Over the last couple of weeks, I have watched quietly as the subject of domestic violence took centre stage in the political realm. My reason for writing this is to address some troubling comments I have been unfortunate enough to witness on social media and in the press – attitudes that I believe are indicative of a wider societal issue and a reflection of how women are regarded.
The truth about depression
First, I want to address issues surrounding mental health, in particular, depression. Suffering from such a condition does not make you “crazy”, nor “unbalanced”, nor “mentally unstable”, With over 300 million sufferers worldwide, it is far from unusual.
Depression does not mean you fabricate accusations, nor does it mean that you somehow provoke or deserve violence, and it certainly doesn’t mean you are fair game for abuse and jokes made at your expense.
Most of the most wonderful, intelligent, creative, strong and successful people I know suffer from depression or associated mental conditions – it does not make them any less of a person, nor does it justify any injustice that is perpetrated against them.
There is no handbook
Secondly, I want to touch on the completely false belief that women who are victims of domestic violence should act a certain way.
Relationships that contain violence were rarely always like that – it starts with controlling and jealous behaviour, escalates into verbal and psychological violence and culminates in physical abuse. This is a cycle that can take many years to occur. Quite often, the abuse escalates so gradually that the victim does not even realise how bad the situation has become, until significant acts of violence occur.
There is no handbook on how women in abusive situations should work, and it is often the ones that portray the most “perfect” relationship that suffer the most.
Women who are abused often feel deeply ashamed of what has happened – that they have somehow failed as a wife and a woman, or that they did something to deserve it. They fear the judgment of others, and as is common with narcissistic relationships, they think that if they keep trying to be better and to make that relationship better, then the violence against them will stop.
They also deeply fear that by letting on that things are less than perfect, or someone guessing the truth, they will again incur the wrath of their abuser. For this reason, many women put on a big smile, tell the world how wonderful their lives are, and even sometimes withdraw their statements in court.
This behaviour comes from total and utter fear – not any deliberate intention to mislead or lie, they are doing all that they can to survive. You cannot spot an abused woman. Acting ‘a certain way’ is not an indication of whether the woman is a victim, a survivor or a liar.
No one is ever responsible for the sexual, physical or emotional abuse that is inflicted upon them. The decision to behave in a violent manner is always one that is taken by the abuser, not the victim, and it is high time we stop blaming people for the things that happen to them that are beyond their control.
No one provokes violence and no one deserves violence because of their gender, political beliefs, or decision to stay because they are too scared and too trapped to leave. Until you are in that situation, or unless you have an extensive and in depth knowledge of the psychology behind the victim/abuser dynamics then it is really not your place to say who should do what.
“But women lie”
When it comes to instances of domestic violence and even sexual assault, there is a common preconception that women lie about in on a regular basis – this is just not true.
While it is impossible to arrive at an actual figure, most respected sources put the figure of “false” claims in single figures – around 2% for sexual violence and an even lower figure for domestic violence. A UK study by the Crown prosecution service found that out of almost 111,891 cases of domestic violence, only six were deemed to be false.
It is important to understand that just because a case is not prosecuted, just because a case is dismissed, or just because the accused is found not guilty, it does not mean that the accuser lied. All too often, it is the result of a flawed justice system that is failing the victims.
Domestic violence is notoriously hard to prove – bruises fade, many abusers know how to abuse without leaving bruises, and the psychological scars are only visible to the victim, not a court of law. Many women are too scared to report violence, many are unable to, and many do not trust that the police and justice system will protect them from harm.
Around 10 years ago, I was abused by the singer in a well known Maltese band – I called the police and when they knocked on the door, my abuser answered. I had a bruised face and with visible bleeding but the police, recognising him, engaged in conversation before glancing over his shoulder, asking him if I was ok, and then departing on their way.
This is what victims of abuse have to deal with on a regular basis and many will be too scared to pursue claims in court due to the way that their abuser, families, and society will judge them.
Women’s organisations today spoke out against “normalising domestic violence,” saying all claims should be taken seriously and all cases should be thoroughly investigated regardless of those involved.
It can take women years to gather the strength to seek justice for what has happened to them and out of this number, many give up, many are dismissed, and many others are intimidated into silence.
Proving violence is very hard. As someone who has suffered such incidents in her life, it is easier to shut up, be quiet, and get on with your life than it is to pursue justice for the violence that was inflicted upon you.
The comments that are being flung around on social media at the moment are not just abusive and vile to those involved, they are an insult to any woman who suffers, or has suffered at the hands of her partner. But I am not surprised.