I struggled with this title, and I want you all to know that. I still feel a little shaky about it. I want to go back and put “ex” in front of that hated V-word. But that would be dishonest. There’s no such thing as an ex-victim. As a compromise, the phrase “one-time” comes to mind, but that’s just a matter of semantics, and.. at least in my case, even less true.
I don’t like thinking of myself as a victim, but that is a part of who I am. I can sugar-coat it, could tell you and try to convince myself that I’m not a victim, but instead a survivor… That too, would be a form of deceit. Truth: I am both. Surviving violence does not erase the victimization. The effort required to pull yourself out of the victim-mentality and into the mindset of a survivor is long, difficult, and draining. It is, like life itself, an ongoing process.
I am a victim. I know fear in a way that can’t be related to anything else. The fear of a victim is not like other fears: it serves no purpose, cannot be pushed aside or used for the sake of idealism, cannot be turned into self-righteousness or indignation for any cause.
Fear creates nerves and adrenaline, two forces that are powerful in their ability to drive us forward, but within the mindset of the victim… this only serves to magnify a sense of hopelessness and helplessness. The victim-mentality is one that is saturated with the idea that nothing will change, no matter what you do.
If you tell someone: that person will not believe you, and if they do, they won’t be able to do anything to help. The normal state of fear (and fear can and does become a normal, expected thing) is heightened by the idea that if (fill-in-the-blank) finds out….
This person, the abuser will lie and escape the consequences, and they’ll become angry. They’ll take this out on you, they’ll take it out on family members, they’ll take it out on the person you told, and that person has no idea what they’re getting themselves into.
All of these thoughts are true. The portrayers of violence in domestic issues can lie and get out of dealing with the consequences. Strangers turn their heads, neighbors turn up the volume on their televisions, and friends of victims are human: they don’t want to believe and don’t want to know that their lives have come so close to touching something terrible and tragic.
I can’t blame them. If I were in their place, I wouldn’t want to know; wouldn’t want to believe it.
Gives the idea of pessimism/optimism a whole new perspective, doesn’t it?
What victims need most is to know that people will believe what the say when they choose to speak up… yet it is this inexplicable hope in the kindness of others that creates doubt in the mind of the victim. Anyone good enough to care and want to help wouldn’t believe me. That person would rather believe in the good in people, would rather believe this didn’t happen, would rather turn the other cheek.
Add to this mindset the list of training that goes into victims of domestic violence.
Rule #1: Keep your mouth shut.
I had trouble with this rule. My education regarding this rule is a strange and twisted testament to perseverance: I’ve got an inch long scar on my left palm where I was stabbed with a pair of scissors, burn marks scattered across my body, and have broken nineteen bones…. because I was unable to learn this rule quickly.
And when I speak of perseverance, I do not mean my own. Predators, violators, purveyors of violence in any form have an ability to continue their efforts in a way that is systematic and unrelenting. That ability is given to them because they are confident in their eventual success and their confidence in not being caught.
They succeed, because everyone has a breaking point, and they believe that if they try hard enough, push hard enough, and keep at it long enough, they will break the person they wish to break. They are correct in this belief.
The world does not want to believe or see what is horrible and tragic, and those who are violent and possessive bank on the idea that people are good, kind and caring. They count on the fact that people do not want to believe that horror exists. They know that when horror does exist, most people will ignore it, because ignoring it and ‘minding their own’ is easier than dealing with knowledge that they should or could do something.
People of violence also know something else, something about me and something about the public that most people don’t recognize:
I am a victim: I am a liar.
Victims are fantastic liars. And lying is the victim’s first inclination and defense. In terms of honesty, a victim is as close to sociopathic as you can get without being an actual sociopath. Victims convince themselves that they are protecting not only themselves from further violence, but anyone that questions them from that violence. And because the victim believes they understand the capabilities of their violator better than anyone else, they believe that no one else is prepared to deal with the possibilities.
While I would love to tell you that I’ve grown, that over the years I’ve become better and have pushed aside this fear and judgment… I cannot. I have grown, I have learned, and I know that people will believe even the tragic, but they are still woefully unprepared and uninformed about how to deal with these scenarios.
Victims are fantastic liars. Which means that if you confront a victim… they will assuage your fears. They’ll make you feel like you worried over nothing, that they’re working it out, and they don’t need your help.
Tell tale sign: they don’t need your help. When pressed, they’re adamant that they don’t need your help.
Victims know how to keep their mouths shut. They’ve been trained to do so… and just like athletes, they are persistent and single-minded in that specific endeavor. They will not openly give you that information, and they will not openly answer a direct question on the matter.
Tell tale sign: They seem distant and defensive when the topic is brought up.
So… what do you do? If you really believe that someone you know is in a situation like this… how do you bring it up?
Pierce suggests that you form an intervention. I believe that action is disastrous. In gathering friends and family you could be unknowingly and unwittingly including the person who’s perveying the violence. Domestic violence is a crime that is, by it’s nature and definition, perpetrated by those who are familiar. That’s not a guess, not an opinion, not an arguable statistic, but a fact. Domestic violence is definitively violence which exists in the household. The victim knows this person. The victim once trusted this person. If you are a friend of this victim, you know the person being violent. If you are a friend to a victim, you likely trust their captor.
I’m going to repeat that, because it does bear repeating: if you know a victim of domestic violence… you know and trust their captor.
Pierce has given a basic outline that consists of listening. I advocate this idea. He’s right to believe that you can’t force someone into something they aren’t ready for; he’s right to believe that you should let others live their lives and make their own mistakes; he’s right to believe that friendship should be honored with acceptance rather than judgment.
But there’s a difference between judgement and fear. If you suspect, even vaguely… that someone you know is in a violent relationship or situation… I urge you to push. Push, shove, grab hold and drag them… kicking and screaming if necessary, to the best option available.
Every district court has some form of a “victim’s advocate” program. The intention of this program is to provide advice and counselling to victims of domestic, violent and traumatic crimes as they dredge through the complicated maze of the justice system, but the vast majority of these people are volunteers. Most victim’s advocates have chosen to be there, because they know and understand that the uphill battle is not with the courts and laws, but within ourselves. These people volunteer because they want to make a difference. They want to make a difference, because they know the importance of it, because most of them have been there or seen it for themselves. While they may not be licensed therapists or psychiatrists, they don’t carry badges, and don’t have any qualifications beyond living their own lives, they are a fantastic resource. These are people who’ve been there, lived through it, and know what both feel like.
The best thing you can do for a friend who you believe is in trouble… is to ask honestly, listen carefully, and to keep doing both.
The best thing you can do for a friend you believe is in serious trouble… is to take your friendship seriously. When you ask, “how are you?” expect a real answer, wait for it, listen to it, and be ready to deal with whatever comes with honesty. Do not accept, “okay,” “fine,” or “alright” as a legitimate response. Make the effort to make it known that you want the real answer, not the socially acceptable one. Make the effort to make it known that you’re willing to hear the truth, rather than the facade.
Make the effort. If you don’t, you’re not a real friend. If you don’t take the time, us victims of the world will assume it’s because you don’t care enough to find the time. We’re a stubborn, bull-headed group… We became that way through experience, influence and programming, and we do not trust you.
You ask “how are you?” as though you’re saying “good morning.” There were days we remember wishing, hoping and dreaming that we could tell you how we really were, but you didn’t stop, didn’t wait, didn’t listen. I don’t blame you, because if I were you, I wouldn’t want to know how I was doing. But there were days I remember wishing, hoping and dreaming that someone would not just ask… but really want the answer. No one did.
That too, bears repeating, as it is a huge part of the victim’s mentality. It is a huge part of who I am, whether I like it or not… I believe, that most people don’t really want to hear the answer, and only ask those questions as a matter of politeness and etiquette. Most people are happy to believe that their world is untouched and unsullied by the tragic world that I’ve seen. So when they ask how I am, I nod, I smile, I say I’m okay, I’m fine, I’m good. And they don’t know the difference.
They don’t know the difference, because they’re ill-informed and ignorant. They believe that violence is a blatant and obvious thing, and it’s not. They don’t know the difference because they don’t want to; because they’d rather believe the world is bright and shiny and good. They don’t know the difference, because some of them just don’t care. They believe the lie, because my circumstances have trained me to lie well, and they’ve been trained by society to ignore the subtleties. We all fail. We’re all victims of our own narrow-minded views. We’re all victims of circumstance, our mindsets perpetuated by the appearances and reactions of one another.
A victim believes– they are helpless. Any action they take will only result in the harm of others or the further harm of themselves. They blame themselves for not speaking up, but find it impossible to speak up for fear that doing so will bring damage and violence to those around them.
A victim’s fear is, above all else, not for themselves, but for those around them.
A victim knows fear, punishment and violence, and the typical victim has come to expect it, grown accustomed to the onslaught as a state of normalcy. They learn to numb themselves, and they do not fear violence… they fear for their family, their friends, those not in the know, despite the desperation of wanting to speak up.
A victim will lie. They will lie because they’re afraid, not for themselves, but for you. They will lie, because they do not want you to know the suffering they’ve lived through. They will lie, because they’re embarrassed by their own inability to speak up. They will lie, because lying is what we are trained to do.
You can blame me for this, and I can blame you for placing that blame. You can call me a liar, and I could shout back that you didn’t want to hear the truth anyhow.
At the end of the day, I find it easier to tell myself I’m a survivor rather than a victim. I find it easier to make it through each day if I lift my chin and take the hit rather than explaining myself to someone who doesn’t care anyhow. I try to tell myself that I’ve suffered far worse blows than these…
But people are ignorant, ill-informed, and stupid. And this is sad.
Based on reported crimes related to population, one in four women have been victims of domestic or sexual violence. And general surveys (spanning the last forty years) have proven that an average of 60% of domestic and sexual crimes against women go unreported. I shouldn’t have to tell you what that means. I shouldn’t have to tell you that you should care. I shouldn’t have to tell you to push these women to get help.
But these women need your help. These women, because of what they’ve been through, will not ask for your help. Your best course of action is not to make advocates of her friends and family… but to become a nag. Ask questions, insist on real answers, listen carefully and when the truth comes out, push her to get help. Call the county clerk and ask about the local victim’s advocate program or social-workers in the area. Make your friend informed of these people and what they do. Inform yourself. Make yourself available. If you believe there’s a serious issue, stop by often and unexpectedly. While it will create stress, and your friend will likely ask you to stop these unexpected visits… don’t. Your presence is important and makes a difference. Encourage others you know care and are absolutely certain are not involved in the violence to do likewise.
Give her the facts. The most important thing you can do for a victim is make them understand that you believe them. Most victim’s think that if and when they speak up, nobody will believe them and nobody will care. Make the effort to make them believe you do care, and that you do believe they’re telling the truth.
I was a childhood victim. It could be said that I wasn’t old enough or didn’t know enough to speak up. I was too young and couldn’t be expected to be strong enough and bold enough to speak out. But I know better. As someone who spent nearly twenty years pretending I was fine, that nothing was wrong, and I was happy, you could arguably consider me an expert at the sport of lying. And I know the truth: I wasn’t too young, I was too scared. I was afraid that my mother would be devastated at the news, afraid my little brother might end up like me.
So what changed my mind and caused me to speak up? Information. The average pedophile has a total of twelve victims before the first one speaks out.
Twelve. The idea that there were eleven others waiting for me to speak up, or eleven more to come. The idea that there were any number before or after… The fact that there would be more, if I said nothing. The idea that by speaking out I was potentially saving others from my own fate…
This is what victims need to know: We are powerful, if we care for and take care of each other.
This is what the public needs to know: victims will not assuage your fears, nor will they take your helping hand with readiness or enthusiasm, but they still need your help. Your best course of action is to be practical and present. It also helps to be genuine.
For more information on this topic, please reach out to your local resources. Especially if this is a problem that you’re dealing with or believe a friend is dealing with, make use of your city’s social works programs, volunteer organizations, counseling and mediation outlets. Call the nearest school, hospital, police or fire department, all of which are usually more than willing to provide you with information. If you fear authority, call your local chapter of AA. Though they specialize in alcoholism, they’re a well-known group that has many networks and has counselors at their disposal. Call a suicide hotline. It’s anonymous and they listen. Leave a comment or send an email. Leave Pierce a comment or send him an email. Write a lengthy dialogue that explicitly details every mistake and moment of stupidity the entirety of the O&F staff has made.
Whatever you do, speak up and speak out. Remember the past, look to the future– keep your voice, and stay informed.