Anybody can be a different person behind closed doors. The most charming and congenial men (or women) can turn into complete monsters when no one is there to witness. This is why so many victims of domestic violence and relationship abuse do not come forward. Often, there are no witnesses or evidence to corroborate the victim’s experience. But most importantly, victims of abuse are left with that unrelenting feeling that no one would ever believe them. And that is why we stay silent. Because who would believe the girl who cried wolf?

I have told very few people about my abuser and what he put me through.  We are both in the same graduate program and work in labs in the same building. Everyday I go to my lab knowing that my abuser works just three floors below me. No one in my graduate program knows what he did or who he really is. I still hear my friends talk about him casually, like it’s no big deal, and I still walk into that building everyday with the knowledge that he will get away with it. He will stay in my program, earn his MD/PhD, and go on to abuse another woman, if he isn’t doing that already.

Sometimes I want to scream the truth at the top of my lungs. I want to tell everyone in my lab and our program who this man really is and what he has done, down to every single detail. And yes I know that I do indeed have the option to do this. I could tell them about when he got physically aggressive and pushed me out the door, about his verbal manipulation, threats, and possession. I could tell them how he would grab me to prove his ownership, or try to hit me with his belt. I could tell them about the fear I carried that I would accidentally break one of his rules, and that he has been charged before for battery and rape. I could tell them that the cops came the night we broke up and that he spent months stalking/harassing me after it ended. But voicing these things brings risk for me, most of all the risk that I won’t be believed. Like many abusers, this man is charming, charismatic, and someone people gravitate to. No one sees the person he becomes behind closed doors and I have no evidence to prove anything that happened. If I told people in my program and they didn’t believe, I could lose everything: my position in the program, my colleagues and their respect. Everything I have worked so hard for could vanish in the blink of an eye, all for telling the truth. And this makes me angrier than anything.

It should not be this way. We should not have to live in fear of losing it all just for speaking the truth and telling our story. We should not have to feel confined to a prison of silence and isolation, as if we are actually the guilty ones. The system needs to change. People need to change and wake up and acknowledge that this happens. Just because they cannot see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

We don’t choose silence because we are weak or helpless or self-pitying. In fact, we don’t choose it at all, just like we didn’t choose what happened to us. It is not black and white, or straightforward in any way. In the end, it is the survivor’s decision and they do not need to justify it for anyone.

I may not be able to tell the people I go to school with or work with. But I will tell. I will tell everyone else I can. I will post signs on the street, I will write this blog, and I will speak.

This is a poem I wrote to my abuser describing the power of words:

Words

You once told me,
That words matter.
Above all else,
Words have power.
I didn’t get it then,
But when the love turned to fear,
Your message,
It became crystal clear.

You used your words as a weapon.
To put me down,
Push me around,
Manipulate,
Control,
Hate.

Though it took awhile,
I finally learned.
This is not what I deserve.
And just like you,
I can use my words.

I will speak and I will tell.
So that the women who cross your path,
Do not fall the way I fell.
Into your trap.
Into your dark prison.
You held me under for so long.
But I have risen.

I will not stay silent.
I will not let you get away with what you did to me.
Because you will do it again,
Hurting girl after girl.
With me, it ends.
You have taken everything.
You have kicked me to the curb.
You have made me bleed until it no longer hurt.
You have taken everything from me.
But you cannot take my words.

When I am too tired to speak, I will write.
When I am too pained to breathe, I will fight.
You will not win.
The tide has finally turned.
You have taken everything.
But you cannot take my words.

I will not hide.
And I will not be ashamed.
Yes, I fell for your lies.
But I ended the game.
And though I may be broken,
You made the mistake.
For now I see,
Through all the fights, the anger
And the screams,
Words,
They are everything.

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9 thoughts on “Silence

  1. Your narrative is chilling, terrifying. And that is the life of a victim of intimate abuse, or domestic violence: terrifying. I read a very powerful book by Elaine Weiss called “Surviving Domestic Violence: Stories of Women Who Broke Free.” It changed my life as a domestic violence prosecutor. I no longer asked “Why doesn’t she just leave?” Instead, I said, “I understand why she stays.” And I set out to hold perpetrators accountable. My deepest admiration to you for your courage and strength. Keep speaking, writing, and standing up for right.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. WOW! Your story hit home because I chose to speak up after I was accused of having provoked him. One of the most difficult obstacles in moving forward has been the shaming I’ve had to face. It is what almost pushed me over edge…Like you, I never thought I would be here. I’m 22 years older than you with 2 kids, and this was the first and last time anyone laid their hands on me. However, it doesn’t make moving through it easy so hang in there…it’s all we can do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sorry you can relate to this, but that’s amazing you chose to speak out in spite of the shame and stigma. Yes, it’s never easy to move forward but there’s not really another option. Wish you the best

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I shudder to know this twisted person is completing an MD/PHD program. I applaud that you have been able to break free…to find your voice…and now to help so many find theirs.
    We can bring this to the surface. We must. Abuse comes in so many forms and fashions, and silence is the breeding pond. Keep speaking. You have very important work to do. HUGS to you.

    Like

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