Are you one of the rare human beings who love speaking in public? Do you find it easy to ask for help? Are you also comfortable with authority and do you feel secure speaking about your vulnerabilities publicly and to strangers?
Our criminal justice system asks victims of crimes of sexual and physical assault to present their experience in front of judge and jury, lawyers and news reporters, onlookers and, oh yes, the very person who perpetrated the crime against them. Who among us would sign up for that?
The criminal justice system is a power-based system where the person who’s been victimized, and nearly always traumatized, has her every thought, action, and utterance scrutinized. It’s not enough that she survived the assault. Now she has to explain repeatedly, answer questions which more often sound like accusations, and convince judge and jury.
If only victims of domestic violence were super human, behaved “perfectly,” had no evidence of trauma, felt comfortable speaking in a courtroom and were at ease recounting how the person who was supposed to love them strangled them, or raped them, or kicked them and more. If only they could flawlessly recount and detail the violence by their partner that left them not only physically injured, but also feeling humiliated, demeaned and embarrassed.
What about victims who change or recant their story? Why would a woman who said, “My partner did this to me,” then turn around and say, “My partner did not do this to me?” Domestic violence is a complex issue. A woman (this is a crime where women are primarily the victims) has been beaten by someone she loves. Not only does she love him, but she’s also afraid of him. She’s afraid that he’ll beat her, kill her, kill himself, or perhaps all of the above. She doesn’t want him to get in trouble, and perhaps even worries she’s the one putting him in jail rather than looking at it as a natural consequence of breaking the law. And so the woman blames herself (he certainly blames her), minimizes the violence, and desperately hopes he’ll change. He says he will change. Not only that, but he’s apologetic, promising it won’t happen again. She’s thinking about the kids, the relatives, the house, the job, the dream. Or she keeps distance, then sees him and all the memories of violence and desperation come flooding back in an episode of post traumatic stress and terror.
The next time you hear about an incident of violence against women, please remember: This woman could be your mother, your daughter, your aunt, your niece, your co-worker, the woman next to you at church or on the bus. The next time you think about respect, please remember that no matter what she has done or has not done, the victim is not to blame. Each of us is responsible for our own behavior. Women have no control over their partners’ behavior. Men’s choice to use violence are their own.
Who will hold these abusers accountable for their violent behavior? Law enforcement? Prosecutors? Judges? Juries? Can one do it alone without the others? Now consider: What’s your part in it? Are you willing to take a moment to reflect on this?
October is domestic violence awareness month. If it’s too painful for you, please ask yourself why it is so difficult. If you find it easy to judge and blame the victim, please reflect on why you’re quick to do so. If you’re interested in being part of the solution, please contact me at 586-6623. If you or someone you know has been victimized and might benefit from confidential services and safety planning, please contact AWARE, day or night, at 586-1090 or 1-800-478-1090.
• Saralyn Tabachnick is Executive Director of Aiding Women in Abuse & Rape Emergencies (AWARE), Inc., in Juneau.