I’ve never liked the term “domestic violence.” I associate “domestic” with air travel, wine, and my home. For decades we’ve been creating softer, gentler language to define social problems. Culturally, we do this to distance ourselves from things we don’t want to imagine experiencing. In this manner, we invalidate the severity and importance of what others experience. Perhaps unwittingly, we also minimize both our individual and shared responsibilities of resolving social problems.
I prefer descriptive language that speaks to the real issue. There is a world of difference between reading the words, “wife beater” or “partner abuse” as opposed to seeing the phrase, “perpetrator of domestic assault.” The former makes us cringe and the latter elicits less of a response because we’ve become desensitized to an already watered down phrase.
No one has ever reached out for help using politically correct terminology. We say things like, “He beat the shit out of me.” These words hide nothing. They’re gut wrenching. It makes one angry to hear such things, but worse, it makes you feel like you have to f@cking do something about it. Good. That’s a step in the right direction.
In the time I’ve worked in social services here’s what I’ve noticed: The scum balls are getting a lot smarter and increasingly systematic. Abusers seek total control. Dominance can be achieved in a myriad of ways. Reduce options. Take away supports. Then take it up to another level and another.
I’ve served countless good people who were tormented into striking first just one time. Their abuser grinned and called the police. Now they have an assault charge and their life options are newly, further, and permanently limited. (Try applying to any corporation with an assault charge on your record).
We’ve known for decades that abusers target insecurities and vulnerabilities . Here’s one we’ve largely overlooked: Many abusers encourage or even require their victims to use drugs and alcohol. Control is easiest to attain when the abused lives with self doubt and self loathing. Addiction multiplies those exponentially.
As a society, we associate abusive behavior with drug use and excessive use of alcohol but in this context we simply view it as one more character defect of the abuser. We are not mindful that those who live in hell use chemicals to escape temporarily that which they cannot leave.
Of the hundreds of survivors I’ve served, none of them knowingly entered into an abusive relationship. Of all the alcohol and drug users I’ve known personally and professionally, none of them believed addiction could ever happen to them. Addiction and violence are places we find ourselves in the midst of, not places we intend to go.
I received an email recently from a woman reaching out for help. She is fighting 2 great battles simultaneously. Her partner is physically and psychologically abusive. During times in which her partner denied her safety, he also denied her basic necessities in life (food, warmth, water). Instead he provided her a steady supply of heroin, knowing that she had a history of past use.
Her shame and her stigma are now twofold. She expects judgment from others, not support. I see that her life is controlled by two cruel masters. Her family of origin, her primary care physician, her neighbors and community see someone who is weak and tolerates things she ought not to.
Somehow, despite all we’ve learned, we’re still asking the phenomenally misguided questions, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” and “Why don’t they just stop using/drinking?” We’re not asking what the obstacles are – only demanding to know why the problems we haven’t sufficiently addressed persists.
It’s always easier to blame the victim. It’s always easier to believe that there are sufficient resources and that all a person needs to do is have the necessary will power to access them. Take a moment from your life and Google “detox facilities in (your area).” Now take a moment and look up the resources available for survivors of domestic violence. Imagine that someone you love needs support from both.
If we are to work toward resolution, our understanding and efforts must outweigh those who seek to control and destroy. Abusive partners and drug dealers are motivated, systematic, and understand those they imprison very, very well. Their efforts are made easier by our collective indifference.
What if the only significant change we make in the near future is that we all collectively decide to call a spade a spade? We can blame media, government or other influences for our desensitization, but the truth is that each of us has a filter and each of us chooses what to believe and focus upon. Even if our choices are subconsciously driven, we are still responsible for them.
Words matter because they’re the primary way in which we communicate knowledge and conceptualize meaning. Understanding the experiences of others means we use their language, not ours. Understanding leads to change. Change is necessary.