I know it is really hard to believe, but right now you probably know someone who is abusing his wife, his girlfriend, his assistant, his kid’s teacher or babysitter and you probably have no idea. I know you don’t want to believe it, I didn’t want to believe it either.
But there it is. The statistics on domestic violence don’t lie and are probably under reported. The fact is, you may not know that you are currently in relationship in some way with a survivor.
When Harvey Weinstein was outed last week as an abusive man who sexually assaulted women he had a lot of power over, everyone was wondering how this could go on for so long. Everyone wanted to know who did know and who didn’t know, and mostly they wanted to know, how could people not know?
I am sure there were many, many people who DID know and kept quiet. I am sure the reasons are complicated, and a few years ago I would have judged them. I would have written plainly on this blog that there is right and there is wrong and if you see something you should say something, shout it from the rooftops even. I hope that more often than not we speak up, but I just realize that it may be more complicated than we want it to be.
However, when I hear people say that they cannot believe that people close to this man didn’t know, I think they are kidding themselves. We want to believe that abusive men are over there. They are in Hollywood, have more power than our circles have access to, they are over there not in contact with me. If that is the case then abusive men and how to hold them accountable never has to be my problem. This simply isn’t true.
The first time someone tried to tell me about her abusive husband I told her I thought she should stay, work it out, try again. I knew she was unhappy, but come on aren’t there rough patches in everyone’s marriage? My mind was changed the day she asked for a separation in order to reconcile. His reaction made it clear that he did not see her as a whole person; he thought of her as a piece of property that he was entitled to control.
I started reading more about domestic abuse, emotional abuse. I started understanding the difference between a marriage that was having a rough patch, and a husband that believed that he was allowed to do whatever he wants. I began to understand that the reason I hadn’t seen it before is because the abusive men didn’t want me to see it.
A year later a woman I thought of as a dear friend told me all the things that happened behind closed doors. I had thought of her as a confidant, I had thought I really knew her, knew her marriage, knew her husband. I am sure when it comes to marriage, you only know what they want you to know. And that feels really terrifying.
You want to believe that abuse happens outside of your circles. You want to believe that you would know if someone you loved was being abused. You want to believe that you know who is a good guy and who is not and that knowledge will protect you and the people you love. You want to believe if you are smart enough and good enough and capable enough you won’t be abused or assaulted. You desperately want to believe if you just raise daughters who are smart, and loud, and free enough they will be protected.
I understand why you would want to believe those things. They aren’t true and they aren’t protecting you. Of course other people did not know that Harvey Weinstein was sexually assaulting women, he didn’t want them to know. He likely did things, on purpose, that protected him from true accusations. People who are invested in manipulating their power make sure they get to keep it.
You probably don’t know that you know an abuser. When their victims speak out, I pray that we hear them.