Necessary force

People who are abusive only use the amount of force necessary to maintain dominance in their relationship.

When I say this to someone, I often see them pause in their reaction. Most people imagine that abusive people are out of control, or lash out when angry. And that the use of physical abuse―like hitting, slapping, punching, or forcing sex―is frequent and consistent over the length of the relationship. From that perspective, the idea that they “only use the amount of force necessary” doesn’t make sense.

But survivors tell me that their partners are often manipulative and violent in ways which do not include physical violence. No matter how an abuser’s behavior looks to an outsider, their tactics are deliberate. Like embarrassing a partner at a party or undermining their participation in religious activities. Or sabotaging a survivor’s connection with their child. Taking a child and disappearing for a couple of days is an effective way exert control over a partner. Also charming other people to get them on the abuser’s side, like the abusive partner I heard of who gratefully and coolly greeted law enforcement with “oh, I see you’re here to help me with my wife. She’s disoriented because she’s been in a car accident.”

Abuse can be pressuring a partner to have sex to prove their commitment to the relationship. Or asking a partner not to call friends or family because it interferes with their relationship―a subtle way to isolate someone. And if that doesn’t work, scaring friends or threatening a family member until the survivor returns to the relationship.

Any time we question a survivor―it doesn’t seem that bad, you say he doesn’t hit you, he doesn’t seem out of control―it gives the abusive person even more power. When we really listen to and believe a survivor’s experience, we take power away from the abuser. It’s one thing we all can do to make a difference for survivors and their children.

Nine things to know

Nueve cosas a saber

“Home should be a place of liberation”

My colleague said this at a meeting yesterday. I first heard it at our conference last year when the incredible Alissa Bierra was talking about Marissa Alexander. Hearing that sentence again stopped me in my tracks. It is so powerful. Especially in light of the story of Korryn Gaines who was recently shot and killed by police in her own home, in front of her five year old son. (On a tangent, did it not occur to the police that perhaps they should come back another time? Does failure to appear in court really warrant a death sentence?)

But back to that phrase. For years in the domestic violence field, we have struggled to say what we want vs. what we don’t want. We don’t want abuse. We don’t want coercion. We don’t want assault. But that phrase is a gift. It is part of our end goal. It is the way.

home should be a place of liberationHome should be a place of liberation. An absence of violence is not enough. You should be treated with respect by those who proclaim to love you (and those who are “sworn to protect”).

Home should be a place of liberation. You can have opinions in your home. You can disagree about things and have a voice.

Home should be a place of liberation. It should be a place where you can be who you truly are. If you are different from your family (for example a gay or trans teen), you should be loved fiercely.

Home should be a place of liberation. That is what I want. For me. For you. For all of us.