This is a post that's been sitting in my mind for a VERY long time. Since I began the blog. Since I joined twitter. Since I ever heard anyone speaking about domestic abuse and felt I had to join the conversation. Which I always do.
Domestic violence. That's the term everyone uses. There are campaigns around right now, this minute, aimed at young women, at teenagers, at GIRLS, telling them that domestic violence is wrong, and that they don't have to put up with it.
I have an issue with this.
Not the message - don't be silly - but with the name it's given.
You see, the problem is, that it doesn't start with violence. In many cases it never even escalates to violence. But there are so many kinds of abuse, so many women and girls, and men and boys, being abused day in day out where a hand is never raised. Where nobody gets a black eye or a bust lip.
The worst case scenario of domestic abuse is that someone is killed. Is that someone is beaten. Hospitalised. Raped. Maimed. Tortured. Those are the worst cases.
But they take time to build. It takes months, years, decades even in some cases to get there.
If a girl goes on a first date and, during the awkward conversation and, while she's wondering whether to pay cinema prices for a packet of minstrels, he punches her in the face, that's pretty much a relationship killer. That guy is generally going to get arrested. That girl is not going to stay with him, date him more, let him get under her skin.
If, on that first date, he charms her, flirts, compliments her, is a great date, makes her soar, then quietly says maybe she'd look better with less make up, then she takes it as a compliment. A bit of a backhanded one, since she made so much effort, but he meant it nicely. Right?
So after a few weeks, when she's wearing less make up but seeing him more, and he's saying that he wishes they were never apart it makes sense, is easy, is flattering that he wants her there all the time. That he wants her to spend all her time with him. It's easy to stay, not go out with her friends, skip that lunch with her Grandma, just this once, because he'll be so happy, and it's awful making him sad when he's so good to her. Right?
This still isn't when he punches her, by the way. Hardly ever.
So she stays in, with less make up on, wearing clothes he picked out because it makes him smile, and she's falling in love...look how happy that makes him.
One day she wants to do something different, wouldn't it be fun - and they go, and he sulks, and snaps, and is bitter - and she can't work out what she did wrong.
Every time she tries something different the same thing happens - so gradually she learns that change rocks him, throws him out of that kind, gentle man he is when it's just the two of them, at home, alone.
When he's rude to her friends she's mortified. They don't like him at all - but they don't see the REAL him, the guy he is at home, when it's just them.
They don't see how much he spoils her, cares for her, the nice things he does, the treats he buys, he showers her with gifts and affection - they don't SEE that.
What they see is the sulky, moody, strange man in the corner of the party sucking the happiness out of the room. They see their friend, or daughter, or sister, tense, on edge, looking different to the girl they know, watching him from the corner of her eye. They hear her make an excuse, leave early, with him, apologising.
They miss him apologising to her, explaining how nervous he is, how uncomfortable he was because none of her friends or family like him, and he doesn't know why because he treats her SO well.
So he slips between her and them, under her skin now.
When he says something that puts her down again, just a little, just a tiny chip in her self worth, and she thinks "this is going too far" and stands up to him he apologises, looks hurt, explains how much he loves her, how special she is, how ungrateful she's being. She feels bad. She's sorry. She spends the rest of the day, week, month, making it up to him. She can't even remember what made her cross - she's so unreasonable!
It's always her fault.
When he's not there, those brief periods of her day where he isn't either there or calling or texting or watching, she knows there's something not quite right here. She knows that his behaviour is odd. Off. Bad. That she needs to challenge it.
But when she tries her words get turned upside down, inside out, backwards. She hurts him. He cries. She feels awful, just awful. They argue, and she can't really remember what she was trying to say because he's had such a difficult time and she's making his life so much worse, when all he wants is for the two of them to be together, at home, just the two of them where nobody can hurt her. He's protecting her, from the outside, from people who just don't understand what they have.
It might be weeks, months, or years. He still hasn't punched her. She doesn't even worry that he might.
She just tries and tries and tries to stop hurting him. To be better. To love him right. To love the hurt out of him. To stop getting things so very wrong and ruining the magical time they could be having, that they used to have, that she knows they could have if she could just. be. better.
He still doesn't punch her though.
Sometimes she shouts. Thinks she has something valid to say. That he's done something wrong for once. He stands over her, intimidating her. She tries to stand, to meet him face to face and have her say.
He won't let her stand. He pushes her back down, stands over her, shouts more, to make sure she listens to how badly she's let him down. It's no wonder her family and friends don't make much effort now.
A voice in the back of her mind is telling her that it isn't HER they avoid, but him, that HE makes them uncomfortable, and that she avoids seeing them so that he won't pick a fight or embarrass her. She knows it. She can hear herself saying it to him - but the words won't come out because actually, what he's saying seems so reasonable. So right. Maybe she is to blame again? Maybe she's just misinterpreted it again? Maybe they do laugh behind her back, slag her off, just put up with her. They certainly don't love her the way he does...after all, if they did, they'd be here...right?
But they aren't. He is. And he still doesn't punch her.
Now she is a different person. All different colours, all different sounds, all different interests and passions - all his, all picked out by him, and he's explained to her why these likes and colours and sounds are so much better, why she likes them more, and it's all so reasonable.
She doesn't get promoted. She doesn't pass her exams. She isn't included in family gatherings. She isn't a bridesmaid for her cousin. She doesn't go on her best friend's hen night. She never goes for a girlie night away, or on a spa weekend. She doesn't dance in high heels. She doesn't see a chick flick, or pick her own pizza topping, or listen to her favourite radio station.
She does as he decides, because it makes him happy, and when he's happy he's nice, and that's the real him...right?
She wants something that he liked last week. He doesn't like it now. She didn't notice when he changed his mind. God she's stupid. What an idiot! If she just hadn't suggested it he'd still be happy. He's standing over her again. She tries to stand up - to plead this time - but he pushes her back. That was a bit rough - she tells him so - he pushes harder. THAT'S rough. And that's what happens because she was so stupid. That's what happens when she just doesn't LISTEN. Right?
She wonders if she's going insane. If she's mentally ill. Or stupid. Or cruel. He tells her, every day, that she is. He keeps her alone, apart from anyone who might give her a different voice. Away from all the things she cared about. She questions herself, all of her self. She loses her self. She can't really remember who or how she was, before.
Part of her wants to fight. Part of her is scared that if she does he'll be angry. Part of her WANTS him to be. Most of her just wants the early days back. The heady, passionate, headrush days where she was his world. When he was hers.
When she does try he stands over. Pushes. She pushes back, so he pushes harder. She stands and shouts. He pushes her into a wall. She falls. He stands over pushing and pushing and pushing.
He still doesn't punch her - so it doesn't count. Right? And it was her own fault...right?
She knows. She knows it's not her fault. But when she tries to explain that to him his reasonable tone and totally believable explanation make her question herself. Again. Until that night, when they've had sex and she's sore inside and out, and she didn't want to but couldn't explain that, when she's in the bathroom with the door unlocked because he doesn't like her to be out of his sight, when she's crying as she washes herself...she wonders. Is this how it is, for everyone? Is this how it will always be?
But he still hasn't punched her...so it doesn't count...right?
He patronises. He picks. He scorns. He is never the nice guy now. Never charming. There are no magical moments. He scares her, but she can't explain why, because if she gets it right he's kind. She's grateful. Takes those scraps. They're all she gets, so she fawns on them.
He doesn't punch her, so she should be grateful - after all, who else would put up with her when she's so god damned stupid? Her family didn't stick around, her friends all dumped her - he's the only person who loves her enough to put up with all her bullshit...right?
After all, he still doesn't punch her. He makes her question herself. Hate herself. Wonder who the fucking hell she even IS any more.
But he doesn't punch her...so it doesn't count...right?
That's the problem with the term domestic violence. All THAT happens before his hand has been raised, before there's a bruise or a welt or a mark. On the skin at least.
All THAT happens before she ever really knows for sure that this isn't ok. That this is abuse. That HE is wrong.
All THAT happens LONG before he punches her. Maybe he never will. Maybe the day he does is a massive relief because that's REAL, it DOES count, and she can leave. But how many women do you think will leave, after all THAT, because of one punch? He's sorry anyway - she'd just got things so wrong, so many times, because she's so fucking stupid, that he finally lost his temper. There's only so much he can put up with from her, after all! Right?
It doesn't have to bruise to be abuse. It doesn't have to be violent to be abuse. She doesn't have to be battered to be abused.
Domestic ABUSE. Not domestic violence. That's already too late. We need to educate these young people long before a fist is raised what is right, what is wrong, what is crossing those lines, where it could go. What the warning signs are. What you can and can't do. What you do and don't have to put up with.
Not just domestic violence.
Please use it. Please share it. Please, please spread that message. Don't let it get too late for anyone else.
* I have had an incredible response to this post and haven't been able to reply to everyone - thank you all for sharing your stories.
I saw a fantastic article on the slow burn of abusive relationships and want to add the link here.
Red flags and how to spot them