I’ve been taking a domestic violence advocacy training over the past few weeks. Each week a group of 20 or so participants gather together to learn more about the realities of domestic violence and that the answer is never to victim blame. The victim is never the cause and to combat domestic violence we need to teach abusers to not be violent.
At the last session a police officer came in to speak to us. He is a feminist and has been training new recruits in Georgia how to handle domestic violence cases. What struck me the most was when he asked our class:
If you ever feel threatened in a public place what is the best thing to yell to get help?
We yelled out all different answers from “Help!” to telling the abuser “Leave me alone” loud enough for passers by to hear. We talked about screaming until you get someone’s attention.
The police officer told us however that the best response is:
I don’t know them!
Whether or not this is true, I know I felt an immediate reaction to these words. I knew that if someone yelled that and I was within earshot I would go to help and I don’t think I would make the same decision otherwise. This is frightening because we assume the abused (and 90-95% of the time this person is female) belongs to the abuser. We assume the woman has done something to deserve this treatment, whether it’s being bullied into leaving a store, getting into a car or unwanted attention on the street. We assume the woman is in the wrong and by sitting passively we give license to abuse.
But the moment the abused shows they are not owned by someone else (a partner or otherwise) we feel sympathy because now the abuse is no longer justified. Except, abuse is never justified. It shouldn’t take us so long to realize no one should have ownership over another human being. But it takes time because we are used to seeing women as objects owned and controlled by their partners. The moment we realize our own misconceptions of a violent situation (including verbal and emotional abuse) is the moment we can take a stronger stand against domestic violence.