Abuse blossoms in silence. That is why it thrives.
Why are we surprised when people stand up and speak out to end abuse? Is it because so few do?
Only by speaking up can we ever hope to break the pernicious cycle of abuse that is embedded in our society. From our bedrooms and the safe sanctuaries of our homes, to our workplaces (where we often spend 50-60% of our awake hours), and communities—are we surrounded by bullying, abuse, and violence. It often doesn’t reach the headlines—remaining under the surface, hidden, out of the public eye and scrutiny.
We are also quick to ask, “Why didn’t you go to the police?” “Why didn’t you report it?”
There are no simple answers. Perhaps because nothing will happen and the victims are often shamed, shunned and silenced. Both the abuser and the victim knows this.
Abuse and bullying are so prevalent that we have come to accept it as normal, like paying our taxes—it’s part of the fiber of life we believe. We even laugh at those who speak up or raise alarm—implying they are spoilsports, incompetent, failures, or were looking for “it” in the first place. Our skewed response is they should never have opened their mouths or should have “kept their legs closed.” They got “what they deserved.”
In the US, 500 women are killed every year by spouses and boyfriends. In Canada between 30 – 40 doctors and medical students commit suicide every year. (It’s 300-400 for the US.)
Why don’t we know this? And if we do, why does this keep on happening?
The reasons why so little is done to reverse this trend:
- Cloaks of secrecy are often pulled over the numbers.
- It’s uncomfortable truths.
- Collective indifference of society
- Political correctness
- Fear (The threat is real.)
- The criminal justice system is set up to protect the rights of the accused (the abuser)
Perhaps we were raised and grew up in such a milieu—believing this is what true men did, showing others whose boss, what a real man is—someone who can put a woman (or man/or child) in “its place.” Perhaps we have a twisted picture of what a real man (or woman) is.
Whether we are the victim, the bystander or the abuser—we have come to believe it is what it is—immutable—we all have to pay our dues. It “un-complicates” matters if we keep silent. It is so much easier when we do nothing.
I was surprised when I noticed the similarities between the different types of abuses: the commonalities shared between perpetrators and the victims of, (i) workplace harassment and abuse, (ii) domestic violence, and (iii) sexual abuse. There are similar attitudes and patterns.
The shared patterns of the abuser (workplace/domestic/sexual):
- It happens across all social strata: all races, all religions, all income levels, all education levels—none are above it.
- The “higher up in society” it happens, the more “immune” abusers are
- Women, as well as men, are involved
- Intimate/professional relationship. The perpetrator often knows the victim for years. Abuse often takes place over prolonged periods of time
- They are in a position of power (over the victim)
- Distorted picture of what a “strong” person does
- Use fear and intimidation and threat of violence
- The threat can be very real—making escape impossible. Leading to murder of, or suicide by, the victim
- Fail to realize their continued action (systematically) destroys their victim
- Claim their actions were consensual—granting them a blank cheque.
Shared patterns of the victim:
- Was initially charmed/seduced/lured by the abuser
- Don’t recognize abuse for what it is: abuse
- They downplay the effect of abuse on their lives—it’s “not so bad.”
- Never see themselves as victims.
- It can be difficult, if not dangerous to leave. (In domestic violence cases, the woman will end up dead if she dares to leave.)
- Has known the abuser for a long time
- Financial dependence—financial ruin can be a stark reality if speaks up or leave: workplace or domestic
- Realize the risk of speaking up—they “may lose everything.” This is often the case. In domestic violence—if they stay they’re killed, if they leave, the same will happen.
Shared barriers to bringing perpetrators to justice and end the cycle:
- Perpetrator is in a position of power. Can be “above” scrutiny. Enjoy impunity
- Re-victimization often happens: shaming/shunned/marginalized/silenced
- Limits in the justice system that grants the accused (the abuser), more rights than the victim
- Indifference of general public—collective malaise
- It can drag on for years. Impact the entire life of a victim. They are essentially “destroyed.”
- We (the public) refuse and fail to see workplace harassment, marginalization and abuse, domestic violence and sexual abuse as a crime. We often sugarcoat the infringement. ‘It wasn’t really so bad.” “Stop being such a baby.” “You have to toughen up.”
You can view a talk by Leslie Morgan Steiner, titled, “Why domestic violence victims don’t leave,” here.
You can also view a talk by Tony Parker, titled, “A call to men,” here.
We have been silent for too long.
What can we do to end this perpetual cycle of fear, intimidation, and abuse that has become part of our lives?
We can speak out. We can speak up.
We can vow: No more silence. But we cannot do it alone. It can only work if we become informed and take hands, reinforcing the voices and hands of those who suffer in silence—together we can bring about change.
What is a real man? What is a real woman? Someone with compassion—who has the conviction, the guts, to speak up, saying, “No more.”
Will you speak up?
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