This is, unfortunately, another one of those posts that needs this particular disclaimer: I am using these specific gendered nouns and pronouns in this post because I am responding to a specific situation that society seems to have in mind a lot these days, which is a situation that follows a certain stereotype. I am very much aware that intimate partner violence is by no means limited to this sort of scenario in any aspect. Now, that being said…
Recently, I’ve been hearing a lot of sob stories from people about, “waaaah! I tried to step in when a stranger was abusing his wife/girlfriend, and she turned on me! See how awful/ungrateful/stupid/crazy women are?! I was helping her! NO GOOD DEED GOES UNPUNISHED BAWWWWWW.”
Well, here’s the nub and gist of my response, and it’s actually much the same as my response to many other things that I’ve previously written on, from reactions to a friend’s rape to why I didn’t scream for help in a certain situation:
This. Isn’t. Hollywood.
You cannot defuse what may be potentially years of abusive behavior in a relationship simply by playing the White-Knight-Good-Samaritan-Sheriff. This is not a plot point; this is, in fact, an insight into a whole world of physical and emotional damage. Stockholm Syndrome aside, few if any battered women are going to look up at you starry-eyed when you further provoke her abuser and then leave her to deal with the fallout.
You, as Mr. Good Guy Plot Point, will not change the mind of a controlling and violent individual by intervening. Both the abuser and the abuser know what you are: a person who is, for the moment, attempting to stop this behavior in whatever capacity. But, unlike in some feel-good movie, the abuser is not going to forever abstain from abusing in fear of your epic return and the serving of justice. In fact, if he is so casually abusing his partner in public or semi-public, he has probably experienced this situation before. He knows exactly what will happen. You will either get belligerent or back down, and then disappear from his life and cease to be an issue. And the woman knows this, too.
She knows what will happen once you leave.
And it will probably be one hell of a lot worse than what you attempted to stop. If she attempts to side with her abuser, she knows she may spare herself some of this; that is, if he doesn’t get angry at her for the effort. She is trying to minimize the damage. For all you know, she could have children with this man. She could be tied to him financially, she could lack any other place to run to or hide from him, she could fear deadly repercussions if she left. Any and all of these could be the case, and more besides. Consider this before you quip that, well, she should just leave then, and be grateful that you so valiantly stood up for her. Fuck that. Unless your plan is to tell her partner to knock it off, and then safely escort her and any dependents to a shelter for battered women, prepared to help set up a new life for her and keep her safe, you cannot expect miracles from dedicating two minutes of your time to playing the hero.
A battered woman is not stupid, or ungrateful, or crazy, or awful. A battered woman is in survival mode. A battered woman is acting in ways that seem irrational, because her situation itself is lacking in predictability or reason, and she is trying to simultaneously rationalize it and get through it intact. Her own life, the life of her children, and many other things may be on the line.
I hope that clarifies why, even if you think you’re doing something valiant, the response may be the total opposite of what you expect. I understand your confusion, but you are not the victim here. In the media, you are the hero; in real life, you are a person intruding into territory that you do not understand and hopefully will never have to. The villain is still the villain, but the methods to foil his dastardly plans are necessarily much, much different in real life.
Of course, this begs the question: what would I recommend instead?
Well, considering my own experiences with the police, I am hesitant to recommend alerting them to the situation. However, realistically, it probably is all-around the best option. In addition, look up the number for your local shelter or resource center for survivors of intimate partner abuse (I’ve found at least one in every town I’ve ever lived in) and ask there, as they may have more region-specific resources to offer.
And, if you really want to get involved, try volunteering at one of these shelters. I can’t think of any better way you could help than that, and I’m sure they’d really appreciate the help ^^