Who can you lean on? Which support people and tools do you have? How can you let your light shine?
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“I would never let anyone put their hands on me like that!”
The young lady sat on the front row of her school gym, her arms crossed over her chest. The look on her face told me she meant what she said. She, along with a hundred or so of her classmates, had just listened to an hour-long condensed telling of my story about being a teen mom and survivor of domestic violence.
“I hope not,” I said. “I hope you never meet someone who wants to hurt you, but if you do, I hope you can see it and walk away. I pray for that.”
And yet, what I know is, I also said I’d never…
Teenagers are often easy targets for those looking for someone to control. If they come from a background of abuse, that increases their chances of finding themselves in a whole new abusive situation. Often, they are looking for someone to take care of them — like I was — or someone who will tell them what they want and need to hear, even if they later learn it was all part of the grooming stage.
I was 13 when I met my ex-husband. I believed everything he said. Maybe he believed everything he said too (he came from his own cycle of abuse). I knew he meant it when he said he’d take care of me. I was flattered when he threw away my too-short skirts and when he threatened to hurt anyone who looked at me. I giggled when he said the words that later became a threat: “You are mine.”
All I wanted was for him to love me. I wanted to get away from the abuse at home. I craved his attention, his words, his everything. I was already a broken girl. I thought he could fix me.
[Tweet “I was already a broken girl. I thought he could fix me. #teendatingviolence”]
I wanted more than anything just to be happy.
I had no idea how much worse my life would get. As a young teen, I didn’t know what to look for. But now I do.
And now so do you.
Watch over the young women in your lives. Watch over the young men. Broken teenagers are prime targets. Protect them, love them, don’t let them get hurt. If you see it, step in.
NATIONAL TEEN DATING VIOLENCE PREVENTION INITIATIVE
Teen dating violence runs across race, gender, and socioeconomic lines. Both males and females are victims, but boys and girls are abusive in different ways:
In the background of the “What a great project!” chatter is another running thought: “Don’t talk about it.”
Countless people have contacted me to talk about how they love the idea of The Tiara Project. When asked if they have a story to share or if they would like to wear a tiara, they often very quickly backed off. “Oh no, nothing I want to talk about. No, I wouldn’t want anyone to look at me differently. No, I don’t want people to think I have anything wrong with me.”
Another response has been, “This isn’t really something we should talk about, is it?”
I get it. Memories are hard. Looking back at a past you put into a grave isn’t something many want to do. Putting away the “I’m fine!” mask you’ve been wearing isn’t a decision to be taken lightly. I have had to wrestle with these things for years, but I choose to keep putting fear behind me because I believe we have to speak out and share. I believe we have to keep walking in the shoes we once walked in, to remember just a little so we can help others currently walking in their own shoes of abuse.
Domestic Violence Awareness Month is often lost behind Breast Cancer Awareness. Pink cancels out purple. People would rather talk about saving the breasts than saving people they assume should save themselves with better decisions. Again, I get it. Breast talk is easier than talk of being raped or punched in the face or Grandpa putting his hands where they don’t belong. But at the heart of breast talk is saving lives. And in the same way, at the heart of domestic violence talk is saving lives. Judgments can be made all day long about people who stay in abusive relationships, but if you’ve never walked even a step in their shoes, you may never get it – the fear, the doubt, the pain.
I don’t know what it’s like to have breast cancer. I’ve never stared down the barrel of death, not knowing if I would be another lost or another survivor. But I have stared down death in the form of violence. And I can tell you this much: There isn’t the same support system in place for violence as there is for breast cancer; there isn’t the same rallying of love and camaraderie; and there certainly isn’t the same odds of survival. Violence can be lifelong or come on suddenly, ending a life just as suddenly. You don’t often see rape coming. You don’t always see that a button has been pushed before you find yourself cowering in a corner, protecting your face from fists. And you certainly don’t get regular checkups to be sure abuse isn’t about to happen to you.
We have to talk more about abuse, violence, rape, molestation, emotional pain, mental control, and all the things that come with. We have to take our stories out of the closet and share them. We have to open up and not allow shame to fill our hearts and minds — not as the victim, nor when looking at a victim.
I pray you never know what it’s like to walk in the shoes of a victim, to know that pain, but if you do, I hope you’ll land in supportive arms, see faces that believe you and love you and will get you through. Domestic Violence Awareness Month is simply a month…but awareness should be every single day. Don’t look away from those who are hurting just because the subject isn’t comfortable. Don’t close your eyes because you’d rather not know. And please don’t keep silent if it’s happening to you.
If we can openly talk about breasts, we can openly talk about violence. Let’s do something!
Bows and lace,
A pretty face.
A little girl,
With so much curl.
A happy child,
As it may seem.
Her face aglow,
With so much gleam.
But oh so very sad is she,
A little girl — abused as can be.
I wrote this poem when I was 11 years old. I was crying out. I thought it was obvious. Maybe it was. Maybe it was just easier, though, for the adults in my life to pretend it was just a poem, not a cry for help.
Sometimes I wonder…what might have been different if someone had listened?
“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” (King James Version)
I’m not sure how I found this verse as a child, but I clung to it. I read it often. I held onto the promise that the pain would not last forever. I knew God would take care of me. I just knew it.
I long for the day when there is no more abuse, no more tears, no more pain.
As hard as it is to hear, many people find a reason to blame those who are abused instead of those who abuse. When sharing my story, I’ve been asked such questions as:
“What did you do wrong?”
“What could you have done differently so that he wouldn’t have hit you?”
“Do you think it was your fault?”
Most often, an abuser will convince his or her victim that they had it coming. They might choose something the victim did do “wrong” (didn’t respond quickly enough, didn’t clean the kitchen just right, burned dinner) as a reason to attack.
Know this: NO ONE DESERVES TO BE HURT.
There isn’t a “good reason” for anyone to be abused. One might tread as carefully as possible, giving in to the abuser’s every demand, smiling, carrying on as if everything is okay, and the abuser will still abuse.
Don’t blame the victim. No, she didn’t have it coming because she was late getting home from work. No, he didn’t deserve it because he happened to glance in the general direction of another woman.
Unfortunately, victims will blame themselves, sure there is something they could do better not to set off the abuser. When outsiders also blame the victim, it only serves to instill the oh so very wrong mindset that the victim really is at fault. It takes the spotlight off the abuser and thereby perpetuates the cycle.
Rather than wonder what the victim did wrong, why not instead ask:
“How can I help you?”
Did you know?
“Over countless generations, society has developed into what we term “our modern day lifestyle”. In years gone by, violence was part of daily life.” -The National Indigenous Domestic Violence Conference
In my search through the Internet for abuse statistics, I find I keep landing on Q&A sites where people ask questions like:
“Am I the reason he abuses me?”
I keep seeing it over and over. People are wondering if there is something they are doing wrong to cause their loved one to hurt them.
The shortest answer is NO!
Are there things that the abuser will blame on the victim? Of course. But as I’ve said before, no one deserves to be hurt. You are not the cause. You are not the reason.
The problem is with them, not you.
YOU are wonderful and beautiful and worthy of real love.
It is not your fault.
It is not your fault.
It. Is. Not. Your. Fault.
How many cry themselves to sleep each night? How many can’t tell anyone? How many put on a smile to pretend life is fine? How many think about suicide? How many think they are alone?
How many will be saved?
How many will be silenced forever?
Did you know?
“Family violence and abuse are among the most prevalent forms of interpersonal violence against women and young children — both boys and girls. The sexual abuse of a child should never be ‘just a family matter,’ but many children are afraid to report an incident to the police because the abusers are too often a family friend or relative.” Read more here – http://www.paralumun.com/issuesrapestats.htm
After my ex-husband died and I was sharing the big “what happened” story with a friend, I was kind of shocked when she looked me right in the eye and said, “There’s no way he did that.” It wasn’t disbelief. It was outright denial. She refused to think there was any way he could have been abusive.
I heard it over and over:
“He was so nice.”
“He was always willing to help.”
“He loved his wife. He never would have hurt her.”
“There must be a misunderstanding.”
Many abusers are great actors. To the outside world, they are the greatest people, the handyman who helps his neighbors, the mom who kindly drives other children home from school, the boyfriend who takes out the garbage for his girlfriend’s mom. They fool the rest, and initially, they fooled the ones they wound up hurting.
One of the biggest issues is, victims will spend so much time lying for and about their abuser that when the truth comes out, others hold the victims to their earlier lies and disbelieve the truth.
Like blaming the victim, people often find it hard to believe abuse ever took place.
Yet, it did. It happened, and while it might be hard to believe, to outright, vocally disbelieve tends to add more pain to a victim. No one wants to believe someone they care about hurt someone else, but denial is as bad as silence. And again, it perpetuates the cycle.