A human issue

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

For most of my college experience, I was in an abusive relationship. I was manipulated, attacked, criticized and put down more times than I'm willing to admit.

Many of you know this from reading past columns, but you probably don't know that I've been working on a project to combat inaccurate perceptions of domestic violence. These perceptions surround us. If a woman returns to a partner who beats her, isn't it her fault? Why doesn't she just leave? A person must be weak-minded to fall into an abusive relationship, right?

The answer to all these questions is a very complex "no." Victims of domestic violence don't become victims overnight; it's a slow, tedious process that begins with the best intentions. In my case, I wanted to be loved by someone who said and did all the right things.

I was the perfect person for my ex-boyfriend to control, and he took advantage of that. He did it slowly, pushing me past my limits so that I didn't have limits anymore. That's when the abuse began to wear on me.

When I talk about abuse to people who don't understand how it works, I always note how abusive relationships begin with this subtle amount of control. An abuser isn't going to start out by hitting his or her victim; no, abusers want to feel in control and often understand how to slyly gain control over someone else.

It becomes hard for a victim to leave an abusive situation after a while, because he or she desperately wants the relationship to work. Though I retained a glimmer of independence while dating my ex-boyfriend, I felt unnaturally dependent on him and feared what would happen to me if our relationship ended.

He contributed to this fear by telling me I was difficult and crazy. I was too emotionally unstable, he would tell me, to be a good match for anyone. He'd often let me know how he didn't know what to do about me.

Conforming to statistics, I went back to him after we broke up for the first time. I didn't feel worthy of love. I thought being with him was the best thing I could get.

These are just my reasons for getting into and staying in an abusive relationship. From speaking with other survivors and advocates for domestic violence, I've realized that every victim has different reasons to stick with an abusive partner. Most of the reasoning boils down to poor self-esteem after years of control and manipulation, but the specific reasons vary from person to person.

That's why I've been working on a longer project on domestic violence. While victims of domestic violence experience the same thing, they may experience it in different ways. Even worse, we live in a victim-blaming society that shames victims who dare speak out about their experience. Of course victims believe they deserve to be abused; their abusers say it's their fault and society corroborates it.

Former or current victims of domestic violence, it's not your fault. I know it's difficult to talk about domestic violence, but I'd like to offer an opportunity to all former or current victims of domestic violence to speak with me for the project.

The project will be a series of articles from the perspective of police officers, advocates, healthcare professionals, prosecutors, legislators, school counselors and former victims. This is a human issue, and I need perspectives besides mine to prove that.

Nothing changes if you remain silent, and things have to change.

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Samantha Jones is a reporter for the Carroll County News. Her email address is CCNNews@cox-internet.com