By Laura Young, Youth Advocate at Umbrella
In a world where a man who confessed to torturing his ex-girlfriend, dismembering her body and feeding her to dogs is now being paid to play professional soccer in Brazil, it should come to us as no surprise that the world often glorifies and enables abusers. In case you’re thinking “oh that was just Brazil that stuff doesn’t happen in America”-how about the fact that a man who repeatedly assaults women is the years highest paid athlete in the United States even though he spent three months that year serving time in jail for his actions (I’m looking at you, Floyd Mayweather). Removing ourselves from the sports world, we see many other examples of the way that an abuser is enabled. Johnny Depp, Chris Brown, Nicolas Cage, Charlie Sheen…these are just a few of the names who are well known in our society who have also been accused and/or charged with domestic violence. These individuals continue to rake in money and produce various forms of media that we knowingly or unknowingly consume-yet many of these individuals have used the profits the media has provided for them to their advantage when it comes to finding ways to avoid paying for their actions. Sadly, the way that we enable these individuals does not hold them accountable to their actions and contributes to further violence.
What makes a house fall down? If the foundation is compromised. What makes some abusers stop abusing? If society dares to not condone or accept their behavior. What if ESPN stopped airing fight from Floyd Mayweather? Better yet, what if no one showed up at his matches? What if producers of the movies and shows we watch took the time to investigate actors and hold them to acceptable non-violent behavior? What if local radio stations stated that they would no longer play certain songs because they were produced by someone who had been convicted of domestic assault?….you may think, hey, it’s nice to dream and I am aware that a lot of these ideas are things that will never occur-but what if we look closer at the ways we enable and support people who are abusive? I think we can learn that there are things that we CAN do.
First, I believe we need to stop accepting the excuses that an abuser makes for their actions. For example, Bruno Fernandes, the Brazillian athlete mentioned at the start of this article stated that we should all move on because “mistakes happen.” A mistake is when I accidently leave milk out of the fridge while going for a late night snack and it goes bad. A mistake is not killing your partner, chopping them up and feeding them to dogs. Bruno Fernandes isn’t alone with his excuses. Even to this year Floyd Mayweather continues to not take responsibility for what he’s done and states that he won’t because there is not picture proof that he did anything wrong. However, what about the fact that his 10 year old son documented in a sworn statement (see link for statement, trigger warning) to police the specifics of the assault he had seen at the hands of Floyd Mayweather to his Mom? Or what the multiple police reports that have occurred-aren’t those enough to prove what has happened?
To bring it closer to our community here in Northern Vermont there are many excuses we hear in advocacy that have been said to survivors. For example “it’s not that bad”… “if you didn’t make me so mad I wouldn’t have hurt you”… “I was drunk or high”… “I won’t do it again, I’m not like that”… “I was just so stressed from work and I snapped”…these excuses should not be tolerated by the hearer-they are just a cover up for the unacceptable behavior that an abuser gives to someone they have taken the power from.
Second, I believe we need to critically evaluate the messages in the media that we feed that is fed to us. I’m not saying don’t watch movies or listen to music-I’m saying take time to think and to talk about the messages in the media we consume. When was the last time you talked with your kid (a kid, any kid on the street!) or your partner, a friend or a family member about the lyrics of a song or the content of a movie? If you never have, it might be a good time to start. Are there components of the shows you watch or the music you listen to where you see an abuser enabled? If so, take the time to talk through the messages and share with others your feelings regarding the messages. What about when we tell kids “boys will be boys” or “if someone teases you or doesn’t leave you alone it’s because they like you”-how are these messages contributing to enabling the next generation of abusive individuals? We have songs and movies that glorify power and control and we have songs that promote independence and remove shame-what if we asked the radio station to play those songs more and remove songs that contribute to violence. We have a responsibility to be conscious of what we consume and what is fed to the next generation of youth who are starting or will be starting to enter into relationships. You are prone to media and their lives are centered on the media which they consume-why don’t we use the media to portray positive messages of self-esteem, value and non-violence then continue to feed messages that violence is acceptable.
Third and I believe the easiest thing we can do is believe survivors. Before you take a minute to doubt if a person is being truthful about being assaulted ask yourself would you rather believe someone saying that they had been abused when they had not been or not believe someone who had said they were abused and they were telling the truth. The truth is that very few people lie about being assaulted by their partner. We are not detectives. It is not our job to determine the truth. Nor is it our job to decide when someone chooses to leave an abusive relationship. Our job is simply to support and care for each other as well as we can as we all experience this messy thing we call life. If we believe survivors we may be able to provide information or support to help them make the best choice in their situations to be the safest that they can be regardless of if they decide to stay or leave.
1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of an attack by an intimate partner. That means that 100% of those survivors were harmed by someone who we could be unintentionally enabling. Look for the signs of domestic or sexual violence in your friends and family’s relationships and don’t be afraid to speak up at a safe time. Additionally, molding healthy relationship norms to friends and family or sharing experiences of intimate partner violence may help someone in their journey to have and maintain healthy relationships. You are powerful-your experiences are powerful-don’t underestimate the impact you may have. I leave you with this quote by Heidi Thompson “The power of one. The smallest act can ripple and spread and have a bigger impact then you ever imagined. Every one of us has the power to make a difference in each other’s lives and in the lives of people we meet. What if you are the one? The simplest act can change the world.”