When He Loves You And Harms You
“Just before I fell in love with a man who abused me, I spouted off to my New York City roommate that I’d never be stupid enough to stay with a man who hit me,” Leslie Morgan Steiner writes.
She has a Wharton MBA, decades of marketing experience at Fortune 500 companies and a book called ‘Crazy Love’ which opens with this:
“If I were brave enough the first time I met you, I’d try to share what torture it is to fall in love with a good man who cannot leave a violent past behind.”
The #MeToo movement has been getting a lot of attention (anyone curious about the debate might enjoy this on March 20th). Yet there are other complicated issues that don’t always get similar levels of airtime.
One is deconstructed by Steiner’s TED talk — namely, how short-sighted it is to ask the question ‘why doesn’t she just leave?’ in domestic violence matters:
Part of me had always assumed that if you fell in love with someone and then he hit you, surely you’d just walk out? Surely it’s ‘dumb’ if you stay, and if you’re ‘smart’ then you can ‘rise above’ someone who’s ‘bad’? But Steiner had gone to Ivy League schools! And she outlines the financial, emotional, and physical limitations that render any ‘simple solution’ maddeningly elusive.
Crazy Love outlines how messed up toxic relationships can be — he hits you because he loves you, so if you decide to call it quits, are you really doing the right thing? If anyone could help him… it could be you?
What I took away from Steiner’s book is this: if you are in love with an abusive man, you are not stupid and it is not your ‘fault’ — similarly, if your friend is in love with an abusive man, she is also not stupid and she does not need your judgment as much as she needs your empathy.
I list some links below but honestly, I have no idea what I’d do in the situation myself. Would I have the clarity of mind or strength of will to call the police? I imagine my initial reaction would be wandering around in shock and resisting contact with authorities, as I’d think: do the police not have more ‘important matters’ to think about?
I suspect my brain would be trying to pretzel itself into accepting the reality that the man I love is also someone who could harm me. If I reported him, I’d be doing the right thing for myself, but would it be an irreversible bullet into our relationship? The psychological minefield is incomprehensible.
A friend who experienced this herself pointed out:
“Domestic abuse often escalates to violence, but the nature of it, is that by the time actual physicality happens, the person on the receiving end has already usually had their spirit worn down with other forms of abuse, like emotional, financial, isolation.
Women who have experienced violence from their partners often say that by the time that happened, it was barely a surprise. It creeps up on you. It’s kind of like being a frog in boiling water: you’re dead before you realise how hot the water is.
Violence is part of a pattern of abuse. If a person is abusing their partner, there were likely lots of things leading up to that. I also don’t think the violence is even necessarily the worst of it — some men may never resort to physicality, but the damage they inflict can be just as scarring.
I think the most powerful thing you can personally do to help a friend you believe is in an abusive situation, is to show them you’re there for them, and be there to listen, as well as discreetly signpost them to organisations like Women’s Aid.
Encourage them to talk, if it’s not to you, then to someone, including phone lines like the Samaritans. They are probably sinking deeper into a painful existence, they need lifelines, they need to know they are not alone.
They need friends who won’t leave them just because they can’t leave their partners. Tiffany Haddish’s The Last Black Unicorn offers a fascinating insight into the nature of abusive relationships — she actually married her abuser twice.”
Based on a deep desire to explore the harder conversations that are worth having (whether it’s International Women’s Day or not), cobbled together are some notes on how to navigate the mind-fuck that is domestic abuse:
1. Dig into your partner’s background.
The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme is known as Clare’s Law (named after 36-year-old Clare Wood who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 2009).
If you have a partner who may be acting in a way which suggests that they are somebody who is violent, this law enables you to go to the police and find out more — you’ve got the right to ask for information about that partner.
This enables you to know whether your partner has a record of violence, and to be able to take a decision as to whether to stay with them or not.
However, as my friend pointed out:
“Clare’s Law is very important, however many abusers won’t have any kind of official record. The ones that do are just the tip of the iceberg.”
2. Download Hollieguard.
This app was developed by parents of a girl who died from domestic violence. It records and sends information to the cloud, notifies people of your location, and can be put on super discreet mode.
A simple shake or tap activates Hollie Guard, automatically sending your location and audio/video evidence to your designated contacts.
3. Find out your local domestic violence centre.
Depending on where you live, the organisation you will be in touch with is different. Each borough has their own domestic violence centre.
They are active in practicalities of helping to find refuge where you can hide for a few days after you flee and filing for a non-molestation report. More info here.
National organisations that can help:
As my friend said:
“What helped me the very most, was being able to fight through the shame, and continue to talk to at least a couple of people about it, who were kind and patient, and gave me lifelines.
They were there to listen, and they helped me see beyond the reality that was being created for me. And once the situation erupted, talking is what healed, being heard and hearing other people. Seeing that I was not alone, that I was supported and that my experiences were in no way unique or because of my failure as a human.
The best support I had outside friends was from my local Women’s Aid. I was advised to call them by the police, and once I was on their books, they provided support (including practical advice and signposting to legal).
They did safety checks and also enrolled me a Patterns Changing course, which is designed to help women put abusive relationships behind them for good and relearn what a healthy relationship looks like.”
4. Get as much as possible on GP and police records.
If you’re attacked, go see a GP and get a letter about what you’ve experienced (even if its just emotional or psychological). This will help you later on — it’s useful to get as much as possible on GP and police records. This puts it into the system for references to help a case later on.
Many don’t want to file any police reports or go to the police. However, if you are about to escape, you should tell the police and the local domestic violence center of your plans so they can be on alert if needed.
5. File a non-molestation order.
This does not result in a criminal record for the offender — it is simply a warning to them that they cannot be near you. There is a time limit (i.e. 6 months or 1 year etc).
It is basically a restraining order but one that is a warning — if offender breaks it, they will face criminal charges. More information here.
Although, as my friend shared:
“The odds are really against victims getting any kind of justice, in many cases the legal processes are as painful and damaging as the original abuse, because you are forced to relieve the experience over and over again, and likely in the end are told that you can’t be fully believed, legally. I am very wary of the legal system now, and feel great pity for any victim embroiled in the processes.”
Two women are killed each week by a current or former partner in England and Wales. This story by Rossalyn Warren humanises that statistic:
“On a warm summer day last July, Claire Hart and her 19-year-old daughter Charlotte went for an early morning swim at their local leisure centre in Spalding, Lincolnshire. It was a trip they made often, just a short drive from their home in the village of Moulton. Claire’s son Ryan had recently bought his mother a swimming pass as a present.
At 9am on 19 July, mother and daughter left the pool and made their way back across the car park to their blue Toyota Aygo. As they approached the car, a man crawled out from underneath it: Claire’s husband and Charlotte’s father, Lance Hart, whom the pair had left five days earlier. Now he held up a single-barrel shotgun and shot Claire three times. He then reloaded the gun and shot his daughter, before turning the gun on himself.”
On International Women’s Day, I salute leaders like the ones I’ve mentioned — Leslie Morgan Steiner and Rossalyn Warren. As well as Katie Ghose: as the chief executive of Women’s Aid, Ghose campaigned alongside survivor Mehala Osborne to convince the Government to review their anonymous voter registration policy.
This meant that women who had fled domestic abuse could vote but without being tracked by past partners via the electoral register.
And lastly, it is also men like Barack Obama who also give me a huge amount of hope.
“Growing up without a dad, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out who I was, how the world perceived me, and what kind of man I wanted to be. It’s easy to absorb all kinds of messages from society about masculinity and come to believe that there’s a right way and a wrong way to be a man. But as I got older, I realized that my ideas about being a tough guy or cool guy just weren’t me. They were a manifestation of my youth and insecurity. Life became a lot easier when I simply started being myself.
We need to keep changing the attitude that congratulates men for changing a diaper, stigmatizes full-time dads, and penalizes working mothers. We need to keep changing the attitude that values being confident, competitive, and ambitious in the workplace — unless you’re a woman.
That’s what twenty-first century feminism is about: the idea that when everybody is equal, we are all more free.”