Thursday, 14 May 2015

"Is he kind?"

You ask: "Did he hit you?"

I cringe. I close off. Your question completely misses the point.

I know it's awful that two Australian women die every week at the hands of a current or former intimate partner. But do you know what else is awful? It's awful that the continued focus on physical acts of violence implicitly questions the legitimacy of non-physical forms of abuse. Or even physical forms that aren't striking, like pushing and shoving.

I've been asked that question so many times: "Did he hit you?" As if that very act of physical violence is the one that defines an abusive relationship. 

I wanted to answer: "It doesn't matter." But it does matter.

It matters because that's the invisible line so many of us draw—those witnessing from afar, and those in abusive relationships. I hear it on radio interviews, and I read it in articles, and they are the words from my own mouth, too: "If he ever hits me, I will leave." These words disempower us. 

These words disempowered me. He simply watched me draw that line and determined never to cross it. He pushed me, shoved me, deliberately startled me, and punched the wall next to my head. He made me fear for my safety, and question my sanity. But he never hit me.

Outside the realm of domesticity, someone pushing us, shoving us, or taking action to deliberately scare us so that we fear for our lives—those things are all considered assault. And the same should be true within the home. And I don't understand why that's not obvious and universally understood.

Asking "Does he hit you?" serves no purpose other than to reinforce the abuse victim's believe that she's not entitled to complain or escape unless he does. So don't do it. But don't say nothing, either.

Instead, try the question my doctor asked: "Is he kind to you?"

I was in a healthy relationship at the time, and happily answered, "Yes." But I also immediately recognised I could never have answered "yes" about my ex. I could've told you what a great guy he was, and how everyone thought he was such a catch. But I could never have honestly said yes to that one magical question. (Which is why she had asked me, of course.)

So maybe ask that question next time you're worried about someone's relationship.

And, for bonus points, maybe ask yourself that question right now.