Last week I wrote the article, “If you were attacked, was it your fault?” Though it shouldn’t be, it is quite a controversial concept, as who wants to take responsibility, even partially, for being attacked? Usually no one. We tend to prefer our understanding of things from to be binary, we apply a black and white perspective to some categories, yet often, and simultaneously, we adhere to a belief in “grey areas” and “a spectrum” for others. The thing is, you have to pick; in reality most occurrences fit the bell curve model and are not so black and white. Ideally, all events in our lives should be analyzed case by case, but this is an energy intensive way of looking at the world (mentally and emotionally), so, as we are human and prefer easy answers, we apply blanket logic, even when it is the most inappropriate.
That being said, when you are mugged, robbed, or otherwise attacked by a stranger, it is considerably more black and white than when you are attacked by someone you know. As martial artists we often focus only on the former, even though most of the time it is actually the latter that is a problem. One Glasgow University study found that, of the 991 sexual assault victims they interviewed, almost 90% knew their attacker (with only 9% being victimized by strangers).
One of the reasons we don’t talk about it openly, on average, is because it’s difficult, messy, emotionally charged, and so grey (full of various shades) that it is like being colour blind and then trying to tell the difference between red and green.
Yet, as a self-defence instructor, both in my personal and professional life I have encountered many, many, many individuals who have experienced any combination of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Yes, it is mostly women who have lived through these scenarios, but I have also met men who have had such experiences.
As a society, while some people are willing discuss “violence within social circles,” family violence, or partner abuse (often politicized), the general attitude is to pretend like everything is alright, when, if you know where to find it, you can witness the worst of humanity.
To emphasize this point I would like to relate an experience I had dealing with “hoarder houses.” No, not some TV show, but rather what I have actually seen while working for company that handled large scale junk removal. Much to my surprise, extreme examples exist in an area like Metro Vancouver. In fact, they were far more numerous than one would think, and often these houses looked no different then the ones next to them, from the outside. One of the most unfortunately memorable and disturbing cases was a home in which a man, who was clearly a heroin junkie and single father with several kids. Our best guess, based on the conditions we encountered and the items we removed, was that this individual routinely locked his children under the stairs, in cages, leaving them to defecate in yogurt bottles while he got high.
Yes, you read that right.
Abuses by family or friends are very much like these hoarder houses; individuals, both victims and abusers, often go to great lengths to hide the fact that it is happening. This could be due to fear, shame, misguided loyalty, or any of various other reasons why silence occurs. One thing I know for sure is that in most cases society fails to reasonably deal with these horrible situations.
For adults, getting out could mean losing financial stability, shelter, and social support from friends and family. For children, it is far more complicated.
Of the abuse victims I have met, several have admitted privately that they “didn’t say anything” because they did not want it to break the family apart. For others it’s simply shame and fear of judgement. The responsibility to protect yourself, however complex the situation may be, is more on the victims themselves (and, yes, I understand the psychology involved is also quite grey).
When it comes to children the fault is primarily on the “responsible adults” in their lives, the ones who are often choosing to ignore the obvious signs of abuse.
Regarding adults, an example I encountered in my own life was a friend I had long ago. They regularly made bad decisions, even though they knew it was bad (they had a pathological case of cognitive dissonance). One time, late at night, they called me asking me to pick them up because their partner was being abusive. I showed up, and as they were walking to the car their partner started sprinting toward the vehicle. I pulled a move that I wish I had filmed. As I opened the passenger door, grabbed their hand, pulled them into the vehicle. I sped forward and did a 180, while their partner was punching the driver’s side window so hard they left bloody knuckle marks. My friend called the police and they asked if we wanted to press charges. My friend did not. (I could have, and I honestly don’t recall why I did’t.)
Later that night my friend asked me to take them back…
They were out and could have easily chosen to leave permanently.
One month later, their partner was stabbed and killed in a fight (after pulling their own knife in a struggle). The newspapers reported “what a saint this guy was” on account of him being a volunteer firefighter, and his mother couldn’t understand why her “lovely son” died. Except, I, like others, knew the truth. They ignored the fact that he was violent, had a criminal record, and was, quite frankly, a piece of shit.
When it comes to children it’s even more complicated, largely on account of what happens when it is deemed that they should be removed from their parents or guardians due to abuse. Well, they often end up in “the system”, a Child Welfare system in which in many cases is worse for the child than their own home. Yes, the home in which they were being abused.
Horrible, I know. The reality is, with kids or adults, one of the best things you can do is try to offer them sanctuary and, if possible with kids, try to gain some form of guardianship. Of course, “the system” doesn’t make this easy either.
If at this point you are having difficulty reading this, it is okay. It’s a dark subject (and I am barely even scratching the surface). Yet, while the world is currently the best place it has ever been to live (ignore the fear-mongering), there is still evil and darkness out there, even close to home.
We as a society have a tendency to only focus on that which can be politicized rather than that which is obviously wrong with what we have built. The simplest thing we can do is help those in our lives who may be at risk; by doing whatever you can. Whether that means paying for their self-defence lessons, providing them with shelter, or giving them financial support, you can do more than you think. Whatever you decide, know that you are probably better help than the system.
The government and the justice system have completely failed on this matter, at least in the West. In other countries there isn’t even a system to help those who are or would be abused.
For many the world is better than ever, for others it is still a nightmare.
When we talk about these topics we must be honest and not jump on one-liners, slogans, or broad statements. It must be case by case, requiring sincere consideration.
If you know someone, female, male, or other, adult or child, who you think is being abused, ask yourself, “What can you do to help?”
Written: by Jonathan Fader