, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

In the past week and a half, I have seen how powerful the internet and social media truly can be.  I have seen an advocacy campaign take off with lightning speed, and I have seen voices raised in unison to inform the truly delicate nature of advocacy.

In light of the black dot campaign, I have had to ask myself some hard questions.  What would a successful advocacy campaign look like?  What would I do different, if I were the organizer of an advocacy campaign?

None of these questions are new to me.  I have been studying and writing and agonizing and wrestling with these questions not only for advocacy, but for my own survival.

I cannot write this article without stating that no campaign that focuses on the victim is going to be able to completely rid our society of intimate partner violence and domestic abuse.  Let me say that again: no campaign that focuses on victims and survivors is going to truly address the problem of DV and IPV.

To some that actually comes as a shock – what do you mean, that you don’t want to help victims?  Oh yes, I passionately believe in helping victims.  Victims cannot survive and cannot recover without being surrounded by people who believe in them and who support them.  I did not get here by myself.

But that’s just it.  I did not get into an abusive relationship by myself.  I got there because someone else behaved in a manner that put my life and well-being in danger.  Every victim got where she or he is because of someone else’s behavior.  Therefore, successful campaigns must focus on behaviors, rather than individuals.

Please help victims, please support agencies and organizations that help victims.  But recognize that as long as we do not address the behaviors that cause DV and IPV, we will always have victims.

So what I’m talking about is us.  Successful campaigns need to focus on us, on our collective human behaviors.  There are two aspects of this: 1. the perpetrator and how perpetrators use society to their advantage and 2. our own thought and behavior patterns that enable perpetrator behaviors.

So first, the focus of the perpetrator.  Nothing has been more humbling for me than realizing that my abuser acted out of his own painful realities.  We all grow up witnessing the same stuff – we see women being ridiculed and violated and abused every day.  We hear rhetoric at the dinner table that blames women and that allows us all to view women as less than.  The media constantly portrays women in vulnerable positions – even well-meaning advocacy campaigns portrays women as beaten-down victims with bruises and shattered esteems.

Perpetrators of violence grew up seeing these images too.  And then they grow up believing they have to be the powerful ones.  So they make themselves the powerful ones.  Every abuser and every victim comes to a relationship with already established patterns of behavior.  They arrive with set expectations of how men and women are supposed to behave, and these patterns often uphold abuse and harbor abuse and allow abuse to continue.  We are all passing down these patterns of behavior to our own children!

My second point focuses on certain aspects of human behavior – hierarchy is one aspect in which a sole entity is the ultimate control and all others are beneath the sole power.  We have by now probably all heard that DV and IPV is really about power and control – so I have studied power and control in relationships.  Another is the role that denial and the human brain plays in keeping victims in a situation.  The amount of information that is available to be studied is immense, and I encourage you to study it for yourself.

In this blog post I want to focus on denial, because denial is an easy trap to fall into, and our societal denial of abuse is one of the most difficult challenges in getting victims out.  I have written in the past about my experience in seminary and how whenever I raised my voice to speak about DV and IPV, I was frequently ridiculed and questioned and dis-believed.  People do not want to believe that abuse happens to them or to their loved ones, and in the effort to hang onto that belief they will discredit the survivor who is speaking to them from her or his own experience.

Why is this?  Why do people not want to believe?  Here’s the thing – with as broad of a statistic as 1 in 4, chances are highly likely that every one of us has witnessed abuse in our lives.  I might even go so far as to say that we have all witnessed it in our own families, in our own homes.  But we love our families.  We love our homes.  We love our parents and our grandparents and our aunts and uncles and the myriad of people who participated in raising us.  We love them and we cling to them.  And we excuse their behaviors.

The people who are closest to us, who abuse us or abuse those around us, are often times the ones we love the most.  We don’t want to believe that their actions are or were truly abusive.  So we deny abuse exists.  It would be a betrayal to mention how that person abused us, so we remain silent.

But here’s the thing – successful campaigns against DV and IPV begin in our own homes and begin by talking about the instances of abuse that we personally witnessed or experienced in our own homes growing up.  Recognizing the patterns of abuse that we grew up watching informs us.  It helps us to see how abuse came to be normalized within our own families, and how we carry that normalization forward to our own relationships and families.

I’m going to be writing about this for the next few days – there are several important points to be made and I realize it is a lot to take in.  Stay tuned for more!

Peace and Crackers,

Theresa Moxley