What I now know about domestic violence…

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When I sit with my girlfriends and look around it really scares me that one in three of us have experienced violence in our lifetime. Most commonly that experience has come from an intimate partner of some kind. As we’ve gotten older and wiser it is hard to fathom that some of us may still be experiencing it but the reality is some are.

Domestic violence is the most common form of assault in Australia and chances are we all know someone living with it or having left it. Being the friend of someone experiencing this kind of violence is hard. We want to help but can’t. We think we know what’s best, when really we don’t.

We form opinions about what she should do and when they don’t do that we do the old ‘victim blaming’. Well I’ve been writing a lot lately about domestic violence and am ashamed of the misconceptions I carried before I learnt more. So now to the women I know who are living with or rebuilding after domestic violence I want to say sorry.

I’m sorry for asking, why don’t you just leave?

It sounds so simple to someone who is on the outside, just pick up and go – you’re better than this. When in fact I have no idea what is really going on, I don’t know if you’re experiencing financial abuse and can’t afford it. I don’t know if the threats against you are so great you’re scared (a woman is most at risk after she has left a violent relationship). You may have been scared about the impact of breaking up your home on your children, taking them somewhere strange, changing schools, even moving interstate. Or he may be telling you that the abuse is your fault and I hate to think what that is doing to your confidence and self esteem.

There are so many reasons why you stayed and it is not my place to judge.

I’m sorry for thinking if you don’t leave him then there’s nothing I can do.

As I said, assuming it was easy for you to leave is wrong. I could have let you know that I was here to listen, hold your hand and just be your friend. One cup of tea could have gone a long way and I’m sorry that I did not try and understand all the reasons why. It stopped me being a true friend when I should have been. I’m not a counsellor, but I could have helped you find one. I’m not a social worker but I could have helped you find a plan to leave or just a phone number for you to ring.

I’m sorry for thinking you were just ‘putting up with it’.

Domestic violence is a pattern of coercion and control and it can include all sorts of tactics – intimidation, threats, financial control, isolation, psychological, physical and sexual abuse. Because he never hit you did not mean he didn’t scar you. Breaking free from that would not not be easy, especially when there are so many mind games going on. I now know when this happens over many many years and it can be hard to know what you think or believe any more. That would have been terrible for you and I’m sorry I did not understand you more.

I’m sorry for assuming you can now tell him what to do.

It is common for women to report that the abuse continues well after leaving the relationship. It may not be physical anymore but psychological and in many forms – stalking, harassment or just being difficult with a divorce or access. You were not responsible for his behaviour when you were with him so it is wrong of me to assume you could be when you have left him. Life is complicated with settling in to a new home, adjusting to new schools and starting over again. If you want my advice I’ll wait for you to ask for it.

Victim blaming can be subtle or obvious, if you want to know what you can do about domestic violence stopping the blame is one place to start. And if you or someone you know needs help please call 1800 RESPECT.