The Power of Abuse

An NFL player was cut from his team on September 8, 2014. The Baltimore Ravens let their running back Ray Rice go after a video was released of him punching his fiancée out cold in an elevator. But this is already old news to anyone who dabbles in social media and/or follows American news stories.

Even Fox news covered the incident. But there, the focus seemed to be more on why the knocked-out woman decided to stay with her fiancé and – wait for it – even marry him! After all, who would want to stay in an abusive relationship? Obviously, she must have instigated the fight herself, deserved it, or even wanted it. Or simply be a woman of poor decisions. Right?

Wrong. Abusive relationships tend to be very hard to break out of and many abused partners (often women) need multiple attempts and a ton of support before they manage to leave the situation. That is, if they manage to leave at all. Perpetrators are often very skilled at getting their abused partner to believe that it was all their fault to begin with and that it will never ever happen again if only they do X, Y, and Z right. Partner abuse is not about loss of control. On the contrary, it tends to be all about control – controlling another person’s behavior and decisions, and keeping them under the abuser’s thumb.

The problem with focusing on the abused person’s decision to stay in the relationship is that it minimizes the power of abuse. And on top of that, it makes it seem like partner abuse is as much due to the survivor’s poor decisions, as to the abuser’s oppression. As if the responsibility is shared equally. Does this sound familiar? Rape myths function in the same way. And in both cases, survivors tend to be women and perpetrators tend to be men.

So… as with rape, let’s place the responsibility where it belongs – with the abuser – and leave the survivor out of it.