“There are two sides to every story.”
Some might think I’m exaggerating, that they should hear his version – as if in the history of mankind there was ever an abuser who made a prompt and detailed admission of guilt. Do they really think that someone capable of behaving so horribly without ever any apology or remorse can tap into his non-existent conscience and admit it? Of course he never will. I already know his side of the story: it’s not true, he didn’t do anything, I’m a terrible person who wants to ruin his life; okay, so he might have “overreacted” a little but it was my fault anyway for pissing him off. According to him, his actions were perfectly acceptable and justified.
I do not know how someone who is objectively doing nothing wrong can deserve to live in terror, to be screamed at and insulted every day, constantly lied to and cheated on; but I understand how hard it is for normal people to imagine that someone might behave in such a horrible way for no reason whatsoever. It’s the same thought process that made me stay and be abused for months as I desperately tried to figure out what I was doing wrong to deserve it. Months spent trying to behave “better” until I became his dog, his slave, always quiet and obedient. It was never enough to stop the abuse. But when he keeps repeating it’s your fault for making him angry, you end up believing it, and often everyone else believes it too. It’s the only vaguely logical explanation to be found.
“It’s none of my business.”
Maybe some believe me, but they decide it doesn’t matter anyway. They don’t want to take sides, they don’t want to get involved. He’s always been a cool guy to them, fun and entertaining: why should they give up someone who’s a positive presence in their lives because he hurt someone they don’t care about? I don’t have his ability to charm, entertain, and build an adoring fan club everywhere I go: I don’t devote all my energies to conquer every stranger I meet. It’s typical of abusers, both to satisfy their narcissism and to make sure people won’t believe the victim. So what if it’s all fake? They will never see the monster: I’m nobody, I’m not their sister, so what does it matter what he did to me?
These are good people, outspoken and sensitive to political and social injustice, often calling to action on important issues: I’m sure they would all condemn domestic violence from a comfortable distance. But when the problem hits too close to home – when the abuser turns out to be their friend, their drinking buddy, the fun guy they chat with on Facebook – then things get uncomfortable, and it’s easier to simply look the other way. It’s easier to stand up to non-specified, easily identifiable “bad guys” who supposedly come with clear warnings and labels. But no abuser is a stereotyped, cackling movie villain, and each one of them is surrounded by relatives and friends who similarly look the other way out of confusion, discomfort, disbelief.
They might think, “but I know him, he’s really not a bad guy”: and don’t understand, can’t even imagine that the victim knows him in ways they never will, and know exactly how bad he can really get.
An Uncomfortable Reality
Rape victims are routinely attacked, accused of being evil women who want to ruin those “good guys”’s lives; girls abused by relatives can be ostracised and silenced by their own families. When reality is painful and hard to accept, it can be easier to ignore the victim, to accuse her of lying – or to brutally punish her for having dared to speak out. It would have been easier for everyone if she’d just kept quiet, without bothering anyone.
Accepting the horrific fact that a loved one is a monster is too hard, uncomfortable, so people angrily reject reality to cling to the pretty illusion of a “normal life”. Trying to reconcile the good man they’ve known for years with the monster he turns into in private is so absurd that it can be impossible. It’s easier to attack the victim threatening their comfortable illusion, shutting her up and pretending nothing is wrong to safeguard their comfort. I struggled with it for months, even though I myself was the victim: unable to accept that the monster was real, that the good man I’d fallen in love with didn’t exist, I hung in there in silence desperately trying to find an explanation, someone to blame… usually myself.