I noticed an irony the other day. I don’t remember the exact date I returned to Dom, following his court case. But, given that it was a matter of days before my birthday (very early December), it would have been during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. The irony of this only struck me recently; As my family were convincing me to give my relationship with Dom another go – to put things right-, feminists would have been campaigning to help raise awareness of domestic abuse.
My family, when I phoned to tell them that Dom had headbutted me whilst I was holding our ten month old son, were a little less sympathetic than they should have been. A few weeks after the attack, I found myself being subjected to an hour long lecture from my mother, about how I’d “isolated” Dom, by choosing to breastfeed and co-sleep. I’d denied him intimacy. Dom’s right to sex was, in my parent’s eyes, more important than parenting in a way which worked for myself and my son. I was told that, by pressing charges I was over-reacting. At this point, I’d yet to tell anyone of the extent of abuse Dom had put me through.
I spent the next week with my family, where the attachment parenting I practised was pulled apart. The first night I arrived at my sister-in-laws, I was told my son would not be sleeping in my bed, he’d be sleeping in a cot, and by hell, he would scream it out if he had to. “You’re making a rod for your own back,” they argued. I spent that first evening crying almost as much as Mini-Dragon did. The next few days, I found everything I did pulled apart. At no point did any of my family stop to ask how I was feeling, at no point did they ask if it was the first time Dom had assaulted me. Instead, they told me where I’d “gone wrong”, how I’d “pushed Dom out”. At one point, I found myself arguing with my brother, who proceeded to tell me “I’m not surprised Dom hit you.” Those words, four years on, still ring in my ears. I ended up returning to Dom, believing I was just as in the wrong as he was. I’ve always been slightly stubborn, and I found the refuge I was staying at were not allowed to tell us not to return; they could advise us, but they couldn’t tell us what to do, or what not to do. At no point was I told, by anyone, “Don’t go back.” The people making the most noise in my life were the one’s telling me where I’d gone wrong, not that Dom’s actions were inexcusable.
The moment you begin to focus on the woman’s actions leading up to her partner assaulting her, that’s the moment you stop supporting her. The moment you tell her to give him another try is the moment you stop supporting her. When you leave an abusive relationship, you often leave with a whole load of internalised misogyny. I’d spent four years being mocked, punched, woken at 2am, being yelled at, seeing my possessions sold, having cold water thrown at me, having knives waved in my face; I didn’t need to have my own actions critiqued, none of which contributed to the violence. I needed Dom’s violence towards me condemned. I needed to know that, should I leave Dom permanently, I’d have the unwavering support of my family. I didn’t.
When you question a woman’s actions in the lead up to the abuse, you’re quietly telling her that if she changed, the abuse would stop. It doesn’t. From returning to Dom, to the day I left, I became a Stepford wife. I didn’t argue, I became obedient as sin; If I could have read his mind, I would. After all, I was told this was partly my own fault. I changed, and I waited for Dom to do the same. He didn’t. But when we fail to support women leaving violence, we lie to them. We tell them the men will change, provided they do. We tell them the abuse was caused by their actions, without considering the truth. We excuse men’s violence. All because we send out the wrong message to women.
Let’s redefine the message we send women who look to escape abuse. Under no circumstances should her actions be mentioned. After all, the fault of the abuse lies solely with the abuser. We’d do well to remember that.