Place the Accountability Where it Belongs

Guest Post: Blair Grinn, Court Advocate, HAVEN

As many of you have heard, George Zimmerman has been back in the news with yet another crime. Zimmerman, for those of you who may have been on a news diet since the summer, was acquitted of murder in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African-American teen.

I first heard about his recent domestic violence charges on Facebook where most people posting were not surprised by this behavior and condemned the abuse. But there was another faction of commenters who were asking why we had a situation where both his wife (now separated with divorce pending) and his subsequent girlfriend both reported abuse following Zimmerman’s acquittal. Most notably, it begged the question “why do we women do this to ourselves?”

The thread suggested that given Zimmerman’s notoriety and publicity, what did she expect? Why did she put herself in that position? She knew that he was an on trial for murder, what was she thinking? As the old horror movie axiom goes, you don’t go in the basement when you know there’s a serial killer down there. Right?

This may come as a surprise to some, but there are countless reasons why a woman would date an abuser. Valid reasons at that. For one, most women don’t fall in love with outright terrible people. Abusers frequently present as good, loving people initially and it’s only later that they reveal their controlling, abusive tendencies.

Domestic violence is a gradual process where the abuse escalates more and more over time. It usually starts out perfectly fine, perhaps it’s even a fairy tale where he’s kind and supportive and romantic. But then the jealousy sets in, she can’t do anything right, her friends are turning her against him, she’s always making him angry, he loses control because he drinks too much—these are the red flags of an abuser.

Domestic violence is a deliberate pattern of power and control. And abusers are masters at using manipulation and intimidation to get what they want. That includes convincing an otherwise intelligent, independent, successful woman that it’s a good idea to be with him. No doubt about it, they can rationalize and normalize the craziest of situations. Perhaps even murder.

And if you love this man, wouldn’t you give him the benefit of the doubt when he’s accused of killing a teenager? Obviously it had to be self-defense. Because this is someone you love and you trust. Except abusers prey on that trust and exploit it. Because they feel entitled to do so, it’s part of their belief system. These core beliefs shape the way these men view the world.

Domestic violence is commonly realized only when women are already trapped by financial dependence, having children together or they are simply afraid of what will happen if they leave. Fear is a powerful motivator. Hands down, the most dangerous time for a woman is when she leaves. Leaving an abusive relationship requires great emotional support, resources and careful planning.

Many abused women don’t have the luxury of supportive friends and family nor do they have huge reserves of cash. The abuse is isolating and violence doesn’t always stop when a relationship ends. It’s the most dangerous time because her leaving is the absolute worst loss of control for him. If he can’t have her, no one can. So in his mind, he can continue to stalk, harass, use the children to control her or worst of all, take her life. Ending an abusive relationship can prove lethal.

So when you focus on why a woman dated or married an abuser in the first place, it blames the victim. When you ask why she didn’t leave sooner, it blames the victim. When you make the abuse about what she did wrong, it blames the victim. And it makes it that much harder to place the accountability squarely where it belongs, on the abuser.

Victims do not deserve, provoke or enjoy any of the abuse they may suffer, be it verbal, emotional, sexual, financial or physical. There is no excuse for it and the only explanation is that her partner is deliberately engaging in power and control. It’s not about anger, it’s not about self-defense. It’s rooted in his singular belief that he is allowed to dominate and denigrate women just by virtue of the fact that he is a man.

The tendency to victim blame is a natural default. It is way easier to find a reason for why she may have deserved it than to acknowledge that greater systems of oppression are influencing men every day. Men that you may love and care about, are being bombarded with subtle and not so subtle messages that it’s ok to be entitled, controlling, and objectify women or even abuse women. It takes active resistance and preventative education to combat these attitudes and dismantle sexism.

When I have seen people engage in victim blaming, it’s usually coming from a place of denial and fear. No one wants to admit that someone they trust and love could turn on them in the exact same way. No one wants to admit that they too are vulnerable. Because domestic violence crosses all geographic, race and income lines, it can literally happen to any woman.

Blaming a victim makes it that much harder for women to come forward, seek help and hold their abusers accountable. Because they fear the judgment and shame they may get from everyone around them. Blaming a victim simply reinforces the root causes of abuse. So please join me in committing to having conversations about how we can prevent boys from becoming abusive men, instead of coming up with ways to teach girls how not to get abused. We need to start believing and supporting the women brave enough to disclose their abuse instead of claiming that “she should’ve known better”.


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