Content warning: discussion about the perpetration of violence against women
Yesterday was White Ribbon Day here in Australia. White Ribbon Day is Australia’s campaign to stop violence against women. And yes, I know there is much violence perpetrated against men and children and people who identify as a gender other than woman. But I am talking about violence against women because I am a woman and it is something I have personal experience of.
As a counsellor and social worker it probably doesn’t need saying that I have worked with women clients who have had violence perpetrated against them. I worked in a local women’s shelter and saw the pointy end of family violence. I saw the women come in covered in bruises and lacerations. I saw them come in with shattered self believe and fragmented psyches as a result of violence. I saw the outcomes of physical, emotional and sexual abuse against women. I have also worked as a Youth Crisis Housing worker and I regularly had young women come to me who were in relationships, or who had just escaped relationships, that were violent and abusive. My time as a Foster Care Placement and Support worker saw me working with the children of women who were living with violence in their lives as well as working with the women, the mothers, who were often broken in so many ways that they were either unable or unwilling or simply not allowed by the State to care for their own children. It wasn’t pretty.
And that is just the that which comes under the ‘domestic/family violence’ umbrella. White Ribbon Day is about ALL forms of violence perpetrated against women. It is about domestic/family violence. But it is also about rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, assault, and attempted murder. It is about emotional abuse, lateral violence, stalking, grievous bodily harm and murder. It is about every one of these forms of violence. It is violence carried out against women by family members, spouses, partners, bosses, workmates, friends and strangers. I have worked with women who have experienced all of those forms of violence except for murder. Thankfully I can say I have never had a client who has been murdered.
When I said I have personal experience with violence I wasn’t just referring to my work. I have a more personal experience with violence than that. I have had quite a few acts of violence carried out against me during my life. And like many, many other women I have been in abusive relationships. Physically abusive. Sexually abusive. Emotionally abusive. Spiritually and financially abusive. Thankfully I was able to leave those relationships with my life intact. While the physical harm as healed I still have emotional scars. I imagine I always will. Having violence perpetrated against you isn’t something you just get over. It becomes part of who you are. It shapes the person you become. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. But it is always there. Always. And it often doesn’t take much to bring memories flooding back. Sometimes it is a phrase. Sometimes a scent. Sometimes an unexpected movement by another person. And then there it all is. All of it in front of me all over again. And it takes a concerted effort to put it behind me yet again and to forge onward, yet again. Sometimes it is the dreams that are my undoing. It is difficult to control one’s dreams. Waking from yet another nasty and incredibly realistic dream, gasping for air, sweating, shaking. It isn’t fun. Not for me or for the person who might be sleeping next to me.
Some people can pick a victim of violence (and I use the word victim in that this violence was something done *to* me without my consent). Sometimes a friend or lover has detected the slight flinch I react with when a hand is raised quickly into the air. Sometimes they might notice that I gag when I am assailed by the claustrophobic odour of a particular men’s cologne. On occasion they have seen my physical and emotional reaction to a scene in a movie or TV show that depicts violence against a woman. If that happens I don’t want them to make a big scene about my reaction. A simple ‘Are you ok?’ is enough. If I am ok then fine and good. If I am not, then it is up to me to say whether I want to talk about it or not. I don’t want to be babied or pitied. I am a strong woman. I got through what was done to me and I used it to make me the person I am today. And I am pretty happy with being me. Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if I hadn’t been in those relationships in my late teens and early to mid twenties. I probably wouldn’t be a counsellor/social worker. I probably wouldn’t have the compassion and empathy that I have for other people. I would probably be someone quite different. But that’s life. I’m just glad I got out with that very thing. With my life. Because many don’t.