One of the reasons I believe in the mission of The Guiding Star Project is its supportive nature. Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is a cause that has become close to my heart, and the mission of the project is one that by its nature is capable of providing survivors with the support and resources needed to help them heal. October 1st marks the beginning of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I think we all know domestic violence exists, but there are many misconceptions about why it continues, and how prevalent it is. I have written about IPV* in the past, both for GSP and on my personal page. You can find many statistics and links for more information in the posts I linked to above, however here I would like to focus on perspective. (Note: It is important to recognize here that there are victims of IPV that are also male, and perpetrators that are female. For the purposes of this post, I will from here on out be speaking about female victims/survivors.)
From the outside, it is easy to judge a relationship that involves violence. It is easy to assume that the victim must have some sort of sick and twisted attachment or fondness for abuse. It is easy to label her as co-dependent or weak. It is easy to assume that she does not care about her children if children are involved. It is easy to cut ties with her in an effort to avoid drama. It is easy to judge. It is also easy to miss. Abusive partners often do not want others to know what is happening in the relationship any more than a victim wants others to know. Injuries are strategically placed. Emotional abuse leaves little to no physical scarring. Fatal threats are not public knowledge.
An abusive relationship is a complex web of threats, manipulation, coercion, lies and control. In my days as an advocate, I spoke often with survivors about The First Date. If an abuser began The First Date as volatile, manipulative, and violent as the relationship ends, there would not be a second date. The date probably would not make it past drink orders! An abusive relationship starts off slow. There are feelings and emotions and worst of all love involved along with the abuse. Domestic violence is intimate partner violence: it inserts fear, violence, and pain in the most intimate relationships that are supposed to be pure, safe and full of trust.
Perpetrators of intimate partner violence seek the power and control that comes with abuse. The dominance over another person is the crux of the abuse. While behaviors such as alcoholism and life events such as unemployment can encourage and exacerbate abuse, they are not the cause. Often, perpetrators do not see their behavior as the problem, and not only is it easy to blame the victim for the abuse, it is easy to project this to those outside of the relationship. I want to believe in rehabilitation for offenders, but abusive partners must be willing to admit the wrong and seek out the proper support systems to aid in their recovery, and often this cannot be accomplished inside of the violent relationship.
Perhaps the most important role us outsiders have when it comes to an intimate partner violence survivor, is support. As her family, friends, colleagues and neighbors, it is important that she knows there is love and support outside of the abuse. We need to be able to understand that she is an expert on her own safety. Her perspective as the victim is the most important. She alone knows the danger, the patterns of escalation. Her perspective is from the inside looking out. She will know when it is time to leave. No matter how easy it is to judge the fact that she endures the abuse and stays, it is important to remember that the abuser is hard at work breaking her, and she needs to be reminded that others want her to be whole. The crime is not in staying. The crime is in the abusive behavior.
Throughout October, I’d like to issue a challenge to the readers of this post: Take some time to learn about IPV. Share what you learn with others. If someone you know might be struggling with IPV, give them a kind smile. Review the links above to help you find the words to let them know they have the support when they are ready.
*While it has been historically referred to ‘Domestic Violence’, IPV is the more common terminology.
Note: Please use caution if you are sensitive to pictures of babies who have been delivered too early. This post contains such photos. Three years ago, this May, I experienced a second trimester loss of my monoamniotic (MoMo) twin sons. Before this, simply contemplating that 1 in 4 pregnancies ends