Butterfly Cauldron

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Who decides how an abuse victim is supposed to react?

I've been mulling this post for awhile. I hope it makes sense, but I'm not completely sure I've got it all sussed out just yet. Lately, one some of the Big Feminist Blogs, there's been discussion about abuse, rape, victims and how, if at all, the actions of victims affect Woman as a class.

First, I find it very hard to say to a victim that her actions, whatever they may be, are bad for Women. Mostly, people do whatever they can to survive. I'm lucky. I've never been a victim of rape or sexual abuse or domestic abuse. But, most of my female friends have. (Some of my male friends have too, but right now I'm going to focus on the women. Since we're the topic of conversation.) Of all my female friends, one -- ONE -- beside me has not been a victim of some form of abuse. And I'm not talking about having to hear inappropriate jokes, I mean abuse. Rape, child abuse, abusive boyfriends -- things that, by any definition, are real abuse. Of all my friends, two of us have managed to make it to 32 without having to deal with it personally. It's crazy that that can happen. What's crazier is that none of my friends would be included in the abuse/rape statistics compiled every year -- because none of them reported it.

My best friend was in a relationship with a man who physcially abused and raped her repeatedly over a period of months. She didn't tell anyone at first, not even me and she knew I'd be supportive and help her anyway I could. She didn't feel she could tell anyone. I'm not sure why, exactly, but she couldn't tell anyone. She's an intelligent woman. She's educated, she's got a decent job, she's assertive in pretty much any way -- but when she became a victim, she couldn't tell anyone. She finally got away from the Bastard, but it took her a little while. When I found out what he was doing, I wanted to shake her, tell her to call the cops and put the fucker in jail. But she wouldn't, she couldn't. And I had to accept that, like it or not, because my coming down on her, telling her she was acting dumbly, that she knew better than to accept that behavior, would only have made the situation worse. She did know, deep inside, that she didn't deserve that behavior. And yet, when she found it happening to her, she wasn't able to access that knowledge for months. But she did it, and moved on, when she was capable of it.

But it didn't end there, of course. She got away from the Bastard, but she still had to live with what he did to her. What he made her feel and what he made her think about herself. It led her to flit from relationship to relationship (although, I don't know if she thinks that's what was behind her behavior) often with men who were not good for her, that she didn't really like, but she felt like she needed to be in a relationship with someone. I worry about her, because she won't talk to her counselor about any of her Man Issues and I don't want her to suffer from this any longer than she has too. But I know I can't tell her how to react to this situation, because I've never been through it myself. I can only imagine how I'd feel if I had. I can't imagine how I'd react and I certainly wouldn't want to have to defend those actions to anyone else.

I have another friend who was molested as a child. She didn't tell anyone about it until she was nearly 30. She was molested by a family member when she was about 8. Never said a word to anyone, but she always had problems with relationships. She'd had maybe a dozen dates in her entire life, no real relationships, no boyfriends -- because she couldn't stand to have anyone touch her. It freaked her out, brought back memories. Her whole life, this thing haunts her. Was she wrong to react the way she did? Was she wrong not to tell anyone? Was she wrong to not be able to have an adult relationship? And should she have to defend her choices to anyone?

The problem I have with people who go on and on about hurting Women, is that they often forget that there are lower-case women of flesh-and-blood who are living through these horrors. Yes, feminists have a responsiblity to Women as a class, but they have an even larger responsibility to women as individuals. Even if we manage to overthrow the Patriarchy, we'll still be stuck with the individuals who made up the system before.

I like theory. I'm pretty good at it. I enjoy thinking (perhaps too much sometimes.) But any theory has to have a practical application. If fighting the patriarchy leaves women like my friends feeling that they have to defend the decisions they made in order to survive their abuse, we need to find a new game plan. What good is helping Women as a class when individual women are left bleeding on the sidelines?

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posted by Zan at 2:05 PM


I'm trying to think of a circumstance in which the victim is responsible for the perpetrator's pathologies. I can't. Now that could be just because I'm not intellectually 'there' yet, or, it could be because that's really derisive and stupid. Help me out here.

9:30 PM  

No one can tell another how to react. We react as we react, and when a woman is concerned with surviving and recovering, she may not have the energy to worry about Women.

2:28 AM  

I can't think of any situation where the victim is responsble for their abuse. The notion is ridiculous and it only seems to apply to women. No one says to people whose retirments are swindled by CEOs that they "should have known better." No one says to robbery victims that they should have expected it, what with that big plasma screen tv they've got just sitting around and all. And, more importantly, no one says that the reaction of a robbery victim is damaging Robbery Victims as a class. It's bullshit.

I do think victims have a certain amount of responsiblity -- to themselves. As soon as they are capable, they should ask for help. But, in any given situation, when they are capable of doing that could be anywhere from immediately afterward to 30 years later. I'd like to believe that if something happened to me I'd be able to pick up the phone and call the police. I'd like to believe I wouldn't make excuses for my abusers behavoir, but the truth is I don't know what I'd do. I don't think anyone knows what they'd do until they're in the situation. I do, however, know I wouldn't be thinking about Women -- I'd be thinking about ME.

7:27 AM  

I just wanted to let you know about a growing kind of abuse thats is still swept under the rug and never really reconized. Its mental and emotional abuse. I never believed it until I saw my relationship in black and white on a crisis center wall. The worst part is there are no physical signs. No one takes it seriously. I couldn't have him jailed. In our state.."its not real" one persons word against anothers.

7:08 PM  

Oh, absolutely. Sometimes I wonder if emotional abuse isn't harder in a way, because it's not generally thought of as abusive. It's harder to recognize, because you're not being hit. If he's hitting you or raping you, clearly that's abuse. If he's saying things that make you doubt yourself or are degrading -- it's harder to see as abuse, because our society teaches women they're job is to be the peacemaker, the placator. And if there isn't peace, well, it's her fault, isn't it? I don't know how we'd be able to prosecute emotional abuse, but it definately is abuse.

8:12 PM  

This issue has always bothered me. Even as victims, women are supposed to put others first?! Deciding how women should behave and react has been done to death in patriarchy. I would think a feminist rewriting would read like yours.

In my family, among the girls, I'm the good and smart one. So if I were a victim, I'd expect to face surprise and disappointment.

My mother always blamed female rape victims, so I feared facing her if I were raped. I horribly envisioned waking up in the hospital to find her at my side. She would be concerned, but eventually, as though unable to help herself, she'd ask me what I was doing dressed like that in that part of town at that time of night.

She died last year, so now that I'm tough enough to do so, I can't confront or challenge her. I'll never know how much was really her stance or how much was merely my assumption.

7:43 PM  

I've always worried, if I did become a victim, how I would be able to tell my family. Honestly, unless it was something I couldn't avoid telling, I don't think I'd tell them. In the past, my parents have made references to rape -- not to blame the victim exactly, but to suggest that it makes a woman damaged goods.

I've heard that once "it" is gone (I'm assuming they meant virginity?) it can't be gotten back, so I had to be careful around men, careful about what I wore, careful about being alone with 'em, etc.

I've heard my parents express, not exactly surprise, but the sense that a husband whose wife was raped wouldn't have been completely wrong to leave her. A woman who went to school with my mother was raped leaving her job one night and my dad made the comment how good it was of her husband to stick by her. And I'm thinking -- what?? What kind of husband would he be if he didn't stick by her?? Of course he's going to stay with her!

So, they've never said exactly that a woman is to blame if she's raped, but they have said things that made me think being raped made a woman less valuable -- like no man would want her. Which is utter and complete bullshit and who the fuck would want to be with a man who rejected you because you'd been victimized?

So, I wouldn't be able to say anything to my family if something happened to me, which is shit because they're my family, the people I should be able to tell things too. (But, considering I can't tell them about my sexuality or spiritual beliefs, I shouldn't be surprised...)

9:45 PM  

It sounds as though your family might even think it was God's work. Despite being unable to share elements of yoruself with your family, the people who care about you should drop the bullshit when you are hurt or at a loss. They're supposed to support you. On the other hand, they're supposed to do that just because you're family, and there should be no question of whether they accept you. [Sigh] I always wanted to have friends who were the way a good family should be. It hasn't happened.

I'd almost forgotten how the obsession with virginity extends so far as to lead men to want orifices only they've been in. Then there are the people who are okay with that, but they can't stand proof of it, such as a child.

Jerry Lee Lewis's cousin married him because she was grateful for the proposal. Her next-door neighbor (an adult) raped her and she was convinced no man would marry her. That is from her autobiography, where she also says Jerry Lee just had to fuck her a few hours before she gave birth.

4:46 PM  

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