“It’s because women like violent men instead of nice guys.”
This is the gist of too many comments following episodes of domestic violence. A woman is thrown out of the window by her partner, ending up paraplegic? “Well, she got in the house of her own free will.” A woman is repeatedly beaten by her husband? “Well, she married him, didn’t she.” A girl is psychologically abused by her boyfriend to the point of committing suicide? “That’ll teach her to go for jocks instead of giving a chance to nice guys like me.” I once saw someone bring up ‘hybristophilia’, claiming that women “like falling in love with violent, dangerous men.”
Basically, women are looking for it, so they have no right to complain. In fact, they deserve to be punished for their bad choices.
Suffering from convenient amnesia, these self-appointed judges forget that often, after the violence is finally revealed – in many cases after the victim is murdered – the couple’s acquaintances react with stunned disbelief. “But he was such a nice guy, neigbor, colleague – nothing suggested he could do anything like that. Maybe he flipped out. Who knows what that witch did to make him lose his mind like that.” Often, all she did was simply try to leave, maybe after having reported multiple violent episodes to the police.
So, it’s always your fault. If you stay out of fear, because you know he’ll kill you if you try to escape, it’s “why didn’t you leave”. If you leave and he kills you, it’s “why did you go out with him if he was that bad”. And anyway, “But he’s always been nice to me, so I don’t believe it’s true.”
According to them, evidently an abuser welcomes you with a punch to the face on your first date and, instantly seduced, you run to buy a wedding dress. And, during the course of the relationship, abusers hand out daily abuse reports to every neighbor, colleague, and golfing buddy.
I wish I could find a way to make those who never experienced understand how absurd, how mind-shattering it is that your abuser seems completely above suspicion. That he’s generous, jovial, and charming to everyone else. That he always tips waiters, offers drinks at the bar, does favors to anyone, stops to let old ladies cross the road. And that at first, when you were among the endless stream of people he wants to impress to pump his ego, he was that way with you too.
You don’t fall in love with a violent man, with the angry, cruel monster you end up married to. You fall in love with a perfectly normal man, kind, easygoing, friendly, popular with everyone. And that’s the man you keep seeing every time you’re out in public. And it breaks your mind to watch him go above and beyond for total strangers, to build a scintillating reputation with everyone – especially the girls he tries to get into bed – just to turn in a monster as soon as you’re alone with him.
You’re sure that the man you’ve known for so long, the one you fell in love with, is the “real” him: the monster is an intruder and, as soon as you figure out what you’re doing wrong to unleash it, he’ll be back to his usual kind, loving self. You’re sure that you’re in a relationship with someone perfectly normal: how can you make sense of it when he seems to have two opposite personalities, when you seem to be the only person in the world to know the monster? You feel like you’re going crazy.
I know all too well that none of the members of the fan club he works so hard to maintain could ever imagine the monster I saw; that he’ll keep charming new fans and having a wonderful reputation with everyone. It’s one of the reasons why I never spoke up: I knew nobody would believe me. And, as angry as that makes me, I can’t blame them. It makes no sense, it has no reason, no logic: for someone normal, who never experienced it first-hand, it’s impossible to imagine or understand. I saw it with my own eyes, and it still seems unbelievable.