While watching an episode of Criminal Minds, I found myself yelling at the woman on the screen. I heard myself say things like, “Oh my gosh, you’re so stupid! Really, you thought that was a good idea?” The worse yet, “Well, you asked for what’s coming next.”
Earlier that day, I read similar comments regarding a report of a recording artist accused of abusing his wife. Some of those commenting called the abuse vile and rightly blamed the perpetrator. Yet, most of the comments condemned the wife for staying with a man who had been previously convicted for abusing the victim’s son.
Remarks regarding the most recent offense focused more on the victim’s actions than those of the abuser. Many remarked that the wife’s abuse was the result of, perhaps even just reward for, staying with a man who abused her child 12 years earlier.
Why is it easier to criticize the hurt than it is to condemn the hostile? Both the question, and what I think may be the answer, came to me as I yelled at the “stupid,” yet fictional, character on Criminal Minds.
It is reasonable to want to think of ourselves as strong and capable people; whether male or female. On one hand, abuse and aggression is frowned upon; yet on the other hand, strength is celebrated. Let’s face it, victims are often perceived as being weak.
Our problem with victim’s “weaknesses” is related to our difficulty in coming to terms with our own frailty and flaws. Unfortunately, not many understand the strength that it takes to stay in an abusive relationship. Fewer know of the increased dangers associated with leaving an abusive relationship.
Our need to feel in control of our lives motivates us to negatively judge all things deemed weak and defenseless. Holding a domestic violence victim responsible for the abuse he/she suffers, somehow fuels the fallacy that we are incapable of being in similar situations. Many of us want to believe that even when emotions such as fear and love rule the heart; that we will always make sound and objective decisions.
Although many agree that love can cause us to do crazy things, it seems we don’t realize this may also be true for those in unhealthy relationships. Believe it or not, both the victim and the abuser would argue that they love the other. Yet, love is often an overlooked culprit. No matter how twisted things may appear to those of us peering in from the outside, the couple has invested time and effort in their relationship. Like most of us, they too want to know that time mattered.
Am I condoning intimate partner abuse? No, no way! Nor do I condone the continued violence by outsiders hurled at victims. This only adds insult to injury. The best way to assist a domestic violence victim is to listen. Yes, close your mouth and be all ears! Listen without judgment. Listen with compassion and empathy (not sympathy).
Ask questions and avoid giving advice. See, your advice is based on your knowledge and your experiences. No one knows the situation better than those living it. When we do more listening than speaking, we gather valuable information from the victim’s perspective. Give resources with the understanding the person has a right to say, “No.”
Instead of blaming violence victims, accept the fact that just like you, they don’t have all the answers either. It would be nice if we could control every aspect of their lives, but alas. If you are inclined to do something, then ask them how you can assist them; then follow-through and be prepared to help again and again; and always with a welcoming smile!