It is often said that one of the biggest barriers to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault getting help is that people sometimes don’t see us.
However, there is another barrier that I want to talk about. I want to talk about when society does see us, but we don’t look like they think we should.
Wouldn’t it be easier for people to want to help if all the victims were sweet young women, upstanding citizens who were singled out by bad men and victimized? Wouldn’t it be easier if victims sought help graciously and were grateful when help was given? Wouldn’t it be nice if victims took that help and turned their lives around and lived happily ever after?
While that may occasionally happen, the truth is much harder to swallow. Most victims are not just hard to see—we are also hard to help. Domestic violence is ugly. When a person has been living in it for a long time, sometimes we are ugly too.
If society will take an honest look at the reality of domestic violence and sexual assault, this is what victims will look like.
We are angry people who don’t trust.
We are mostly middle-aged and elderly women, and sometimes men.
We are sometimes arrested when we call for help. Sometimes we don’t call for help because of outstanding warrants for our arrest. We may resort to abuse as well, in an attempt to control the violence and to survive.
We may be deep in substance abuse and addiction as a means of escape from the hellish realities we live in.
We may be prostitutes and convicted felons, sometimes chosen by abusers specifically because of that, because we are ostracized from society already and therefore less likely to report, knowing we know we will not be believed or helped.
We will lie to cover the abuse. We will deny any need for help. Then, when the abuse is undeniable, we will be angry and lash out. We will make demands and be so full of greed after being in survival mode for so long that we will do anything including lie, cheat, and steal to get what we need for ourselves and/or our children.
We won’t always show gratitude. Sometimes we will show anger that you don’t do more.
Sometimes we will be angry that our abuser wasn’t charged or found guilty. Sometimes we will be angry when he is.
We won’t always take the help offered and turn things around. Often we will come back through the door for help, again and again, having gone back to our abusers or having found someone we thought was different, only to be abused again.
A woman leaves her abuser an average of seven times before staying gone. Some of us never do stay gone.
Helping victims cannot be contingent on us playing the part of the good little victim. It cannot be contingent on “success” as you see it. It cannot depend on our ability to stay out of abuse. It cannot be contingent on you being able to feel good about what you are doing. Because frankly, it doesn’t feel good all that often.
If you stop helping a victim when she is hard to work with, you will end up helping no one.
I am worthy of safety if my cry for help is so I can attend church with my children without being attacked. My safety is just as important if I need it to sleep in and watch football.
No one is more worthy of help and protection than another. A wide-eyed, beautiful and kind, 20-something mother of a toddler is not more worthy of safety than a drug-addicted prostitute living in a car who just had her sixth child taken into state custody. They are both people. They both deserve to be safe and protected.
The latter is not less deserving of help; she is simply more difficult to help.
Be the person who does the hard things.