“Don’t wear that outfit”
“Take off that makeup”
“Don’t leave your drink unattended”
“Stay with your friends”
“Text me when you’re home so I know you’re safe”
Beware. Beware. Beware.
There comes a time in every girl’s life when they are taught to beware the man in the alleyway. Seemingly overnight we go from being little girls who are afraid of fictitious monsters hiding under our beds to being grown women afraid of a very real kind of monster: the abuser, the rapist, the man in the alleyway.
Our mothers, sisters and friends dust us off before a night out like a soldier going into battle, their eyes scanning for anything shiny that might catch the monsters eye. We are given the cautionary tale, warned of dark alleyways, strangers, monsters without faces. Inhuman beings that beat, rape and kill.
Imagining abusers as fictitious monsters that lurk in the shadows of alleyways and exist only with the intention to hurt is somewhat easier to stomach. It would be simpler if not wearing a short skirt or avoiding a certain area at night would be enough to keep the beasts away, but those monsters that we are taught to fear are actually people just like us. Abusers can be the men who we love and admire, handsome men with bright futures ahead of them, our bosses, partners and friends. Men who make us laugh and smile and feel loved. This is a fact that I think many still find hard to swallow. It would be so much easier to stay clear of harm’s way if abusers really were monsters who we could easily spot and identify but the sad truth is that the men who hurt women are all around us. They are the man in the alleyway we’ve been taught to fear.
There have been two recent cases in the media that have proven to me that society still believes in the mythological abuser. There is the horrific Stanford rape and the abuse actress Amber Heard suffered at the hands of her husband Johnny Depp. Both cases were presented in the media as a mistake instead of the crimes that they in fact were. Society would have us believe that if you’re handsome, successful and privileged you are incapable of being an abuser. That there are monsters in alleyways and then there are valued members of society who happen to have made a mistake. If Amber Heard was married to a balding middle aged man with a beer belly and a job outside of the public eye, when she bravely stepped forward to talk about the abuse she suffered she’d have become the medias darling, but because her husband happened to be Depp she was labelled a liar and a gold digger.
Statistics tell us that you’re more likely to be abused by someone you know than a stranger. This isn’t always the case, but I happened to fall into that majority. I have a story similar to Amber’s but on a much smaller scale. I was in a blissful relationship for 6 months; I was the envy of all of my friends. My boyfriend and I were the golden couple and he treated me like a princess, until he didn’t.
He was a master manipulator managing to not only manipulate me but also those around me. He’d polish his crown and play the part of prince charming in front of my friends and family only to become the beast behind closed doors. After years of abuse and one of many attempts on my life, I managed to safely end the relationship and find the courage to tell my friends and family. Sadly, there were people who I called my friends who did not believe me.
“But he’s so lovely!”
I’d hear them say behind my back.
“She’s probably doing it for sympathy”
They’d whisper to each other.
“He just doesn’t seem like the type”
I’d hear them say repeatedly.
When the people around me said that they didn’t believe me, when it had taken everything I had in me to tell them, it was like they took mud with sharp stones and jagged glass and rubbed it into the wounds that my ex had already created. The only thing more dangerous than an abuser? A society who isn’t willing to believe and is ready with an excuse.
When we don’t believe reports of rape and abuse whether close to us or further away in the bright lights of Hollywood we are sending out a message to women everywhere saying: if you speak up you will be ignored. When the media use words like “alleged” and “supposed” it is conditioning us as a society to question by default instead of support. If there is evidence in court that points to a conviction and instead the abuser is let off with a lecture and a slapped wrist it teaches men that treating women this way is okay. As of right now this is the society that we live in, it is one where who the true victim is often gets confused.
For a safer and more just world it’s important that we become more familiar with what abuse looks like. For the young men in our homes who we raise it’s important that we teach them about consent and respecting women and for the victims who we haven’t been able to protect it is important that we listen and that we believe.
Words of warning silenced, judgments cast aside, it’s time we shone a bright light into those dark alleyways and look our monsters straight in the eye so that we can better recognise the face of an abuser.
Disclaimer: It's worth noting that women also abuse men and other women in LGBT relationships. This post is just based off my own personal experience with abuse.