SAYING IT OUT LOUD: WHY REPORTING ABUSE IS HARDER THAN YOU THINK
When I tell people I've been abused, their first reaction is to either (A) give me a sad look or (B) tell me how sorry they are that it happened to me. I don't mind either of those things, because I know that it comes from a good place. But despite good intentions, the inevitable and dreaded questions always follow: "Why didn't you tell someone?" "Why didn't you go to the police?" or my personal favorite, "Why didn't you tell me sooner?"
Unfortunately, this is the way most people in my life reacted when I told them what my high school boyfriend did to me. I'll spare you most of the details, but it was extremely scarring. He called me horrible things, manipulated me, and forced me into things I was completely uncomfortable with. I'll never forget the time he called me in the middle of the night and told me if I hung up he was going to end his life. Ever since then, I've been suffering from PTSD and my Borderline Personality Disorder and anxiety have just gotten worse.
When I tried telling the next guy I was with, he didn't really understand. I just shook it off, thinking that if I went into detail, he wouldn't have believed me anyways. To make things worse I was still so afraid after being choked and thrown around by my ex. I always had thoughts like, he's bigger than me, he's definitely stronger than me, he could kill me. I felt extremely threatened and thought it was best to keep it held up inside, because I knew there was so much at stake for me.
The first time I said it out loud was in college.
My roommate was one of the first people I told; thankfully, her reaction was very positive, encouraging, and extremely supportive. After her, I started telling my friends at TCU who had about the same reaction. Even if they didn't know how I felt, they still listened and tried to be supportive. After that first semester at TCU, I went back home to tell my parents as well as my high school friends. I knew it would be hard to stomach, but I knew I had to get it off my chest. There was so much that I did back then to cope that many of them didn't really understand; I withdrew myself, pushed them away, and almost ended my own life. I was hoping to get it off my chest and find some form of closure.
Half of my friends believed me, the other half ignored me. They were close friends with my ex-boyfriend for years, so it wasn't a complete shock when they scoffed at what I said. That doesn't mean it didn't hurt though, because it made me feel like my truth wasn't validated. My ex still denies to this day that anything ever happened. It's truly baffling to me sometimes because I have the scars, both physical and mental.
As for my parents, my father was receptive; he told me that he understood, but was frustrated that he didn't see it. Truthfully, he didn't notice it, but it's not his fault. He was always working. Always traveling. He could only give so much of his energy for me. My mother on the other hand was frustrating. She asked me all of those dreaded questions: "Why didn't you tell me?" "Why didn't you go to the police?" "Why didn't you tell the school?" followed by the statement, "I'm just trying to understand."
I sort of get where my parents were coming from, because from the outside the solution seems so incredibly simple: report. However, if you've experienced abuse, you know that it's not that simple. A large percentage of domestic violence survivors won't even try to tell the police because the response can be the same. Even with photographs, texts, and threats, many cases are brushed off. For me, I had seen so many examples of what I didn't want to be.
When someone in the public eye alleges abuse, the first response isn't to be sympathetic toward the survivor, but to make assumptions without true empathy. The "why didn't they say something sooner?" and "Isn't the timing convenient?" come to mind.
I respect those that do decide to take their cases to the state, because seeing your abuser face to face is so difficult just in general. It takes extreme courage to bring something like that to light and fight for others like you. But I couldn't do that. I couldn't get past the fear that he would come after me and the police would see it as a joke because I was so young. It first started happening when I was a young freshman in high school. At the end of the day, would my truth be validated or trusted at that age? I'm not sure.
What I do know is that no matter the circumstance, no matter the strife, domestic abuse survivors need to have a safe place of love and support. They need a place where they can feel like their truth is valid. Some survivors may never tell a soul and that's okay. I know how painful it is to say it out loud. But those of us that have chosen to speak out, make that voice loud. Support others who are in the same position you were. Appreciate those people in your life who do listen and can support you. Find your home in other people, because those relationships are what makes life worth living and your battle worth fighting for.
From the Editor: Domestic violence is threatening, abusive, or violent behavior in the home between adults. Dating or relationship violence means that this behavior is directed by one person towards another in a dating relationship. If you or anyone you know is in immediate danger please call 911. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence or dating violence, please call The National Domestic Violence Hotline for help support services at 1-800-799-7233 | 1-800-787-3224 (TTY). You can also chat online with the Hotline at http://www.thehotline.org/.