will be. Right now I think I have it in my head that I can somehow get back to who I was that night before the assault. But I realize that I’ve changed, that it changed me.
@Lynda – Thanks for commenting!
You know, I’ve kind of underplayed on here the amount of ‘stuff’ I’ve had to deal with. I too have had more than just this one encounter with male violence and sexual attack. I talk a bit more about it here: https://svasti.wordpress.com/2008/09/02/partial-application-of-truth/
But I am very sorry to hear of your story. It can be challenging to keep your head up and know your own worth after repeated episodes of trauma.
PTSD is very all-consuming. There’s also other posts on my blog about it. but I do know there’s a way out of that, if you’re willing to get some help with counselling. Its hard work, but worth it.
I’m glad you’re not pretending everything is okay anymore, its much healthier for you to let it out.
The assault may have changed you, but you do have the power to change again. I know it, because its happened for me. And it can happen for you as well.
Dano MacNamarrah said:
Svasti my sweet hero,
My heart goes out to you. I followed the link you left on my blog. For the first time I read the full account of your assault. I am bowled over by your fierce honesty and courage. Your words will ring a bell in the minds of countless others, regardless if they have survived violence.
It is incredible that we as victims feel shame. I distinctly recall the guilt and shame that I felt after being chained and raped. This happened about a week after my boyfriend had beaten and choked me. I was walking around in a fog, feeling ugly, worthless and shattered. The rapist took advantage.
When Mark beat me, I don’t remember what started it. Photos show defense bruises on my forearms, swollen red eyes and a bruise in the centre of my neck. Having hit me in the face, we ended up with him choking off my breath, hissing “Is this how you want it to end?”
I called my ex in hysterics, but he had his kids with him and couldn’t come over. He ran the bike shop that I went to and when Mark showed up, he took him into the basement to give him his mind. (Mark and I were both bike messengers and he’d been after me for a couple of years).
I filed a Restraining Order against him, but back then you had to hand it to them yourself. I met him in a public place to “return his stuff” and handed it to him to sign. Thankfully, the laws have changed.
Physical wounds are easy. They come with pain-killers, prognosis and understanding. Mental suffering is a distant shore most haven’t visited too often. We find ourselves being dashed against the rocks by emotional tides after an assault.
The more we speak out about, the taller our lighthouse will be. Mark blamed me for his violence. Bill told him that there was no reason in the world to hit a woman. The rapist sought me out, after I’d run screaming and crying from his flat.
He said he couldn’t have raped me, as he was a lawyer.
All my love and sisterhood to you, Dano.
@Dano – thanks for sharing here, all that you have.
Yes, feeling shame is peculiar, I don’t understand that one either…
From what me therapist tells me, its not uncommon to not remember certain things from an assault. Its a method of self-protection/preservation. We need to keep enough of our sanity to get away.
Your rapist… hey, don’t most lawyers ‘rape’ their clients in one way or another?!! What a pig! To take advantage like that. There are plenty of men out there like that… like a moth to a flame, they seek out vulnerable women.
Unfairly it becomes our job to learn to identify them and keep them away, as well as dealing with our own stuff…
Thankfully, not all men are masochistic dirtbags. I take solace in my male friends who are shining examples of masculinity and kindness. xo
Alexandra Cohen said:
That’s interesing.. Here in Russia home violense is v-e-r-y common. However I always divided those women who experienced violence say parents or a partner (and broke with the latter one right away) from those who experienced violence from a person like husband or partner with whom they continued living. I mean a single abuse is enough to understand that a person can become violent again and again. And still most women continue living with their partners who hit them and some of them even think it’s ok! Sometimes a husband can beat his wife in front of their friends and all of them think it’s ok including her!
@Alexandra Cohen – I am very sad, but not surprised to hear of places in the world where its common and even somewhat accepted for women to be beaten.
That doesn’t, of course, make it okay. Not at all. I think though, in a society that accepts violence between a man and his partner, it does make it harder for the woman to leave.
I hope that any women you know who are going through such things, realise that in other parts of the world that sort of behaviour is considered very undesirable. No one deserves to be beaten. And I hope and pray any women in your country who need to, find the courage and support to leave a violent situation.
Thank you for your interesting comment!
Alexandra Cohen said:
Well it would be a lie if I’d said it is 100% acceptable here. But it is common. Very common. However in my opinion it is as easy to leave as in your country. But they usualy do not. Reasons are: pity for a husband who has problems with alcohol, fear and guilt for her problem will be discussed by someone else (usually neighbours) and the most common excuse “he beats me means he loves me” which I just cannot understand.
I don’t think it’s ok but somehow there is still a thought in my mind if a woman does not leave does it perhaps mean she is satisfied with such mazochisic relations in some way?
I used to experience some sort of violence from my mother and it IS acceptable here that a child may be beaten-not-too-hard by parents in order to teach her/him a lesson. But even at that time I didn’t think it ok and it finally led to such relations with my mom which unfortunately are left much to be desired.
Thank you again for.. well for writing the things you post here so honestly. I read your posts in chronological order and they make me reсonsider many things.
@Alexandra Cohen – Thank you for reading my posts, and I’m glad if what I’ve written has helped you in some way.
If something is common, it means that its still way too accepted. Which isn’t good.
I think, unless you’re in the shoes of a woman who’s being abused by her husband, then its tough to know what you will do. Some women definitely wouldn’t stay. Others might not be strong enough to leave.
But remember, physical abuse is a very tough thing to deal with. And not everyone handles it the same way.
I can understand why someone might want to stay – not that I would myself.
But I can’t ever imagine that a woman who stays is satisfied with being regularly abused. Not at all.
Physical abuse of children is something that also still exists, but in many cultures its becoming a lot less acceptable. I think a smack on the bum is okay if that’s your parenting style, but seriously, anything nastier than that is unwarranted. My opinion only, of course.