Yesterday, I snagged this screenshot on a local news station's Facebook post:
I protected Chuck's identity. I'm just nice like that, I guess.
This is a really blatant form of victim-blaming when people are in or come out of abusive relationships, and it's not incorrect. There are a lot of instances where victims go back.
The problem is when we, like Chuck, place the entire onus for leaving the relationship on the victim, and it's compounded when we fail to look at the entire picture in a nuanced way. Poor Chuck. He has the right idea, but for all the wrong reasons.
There are many, many reasons that domestic violence victims go back to relationships that are obviously harmful to them. The one that immediately leaps to mind is that they love this person who has hurt them, and they trust them.
Often times, we (we as in those of us privileged enough to be able to have an opinion on someone else's life choice) take this for a sign of weakness. "Oh, look at her [or him], they just aren't strong enough to walk away. Tsk tsk tsk. How sad. I would never let that happen to me."
But love and trust are natural emotions. They help us, as social creatures, build the social groups that have assisted our survival for millennia. When we demonize these emotions, we are saying to victims of abuse, "What you are feeling is natural, but it is wrong. Stop feeling it."
And that simply doesn't do. People can't just stop feeling it, and it's very hard to turn the tides on such a strong evolutionary trend.
It's also not fair to assign some reasons for staying a more "noble" aspect than others. We look at a victim who stays because he or she can't afford to live without their partner, and we say, "Okay, that's an acceptable reason for staying. Let's help that person." In reality, though, there are no noble reasons for staying, and we can't accept that some victims are more inherently worth helping than others. We have to approach the issue in a way that weights all reasons that people may return to these relationships equally and addresses them in proportion to their causes and contributing factors.
So our first step in helping victims to escape this situations should be accepting that each victim that may wish to return to their relationship has a reason for doing so, a reason that is very valid to them, and it's not our job as advocates and allies to judge that reason and determine whether it is worthwhile or not.
That gives us a starting point. From there, we have the ability to discuss with victims without judging them and determine what coping strategies will help them permanently escape their abuse.
Many victims will need financial support. Most will need counseling--some just to deal with the trauma, some to deal with the trauma compounded by not wanting to leave, by still loving their abuser. It's job training. It's resume and interviewing help. It's housing assistance. It's safe places for their children to go for childcare--places where they know their former partner can't get to them easily. It's a comprehensive strategy.
And that is what people like Random Chuck miss. Comments like these imply that victims WANT to go back to these relationships--and some do--but the truth is so much more complex.
When we paint over those nuances, we can't create effective strategies to help people exit these relationships for good.