- TRIGGER WARNING -
This article contains visual footage of (domestic) violence and attempted sexual assault, which may be triggering to see for survivors.
We need to talk about power dynamics within relationships.
It's the next step in the #MeToo movement I've been waiting for. The moment when #MeToo starts to tackle domestic abuse and spousal rape and addresses the complex issue of power dynamics within romantic relationships.
It's really not that hard to understand power dynamics and how adults can control each other. It happens already among children, in the playground.
A child bully can force a child victim to give them their lunch money without saying anything. Does the victim want to give the bully their money? No, but they still do it, due to fear. It's a great example of power dynamics within relationships. This, happens among adults to.
So why is it so hard to understand and fight domestic abuse, specifically, partner rape and abuse? Why are so many victims not believed, not taken serious, called liars and left in the cold?
The answer again, is power dynamics.
Grown-up victims are adults. As a society, we expect them to be stronger than children and to protect themselves. We expect them to provide evidence also, so we can believe them.
However, due to power dynamics, the evidence we're all waiting for often never shows up. Or, the evidence they do provide, is not enough to us.
So why does the evidence never show up, or when it does, it isn’t strong enough for society?
Again, this is due to power dynamics.
To understand why many victims of domestic abuse and partner rape almost never manage to capture their abuse, you need to understand the loyalty a victim often feels to their partner, regardless of their partner being an abuser or not.
Being (sexually) abused by your own partner is humiliating. It's heartbreaking. Sometimes, alcohol or drug abuse, or stress, is what in the mind of the victim leads to the abuse. Meaning, the victim blames other things than their partner alone, for the abuse. The victim tries to find a scapegoat because it’s easier to come to terms with.
As long as a victim blames secondary causes for the abuse, they are blind to the real problem: their partner. Victims most likely have hope that the abuse will stop, once these secondary problems get fixed. In other words, many victims try to focus on fixing those problems first, before they see the situation as it is: that their partner is solemnly responsible for their abusive behaviour, and not them.
As long as a victim still has hope the situation might get better, they will most likely not record abusive behaviour in any way.
Why not? Because recording your partner's behaviour a victim will see as an act of betrayal; a violation of their partner's privacy.
When victims start recording destructive behaviour, it means they are collecting evidence. If the partner will find out, it means the partner will know the victim is close to giving up hope on them, and that there's not much faith or trust left in the relationship.
Once you start recording your partner's abusive behaviour, you know that if your partner finds out you're doing this, they will know you don’t trust them anymore. It puts you in danger.
When you have an abusive partner, the idea of your partner knowing you might not be loyal to them anymore and that you might choose your own safety over the relationship, is terrifying, if your partner is abusive.
This is why many victims of partner abuse never record their abuse.
Men and women might have different reasons too, to not record the abuse. Men face more stigma when it comes to domestic abuse, because men are considered to be ‘strong’ and able to protect themselves.
For many men, it’s humiliating if they are abused by a partner, especially if the partner is a woman. They might be afraid nobody will believe them or that people will laugh at them, in case they ask for help.
Women might be humiliated as well, but more so, they often don’t record the abuse out of fear. They know how many women are murdered by (ex-)partners.
When victims are still in the middle of an abusive situation, they have hope it might stop, so they don't record it due to fear of betraying their abusive partner. When victims give up hope and realise the abusive situation won't change and that they need to escape it, they often don't capture their partner's abusive behaviour still, out of fear.
Fight, flight or freeze?
When you stay and accept the abuse and try to deal with it, you won't pull a camera on your abuser because it will put you on danger. When you try to escape the abuse, you often won't pull a camera into flight while you're on the run.
Now imagine all the other factors to take into account. If there are kids involved, you have to think of the safety of your children too. If you are married to your abuser, you have to keep in mind that you are legally tied to your abuser which may cause problems. If you are also working with them, you have to realise your good name, job and livelihood may be affected by running away.
How well do you cope under stress? Have you been prepared for this? Did they teach you how to deal with mental and physical abuse, maybe even sexual assault and rape, by a loved one, at school?
No, Nein, Nee.
You sometimes hear of a die-hard survivor who stayed with the abuser for years and managed to capture all the abuse. Like the woman from New York. When she realised all hope was gone, she hired a private investigator to follow her and capture the abuse. She knew she first had to have all the evidence before trying to divorce her husband, before she could stop working with him because they had a business together. She needed to protect herself so she could get full custody of the kids. She had money, but he had power. So for 4 years she allowed herself to be beaten, raped and abused by her own husband, in order to capture evidence.
Of course the woman from New York is a character I made up.
Few people can stomach abuse for long once hope is gone. Few people are that capable. I'm not calling it strong; for a very good reason, which you will find out soon.
Few people are able to calculate rationally, while suffering abuse, what the most safe road for them is to take - even though temporarily the most steep one maybe.
Sometimes, a short steep road, might be rationally the safest than the most slow one. Suffering abuse for a while to gather evidence, meaning you can quickly prove the abuse, sounds rational, doesn't it? It sounds more rational than escaping abuse, without capturing evidence.
However, the emotional damage it does, willingly suffering emotional and physical abuse to capture evidence, is the kind of emotional damage one can't really fix. You need to be really hopeless to do this: you must have experienced a lot of abuse in life, a lot of hurt, a lot of pain, to realise this is necessary: capturing the abuse, otherwise people won't believe you.
Most likely you have to have been raped and abused and assaulted many times before, failed by the police, the system, your family and friends, to know, you need that evidence.
Most victims who are raped, are not raped by a stranger hiding in the bushes. The majority of rape victims actually know the offender.
Some rape conviction statistics from 2016-2017:
823 REPORTED RAPES IN NORTHERN IRELAND (UK) IN 1 YEAR WITH JUST 15 PEOPLE CONVICTED. (1.82%).
1745 REPORTED RAPES IN THE WEST MIDLANDS (UK) IN 1 YEAR WITH JUST 174 PEOPLE CONVICTED. (9.97%)
1205 REPORTED RAPES IN AVON AND SOMERSET (UK) IN 1 YEAR WITH JUST 86 PEOPLE CONVICTED. (7.14%)
131 REPORTED RAPES IN LIMBURG (THE NETHERLANDS) IN 1 YEAR WITH JUST 3 PEOPLE CONVICTED. (2.29%)
Do you have the stomach this time to fight this loved one? Or do you want to die? Is there any reason at all to live anymore? While there is so much hurt in the world, so much pain? While people, over and over again, have proven to you they will just hurt you? Is there any reason at all to live in a world, where there is such hurt? Is there any reason at all to film this?
Would you pass that test? Would it make you a calculating warrior? Someone who plans ahead?
Maybe you never got to that point.
Maybe you never had to pass that test. Because maybe, it was one of the first times it happened to you: an abusive partner, who tried to control you and hurt you.
So, when all hope is lost in the relationship, you run. You flight, hoping that somewhere else, there is a better place, a place where people will believe you and help you. (Oh boy are you in for a surprise when you show up without evidence).
You flight because even though hope in the person you're with is gone, not all hope is lost. (Trust me, you'll get there!).
You have hope in other people, in humanity still. (Get ready!)
So you don't capture the history of abuse.
‘You idiot. Where's the evidence if you were abused?’
Maybe, you capture the ending.
‘He/she just screamed at her/him, that's no evidence of abusive behaviour.’
Maybe you use your camera as a weapon to get away, to protect yourself, that one night, when your partner tries to prevent you from going away.
‘This doesn't prove anything!’
Maybe you film one last drunken moment, before you leave them for good.
‘So he/she was drunk! Everybody gets drunk!’
Because in the final minutes before your flight, for a second, maybe in a moment of complete surprise because you realise you have made a choice, you hold up the mirror, only for a second. You confront the abuser, by capturing their behaviour.
The mirror of truth, that exposes all predators.
‘You try to frame him you golddigger!’
And guess what?
The moment you take back power, and capture the abuse and address it?
Your predator and society in general, attacks, in every way they can.
Keep in mind however that there are good people in this world, who believe you, and will stand with you.