Societal Crimes of Silence – Gender Gaslighting
Why do victims of domestic abuse put up with it?
For many there simply is no outlet. Victims speak but there is no one to listen. Inevitably, victims learn reticence. We should not question the silence of victims but instead the muteness of the masses – we need to understand what comes first because silence begets silence.
When there is no one who wishes to hear experiences of abuse or to speak of it, victims begin to doubt the authenticity of their experiences and the validity of their claims against injustice. Victims will become silent because their voices bring them into more danger than the aggression of the abuser brings antagonism against their actions. Where there is fear there is no consent; there is no question to be levied against the victims who had no other choices.
Where then should we be targeting our questions?
The typical societal reaction to the tragedy of domestic abuse and domestic homicide is disingenuous shock followed by a sudden silence on the true causes of domestic abuse. Facile attempts at understanding are in fact the deflection of guilt from our collective failings towards those caught up in the manifestation of society’s ignorance. Societal silence on domestic abuse leads to the incorrect relocation of moral focus from society to the suffering. Society does not wish to see that sexism lies at the heart of abuse, because this would hold us all to account to change.
Even where the victims are not held accountable for their suffering, the alternative suggestion is a portrayal as everyone involved in abuse as a victim; as if it were an act of God, a messy confusion. There is the evading belief that no human agency could have intervened to influence events otherwise. Yet, this is also a lie in collusion with the crimes themselves. The issues of domestic abuse are consistently given no medium for resolution, the most convenient narratives are that the victim brought it upon themselves or of a world outside of our control.
This is because, societally, we are uncomfortable with tragedy as it exposes our failings as bystanders. The tragedies of others reveal to us the innumerable similar instances where, with only a slight displacement of luck, our lives could have equally imploded. We do not want to consider our own fragility.
Even where evil is condemned it is often far too late in its progression. Condemning extreme evil does very little to undermine the facilitation of continuing acts of evil. Evil is bred in stagnant societal silence, from the insidious and persistent permission of small scale and incrementally increasing evil actions.
Yet, when those who have suffered raise their voices they are often suppressed into silence by those who claim offence at their words, as opposed to their realities of their abuse. Truth is hidden by the perspective that we take. As long as we see abuse from an individual perspective we continually excuse the masses for their inaction – their malignant silence.
Therefore, we should not ask, ‘Why did the victims not leave?’ Instead, we should ask, ‘Why do we not rid our society of abuse?’, ‘Why does society continue to collude with abusers?’
The most deafening crimes are those of overwhelming societal silence in the face of mass abuse. When domestic abuse rises to the surface, let’s turn our gaze towards the masses of the wilfully ignorant. Silence is the primary weapon of abuse. Silence leads to normalisation.
Ignoring the voices of victims creates artificial boundaries to the world, where anything we refuse to talk about is not allowed within the realm of our perceptual possibilities. However, domestic abuse happens, and it happens a lot. We must accept its pervasiveness in our world before we can begin to see its scale and its causes – which exist at scale and not in the particular instances of abuse.
Therefore, the bravest thing a victim can do is to speak their truth into a world that doesn’t want to hear it. It is a battle for recognition and honesty. The bravery of victims is to force us to see the world as it is.
Speak your truth and hold the world to account. Below is a courageous contribution to this blog by a survivor.
18 years after the event(s) the reality of what you did hit me, just like you did. What makes a man confuse love with hate? What drives a man to physically and emotionally batter the woman he claims to love? I’ve realised that’s not for me to answer and trying to work you out won’t ultimately help me. And it’s me that needs help right now, which has not been easy for me to say.
I’m the strong one, I’m the successful capable woman – the reasons you fell for me in the first place – but inside I’m not that anymore. I’m fearful, I’m on edge, I’m scared of everyone and everything. That’s what PTSD does to you. I can’t wait for the day when car doors slamming and loud noises don’t affect me anymore. I know I’ll get there but I’m not there yet. It’s taken a long time for the horror of what you did to come to the surface. I buried it. I dismissed it. And I forgot it. Slowly, through counselling, some of the memories are coming back and they are deeply unpleasant (to put it mildly). It’s no wonder I buried them.
When you don’t have broken bones and black eyes it’s hard to define it as abuse but it is. That time you dragged me off the toilet, I now wonder if that’s what caused my serious back problems which ultimately led to surgery? Or the time you kicked me out of bed? I’ve spent a long time feeling guilt and shame and wondering what I did to contribute to your behaviour but I can’t see what I could have done in my sleep or in the middle of a wee to provoke you. I’ve wasted time and energy on guilt on shame. I have nothing to feel guilty about. I’m the victim here. You are the guilty one.
And shame, do you feel shame? Do you think about what you did to me? Are you sorry? Have you changed? Have you grown? I hope so, and I hope to God you have never done what you did to me to anyone else.
If you have a story you wish for us to share on our blog, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org