The outside world may not see the signs but the woman always does…..
It’s a common reaction when a man is arrested for abusing or killing a woman in his life, whether his girlfriend, wife, mother, daughter or sister. “We just can’t believe he would do something like that,” neighbours, friends and coworkers say. “That’s not the person we know!”
Well, no, it’s not. That’s kind of the point. The person inflicting such suffering on a woman he’s close to is often not the person outsiders know. The woman, on the other hand knows better. She sees a very different man than the rest of the world does.
He may work very hard to conceal the signs of physical violence so that the woman he’s abusing doesn’t look any different. And of course, there are many kinds of vicious abuse that leave no physical marks at all. Maybe he routinely demeans her intelligence or looks, forces her to have sex, controls who she spends time with, or refuses access to a bank account, computer or car.
She knows that if she tells anyone what’s happening, the abuse will just get worse. So she puts on a brave face, goes to work, runs errands and puts every bit of energy she has into protecting her kids. She’s keenly aware that the man she knows is dangerous. He can destroy her life and take it away from her completely.
So while there may not be signs of abuse that are visible to others, a final burst of violence, whether it puts the man in jail or not, doesn’t come from nowhere. If we’re not directly involved, we can never know the whole story, but we can know this much: The woman he’s been hurting mentally, physically, sexually or financially has definitely seen signs. She has seen the explosive temper, the blaming, the sudden mood swings and the rest of it, and learned to fear it all. She’s experienced it again and again, even if no one else in her life ever had a clue.
What would it be like if journalists and all of us as individuals, stopped focusing on our disbelief about what an abuser was capable of, and chose instead to pay more attention in future as we look for those deadly signs?