An Open Letter to Maureen Messent

Stop. Just stop.

You aren’t helping – anyone in fact. Aside from the fact that I can’t figure out if you exist (how can one person be such a bigot?), your lack of empathy for someone in such a horrible situation as an abusive relationship and the  out and out shaming of that situation does nothing to bolster confidence of a woman where she needs every single bit of help she can get.

I get it – I do. We all play victim in our own lives to some extent – in some situations we are the top, some situations we are the bottom. But your “article” does little to address the fact that women usually are insecure in their financial relationships with their partners, and that power imbalance can mean that they have to figure out what to do and how to do it pragmatically. We’ve jumped leaps and bounds in the past fifty years or so, where a woman would pretty much have to run under the cover of night to escape their abusive homes, or abandon their children, if they wanted out alive. Now, some women are lucky enough to be able to move away, get support, and divorce. But those small steps still pale in comparison to the real threat of mental and physical violence that they face every day, making it that much more of a trial to deal with their oppressor. If they have no money, have cut off outside support from friends, who do they have? A cold agency that might support a 1/3 of the money they need to support their kids? Or do they just stay in place, ensuring their children’s safety (being a buffer between them is probably better than not being there at all), and wait it out?

I come from two parents who witnessed this kind of abuse first-hand. My mother saw my grandmother being beating to a bloody pulp, her hair torn out, and her thrown from a window in front of her. Her and her brother were never harmed, or so we siblings think. A similar situation happened to my dad, where his father would beat up my grandmother. In both situations both ladies weren’t exactly faithful, but both men were also drunks.

I also know this as a first-hand account because in one of my longer-term relationships, my boyfriend at the time hit me. It was once, it never happened again. After he did it – and I’m sure he professes to this day it was an accident, but you know that look – I left. I had support of my friends, I was young enough that I didn’t have a lot of encumbrances, and I didn’t look back. Until we started talking again, and he ended up moving back in. He never did it again, but our whole relationship was eggshells. We had been together for about a year, and when this happened we split for six months.

Why do women go back, or say that “he loves me” and don’t want to press charges? Self-esteem. It was the same reason why my grandmother didn’t stay at her mother’s place in the middle of when the beatings for her were the worst. She had an out, she had a space that was safe, where she could raise her kids and get away from her husband, and with it being on a farm, there was an arsenal of weapons around if her husband tried to get the kids (my mom and uncle) or her. But she chose to “do what was right” and “stand by her man”. For me, it was similar – I had so little self-esteem at the point where I allowed him to move in, I think, that it was okay. It was familiar, we had some good times but *I didn’t think I could ever do any better. Ever.*

You ask why would a woman not want her day in court? Because she doesn’t believe the courts will support her story. I’ve seen it – and I’ve seen how even my small brush with violence was played out even with his friends – no one knew why we broke up, and when I did tell some of them they said “Oh, that couldn’t be (him)!”, like violence doesn’t come in all shapes and sizes. Really. He gets off socially scott-free, and I end up having to deal with the stigma that comes from being in that type of relationship – where his ‘friends’ believe him to be saintly, and aren’t recognizing that he has that capacity. We hide our secrets well, so that we can make our next best move and get out of the situation.

I called you a misogynist – why? Because your words help zero women: if you are a woman in a power position, and can assist, victim-blaming does nothing to support this person in this situation, if you are a supporter of women, and *good men who are not violent*, pointing the finger also supports this notion that it is entirely up to that particular woman to eradicate violence in a relationship. The finger pointing negates the role that *we all play* in this process, in making it unacceptable for violence against women in any and all situations: in situations of sexual assault, violence in relationships, violence against sex workers. As women, a lack of respect for ourselves in any of theses scenarios is unfathomable, and shouldn’t be tolerated.

Since your articles are usually short, I’ll give you my “Birmingham Take Away”, if you will. If you want to address violence, and self-abuse and any myriad of issues to do with women’s health, we have to:
– bolster our women, so they know they aren’t going to go to court just to have an old boys’ club chalk a violent attack or history of abuse to just “a quarrel”
– have our boys in blue take any report of violence against women *seriously* – this means processing rape kits *immediately*, ensuring there are safe spaces for women to go to and report violence REGARDLESS of occupation or social standing and also ensuring that those men who are prosecuted are given similar sentences (ie rich white men need to be fucking held accountable for their actions)
– ensure that the words we use and solutions that we rely upon, instead of blaming the victim, maybe blame the person *actually* committing the crime

I want to support you, and support police workers as well. For the most part, they do an alright job, but we need to help them. Our culture needs to stand-up for women who have lost their voice instead of pointing fingers at them. This is why your thoughts expressed, such as they are, are hurtful more than helpful. I can see the motivation behind it is “why don’t these women just stand up and say enough is enough?” – because they can’t. That’s why we have to help.

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