Why I Stayed:
Because my church, teachers, other relatives, and even a cop (after the incident of the broken collar bone and gash that required stitches) told me that sometimes a father has to go to extremes to make his son a man.
Because when you are raised from birth by your abuser, you think bruises, fractures, and lacerations are normal.
Because my church, other relatives, and even movies and TV told me that standing up for myself was being rebellious.
Because if my story didn’t match his version of events, I would be hurt worse.
Because if I got away, he’d still be able to hurt my mom and my little sister.
Why I Left:
Because the judge hearing my parents’ divorce case actually asked me which parent I wanted to live with, and why.
Unpacking some of the above:
To someone who isn’t in the abusive relationship, the solution always seems simple…
The #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft hashtags are a response to the oft asked question, ‘Why doesn’t she leave?’
That question comes up most often when discussing domestic violence cases where a woman stays with her abusive husband or boyfriend. However, that form of victim-blaming isn’t just aimed at adult women. I’ve had plenty of people, when learning about my abusive childhood, ask why I didn’t report my dad.
If you’re wondering that, please go back to the top and re-read my answers. For some more context, recognize that for most of my childhood, the law was effectively on the side of abusers. If a teacher or medical professional reported suspected abuse, what usually happened is that the teacher or medical person lost their job. They were the ones whose reputations were destroyed, not the abuser.
Because most abuse doesn’t leave much in the way of obvious wounds. And when it does, there is always an alternate explanation: The kid was running around and fell, hitting his head on a piece of furniture. The kids were playing some kind of chasing game in the house and he opened the door wrong and hit himself in the face. The mom was trying to get something away from the dog and she tripped and fell down. And so on, and so on.
And the victims will back up the abuser’s story. We learned early on that things were always our fault, never his. We also learned that if our story doesn’t match his, there will be severe consequences.
And he isn’t the only one who taught us these things. Any time that another adult finds a child crying or otherwise reacting to a beating, or expressing fear of a parent, the adult always asks what we had been punished for. “What did you do to deserve this?” is always the subtext of the question, if it isn’t asked outright.
Or, take your typical movie or television portrayal of a child misbehaving. There is always a scene where an authority figure sits the child down and explains to the child that they are in the wrong, until finally the child sees it that way, too. Sometimes there is a scene in between where the child misbehaves again, and someone gets hurt. In every case, the end result is the same: everything bad that happened was the kid’s fault.
The lessons abused children learn—from our abusers, from popular culture, from church, from our teachers, neighbors, et cetera—is that even when it makes no sense to us, our parent is always right. If bad things happen, it’s because we were bad. If we are punished, it’s because we deserve it. If we don’t learn our lessons, even worse things will happen. If we didn’t deserve to be punished, we wouldn’t be punished so often (that sounds like a repeat of the earlier one, but there is a subtle and important distinction).
Often church is the worst offender in this. God commands us to obey our parents. God wouldn’t let this happen to us if we didn’t deserve it. If bad things happen, it’s because god is trying to teach us a lesson. No matter how horrible the bad thing is, god expects us to be obedient and endure it. What other lesson do you expect children to take from biblical stories such as god telling Abraham to tie his son to an altar stone, plunge a knife into his heart, and then burn his body as a sacrifice to said god?
The #WhyIStayed hashtag has raised at least a little awareness about domestic violence, and I hope has made a few people realize that the question, “Why does she stay with him?” is a form of victim-blaming. As this blog post, #WhyIStayed Is Our Hashtag, Too, notes, it isn’t just women being abused by their boyfriends or husband whose stories need to be told. The argument has been made that the vast majority of domestic abuse victims are women being abused by men, and the rest of us should keep quiet so as not to dilute the message. Anyone who says that has a math problem (in addition to the chauvinism and heteronormative problem).
The statistics say that nearly half of those straight couples in an abusive relationship have children, and it’s usually more than one child. While it’s easy to find articles that talk about children “witnessing” domestic violence, surprisingly few talk about the abuse the children themselves suffer. If one of the parents is abusing the other, then that parent is also abusing the children.
So, yeah, #WhyIStayed is my hashtag, too.