Words by Barbara Brown
“This may not be true of all, but is true of some – my experience and belief is that survivors of violent relationships are unconsciously and consciously profiled to remain in ‘victim’ status.”
No matter how I try I can’t get away from the reality of the power of journey: the reflection of it, our understanding of it, the truth of it, and our sharing of it.
It is hard to imagine as a little girl, hair in ribbons and in my best dress, as I recite scripture ‘gems’ to an lively Pentecostal congregation (each line delivered to a chorus of “Amen chile!’), that those same verses would lie in my consciousness like a jack-in-the-box, waiting for the right moment to pop up. This is one such moment. There is a verse, which speaks of testimony making the bones fat or, a rough translation is, that when we share our stories we add strength to others as well as ourselves.
On a particular day for the last 3 years I have walked into a room full of professionals, Police, the Probation Service, Housing, all kinds of services. I am greeted well. With some I share a professional circle, so the recognition is warm. Others see my form fitting shift dress and high heels and immediately accept me as their own. The room configuration is that there are groups of professionals sitting together (usually), and then there are small groups and individual scatterings of survivors. It is a Survivors Conference: women who have survived domestic violence. When the time comes and I stand to give the opening address, which usually begins with smiles and invariably ends in tears; there is no doubt where I stand. I am a survivor and I am also a professional. Now there is nothing sensational in that. The sensation is in the fact that something has changed. Most of the professionals are no longer looking me in the eye, and now most of the survivors are looking directly at me, searching my eyes for reflections of their own truth.
This may not be true of all, but is true of some – my experience and belief is that survivors of violent relationships are unconsciously and consciously profiled to remain in ‘victim’ status. It’s easier to process that way isn’t it? If I can somewhere in my heart or mind classify you as helpless or affected, the realities of a circumstance, which can befall anyone of us, remains distant. So whilst some have regained power through the use of language, exchanging the word victim for survivor, there is still a reality that exists for survivors that sometimes read ‘how on earth could you let this happen to you?’
Today let me answer you. The dictionary definition of the word ‘victim’ is someone ‘preyed upon or sacrificed’. That is, there is the experience of a determined, targeted, systematic breakdown of a person’s power, resources, will, resolve, truth; in essence it is the experience of having your humanity eroded. The part that is rarely recognized is that when you are being preyed upon, and under psychological, physical, verbal or sexual attack, as well as surviving that assault there is a mountain of resourcefulness that is needed to keep living, keep contributing, keep working not daily but hour by hour, minute by minute. Can you imagine that? To have to mentally counter systematic attacks, and remain resilient and ‘normal’ is a feat in itself. I did not marry a monster. I married a man with a complex understanding of the world and in so created a reality that I could have never imagined. That reality pivoted between the horrific and something that teetered on the edge of normal, always threatening to wobble off. How can that make me weak? It makes me a survivor; a survivor of thought, of an identity stripped away, of the life that I had built that had changed, and a protector of my children.
There is a point that I want to make, which is made to you with an equal amount of love and frustration. And please understand what I am saying. Support is not ‘doing to’, having sorrow for, or all of those things that we are inclined to do when we do not understand but want to help. The support we need does not ask but demands something else. Surviving domestic violence always comes with its own intricate complexity of circumstances. Let’s remember that so many do not survive. It is also important for you to know that by the time those of us that are surviving are ready to walk away, there is rarely the need for you to rescue us, as we rescue ourselves daily. There is a huge need, though, for you to understand us, understand what will help us, to stand with us in that survival walk and lastly, look us in the eye with full integrity and confidence in who we are, and can be. We do have a different kind of reality. We have faced our Babylon and have survived.