29 Nov, 2020

We need to react to abuse before it becomes violence

This op-ed is written by Karen Melchior MEP of ALDE Party member Radikale Venstre in Denmark as part of our campaign ‘16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence’. In her op-ed, she shares her personal story of experiencing gender-based violence and how all of us can help women in similar situations to survive and overcome these experiences.

Some relationships are toxic, and the only cure is to walk away. Films, books and fairy tales tell us that romance is something we must fight for, after the fight the love is stronger, and then we will live happily ever after. However, we must move away from the romantic notion that relationships can overcome all obstacles and become stronger and purer. This idea of romance should die!

I am convinced that our personal experiences are not unique, but we feel alone with them before we feel comfortable sharing them. This story is mine, but I am sure there are probably at least ten of you out there with similar experiences. I hope that by sharing mine, I can help make us all stronger.

There is a stereotype of the battered woman: too timid, too scared to leave an abusive situation. I mostly give ‘zero fucks’ and have never been timid in the face of injustice. I would never have imagined that I was going to be “one of those women”. If it can happen to me, then it could happen to you.

We need to change the idea of an abusive relationship. It is not only women who “walk into doors”, resulting in black eyes and broken arms. Abuse starts long before an arm is raised. It is not the violence, which breaks the spirit and keeps people in abusive relationships; it is mind games and manipulation. Together we need to move away from looking at abuse only as something physical.

The mechanics of an abusive relationship create a destructive downward spiral, which destroys the ability to act independently, destroys your self-confidence and destroys your network supporting you. You may end up being unable to leave the relationship, having got caught up in a game of guilt and blame spurred on by the need for power and control.

I spent more than two years of my life trying to stop the “type of behaviour”, which made my partner so “uncomfortable” that he broke up with me numerous times. I did everything in my power to stop “my behaviour”. Only it was not about what I was doing. It was about him and his need to control me in our relationship.

I spent more than two years of my life trying to analyse why he was so jealous that we could not walk down the street or take a bus together without it possibly ending in an argument. I spent more than two years of my life trying to alleviate the reasons for insecurity which could have led to his jealousy.

More than two years of my life spent trying to understand, rather than walking away. There was nothing to understand. There was nothing for me to do – other than to walk away.

Now, I want people in abusive relationships to stop trying to understand. I want people in abusive relationships to stop trying to fix things. I want professionals working with survivors of abusive relationships to support people walking away – not support fixing them.

Walking away is not easy and the longer you have been in an abusive relationship, the harder it gets. The downward spiral of power and control over you removes your ability to think clearly, as well as your ability to act.

This is why we need to talk about psychological abuse and make it clear to everyone that jealousy and mind games are not endearing signs of love but flashing warning signs to get out. I saw and reacted to the first sign of jealousy, but was convinced to stay, and it took me more than two years to get out.

If you know someone close to you in an abusive relationship, please be patient with them and help them keep as sane as possible. Don’t let them get isolated. The patience and support of my family and friends helped me in getting out in the end.

It is not only a question of wasted years of your life, but it can also be a lost life. Violence in abusive relationships is one of the major causes of death amongst women.

For law enforcement, it is important to increase awareness to save lives. Because research shows that men who kill their partners often follow a "homicide timeline" that can be tracked by police to help prevent deaths. Our common language around the killing of an ex-partner is often a “crime of passion” or spontaneous unexplainable action. This is not true: when researchers look at all of these cases, there is planning, determination, and there is always coercive control.

This is why it is crucial that we help people facing coercive control, those of us in abusive relationships, to get out before it is too late. In every abusive relationship, where there is violence, there has been preceding psychological abuse. This is why we need to talk about psychological abuse and the warning signs that predate violence, or even femicide. To make it clear for all of us to take abuse seriously even before it becomes violent.

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