Have you ever thought about all the ways a survivor may be told she doesn’t have a clue what’s best for her?
To start, her abuser tells her. He tells her all day long. He’s told her for years. He’s told her so many times she’s begun to tell herself. She doubts herself. She questions her abilities. She may even distrust her motives. She has been brainwashed to blame herself for his abuse.
Society then echoes this sentiment.
The “traditional” shelter model (littered with rules, regulations and heavily reliant on policing and punishment) tended to treat survivors as if they had done something wrong. The criminal justice system has been known to arrest survivors who fight back and refer them to a Domestic Violence Intervention Program or sentence them to fines and jail time. Child Protective Services can, and does, remove children for threat of harm (often called “failure to protect”).
Do the systems meant to keep survivors safe trust in her?
Then there are the friends, family, and/or acquaintances that often blame her for not leaving sooner. Or not staying gone. Some may still be resentful she dated such a guy in the first place. Others are unable to believe the abuse even existed.
There is a common misconception that a survivor who stays enjoys or invites the abuse. Of course this is not true (no one deserves to be abused—period), but acts as a sobering example of victim-blaming. These are only a handful of the harsh and undermining realities survivors face.
Let’s imagine for a second that she does know best.
Perhaps an innate understanding of safety and danger has allowed her and her children to survive the perilous relationship thus far. Perhaps she didn’t leave earlier because she knew it was not yet safe. Perhaps she contacts her abuser because she knows regular texting keeps him at bay. Perhaps her drinking was a form of self-medication, a desperate coping skill that she can only begin to address once she is free and safe and has time to process her trauma. Perhaps she doesn’t need rules and re-training but compassion, a safe space, and the chance to again acknowledge and trust her intuition.
There are many factors that play into our failing to act as if a survivor knows best; abusers are master manipulators, victim-blaming runs rampant, and systems struggle to implement and execute their good intentions.
If we want to effectively address domestic violence on both small and large scales we have to be more intentional about treating “victims” as survivors, capable of making their own best choices. She does know best. Let’s give her the chance to show us.