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*Please see my brief note on gender, language, and my use of pronouns below.*
Domestic Violence Facts and Resources
Stronger at the Broken Places: Healing from Abusive Relationships
Sex.Trade. and Human Trafficking
A note on gender and language
Across this site, I generally refer to the victims of gender violence as women. There have been some complaints about this, and some confusion. I want to immediately clarify that there are male victims of abuse, male prostitutes, male survivors of sexual assault, and male survivors of child abuse and incest. Nothing I say here denies or minimizes that fact. No one who has been in these situations deserves to have been, and none has truly gotten the support, assistance, or validation they need in recovery.
The overwhelming majority of victims are women. The abuses I’m speaking of are gendered violence: these things happen because a man, woman, or child happens to be vulnerable: she happens to be vulnerable because of gender. When violence against males occurs, it is an extension, a different expression, of that same gender violence. The key issues are vulnerability, power, control, and violence. Most males are abused as children, which clearly makes them vulnerable. When adult males are hurt, it is often an expression of homophobia and hate (realize, too, that many women are abusively sodomized: what is happening is not about sex or attraction, per se, but the distortion of male power that finds a need to express itself though violence, an expression of power over another, and destruction of the victim’s ‘self’).
Please be aware that many abusive men use the concepts manipulatively: they claim equal hurt, say the abuse was provoked, or blame prior abuse for their own behavior. This is an attempt to deny the male-female reality of what’s happening. It is an attempt to minimize the reality of gendered violence. It is a distortion. For that reason, more emphasis needs to be placed on the gendered nature of these abuses. More insistence needs to be made on the fact that it is women who are abused. More attention needs to be paid to the fact that women have a one in three shot of getting through life without assault and domestic violence: this is not true for men. There is a difference, and the difference is everything.
The information available here is as useful to male survivors as it is to female survivors. The language is meant to be an accurate reflection of reality, not a practice of exclusion.
However, reflecting “reality” always leaves the individual alone. One person’s experience of abuse, no matter how individualized, is as brutal, as isolating, and as socially important as the whole. You, as individual survivor, are just as significant as the millions of other survivors combined.
I invite healing, advocate for change, and insist that abuse is wrong whenever it happens. I apologize for any offense or sense of exclusion the language causes. I am deeply sorry for your hurt. And I believe in your right to a life free of harm, full of healing.
What you’ll find here:
“Porn”, too, is a potent thing. I don’t even know if it’s a good or a bad thing. In my poem, I referred to sex and love as porn: I commodified it, got caustic and cheap and vulgar. But the point is it’s sarcasm: I want to believe in love, and in sex, and I want to believe that I, as a woman, have just as much power and opportunity in the world as anyone else.
If there’s a dirth of honesty in speaking about alcoholism, there’s a positive taboo when it comes to women. It’s a viral taboo and insidious: we think we’ve talked about it too much, we’ve beat the thing to death. Women who go around talking about women’s issues (rape, domestic violence, poverty, relationships, international affairs) are suspected of having some dark secret to tell or, worse, being ball breaking feminists.
Gloria Steinham wrote about an experience she had in Japan: she felt unafraid, strong, and confidant. It was only noticing how powerfully this feeling came to her that she was able to recognize what it meant: she spent most of her life feeling afraid, vulnerable, and intimidated. She realized this feeling came from being, for the first time in her life, taller than almost all of the men on the street. Elsewhere in her book, she says it hurt to realize that “even I had barriers to self esteem”.
I had an experience similar to Steinham’s, also on the street. A male friend and I were making our way down a crowded Manhattan Street, both of us carrying heavy loads. In order to move best, he fell a few steps behind me. When we arrived at our destination, set the boxes down, straightened to dust off our shirt fronts he suddenly said he was sorry. He’d heard the number of things that were said to me within our four or five block hike, and he’d realized how real sexism is. “I didn’t know,” he said; “I am so sorry”. I don’t recall there being anything particularly bad about the cat calls or invites or look-sees that came that day, but he’d made his point. It is a mistake to think the experience of moving through the world as a woman is the same as that experience as lived by a man. Women are vulnerable because they are women. Even though we’ve talked about it, changed laws, burned bras and rebelled against the burning by slipping them back on again and just asking for our own lives back, it hasn’t changed.
Still, there is this difficulty in talking about it. If we could end violence against women, my ex husband said, we’d be able to end war. I think that he was right. Why, and how, should we talk about a thing that seems as old as humanity itself, why get all hot and bothered if this is just the way things are?
Because futility and self-pity are sick, venomous things. The alternative is love, respect, and responsibility. The responsible thing to do is not feel sorry for myself, but to give someone else the chance I missed, the information I needed, the support I wanted and grew cold waiting for.
The fact is, my life has been altered and shaped by the fact of my gender. I have been sexually assaulted. So has my sister, and my mother. I’m still godawful ashamed of my body most days and have terrible fears about aging and motherhood, or choosing not to be a mother. One in three women have experienced violence at the hands of a partner, and one is raped every four seconds. Across the globe women are stoned over rumors or have their ceremonially have their clitoris cut out when they are twelve. Closer to home, 13% of American women live in poverty. Poverty rates for males and females are the same throughout childhood, but increase for women during their childbearing years and again in old age. Women still don’t earn a dollar to the man’s and have to jump through legal and ethical hoops to make choices about her own body. Though the numbers of girls pursuing education has improved, the number of those who finish remains low, and most of them finish with lowered self esteem, changed majors, and altered career plans.
I worked as a domestic violence advocate for a number of years, but I also worked as a barmaid who danced for her tips. I’ve struggled to not orient my life according to what man is in it, and I’ve realized that I’m not very afraid of dying but I do have issues about becoming an old woman. I remember my rapes. I have felt alone. I have been afraid of mentioning certain things around women acquaintances and frustrated with men’s inability to understand. I lost a child, I’ve aborted others. I’ve carried any number of things in the cage of my chest thinking nobody knows this, ever; this one goes with me to the grave. Because of those things, I realize that those statistics, those news reports, those tabloids and those women in burkhas, are asking a question about my own life.
These aren’t simply “women’s issues”: they affect men as well as women, hit rich and poor, influence race and politics and culture and industry. I’ve begun to realize that questions are being asked of your life, too.
Sadly, domestic violence is more prevalent than we care to see in our everyday lives. Domestic Violence and Abusive Love will focus on these and other issues. All the essays are my own; the information, statistics, and ideas are often borrowed from professional training, extensive research, interviews, or agencies that work with women and children.