It started off with a light punch, or a tap on the back of your head. You laughed it off. You thought: “We’re buddies, whatever. Doesn’t matter.” Yet somehow, it was significant enough on some level that you can trace back to it now.
The next time, it was some argument between the two of you. You felt he was a bit harsh, but didn’t think much of it. He squeezed your cheeks tightly as he tried to emphasise his point, only to laugh afterwards and make light of it. You ended up laughing too. You ended up forgetting the “harsh” bit.
Then, it was the two of you in bed. You were role-playing so you thought it was all a part of the game. After a point, you didn’t want to continue, but he went ahead anyway. You silently obliged.
One day, you realised it wasn’t random dates marked on the calendar; it wasn’t light or humorous anymore. It was every now and then.
It was harsh words behind closed doors and raised hands. Hands that, thankfully, stopped halfway.
But sometimes didn’t.
Eventually, your relationship ended. You had thought throughout that it was normal. That the problem was not the relationship – it was you.
Until you heard stories of how similar it was with the next girlfriend. How much worse it was with the one after that. And you began tracing it all back to that very first friendly punch.
Suddenly, you realised the entirety of your relationship was a collage of incidents: of punches, jolts and filthy curse words. Suddenly, you learned how to tell what really “counts” as abuse.
It is often difficult to realise what abuse is while living with it, since it shares blurry boundaries with jokes and other friendly and/or intimate gestures. Moreover, it can be difficult to identify because victims often live in denial about the fact that their partner has this whole other side. In “Rape at Home,” an article on a French Consulate employee in India who allegedly raped his three-year-old daughter, the mother tells the journalist how she ignored the starkest signs of abuse as she continued to live in a “fog of denial.” She said of her husband: “Somehow, he didn’t fit my image of an abusive husband. He used to always say he was so sorry and otherwise he was wonderful.”
Except, that is abuse. They never “seem” abusive, until they are. Until little taps and punches from here and there begin adding up, and it’s everyday and it’s painful, and as you soon see, it’s unbearable. By then, you are so deep in the abuse system that you cannot crawl back out.
Abuse is a tricky issue, and a very sensitive one to discuss in our society. It often starts slowly, blends in with our daily routine, permeates our system, and becomes a silent shadow inside our own home. And it is most difficult to deal with because often we learn to recognise it only after it has grown too big for us to ignore.
We don’t realise that something – a practice, a habit – is being bred and is feeding off our silence. In order to understand and escape abuse, we must learn to tell the difference between abuse and a fun gesture, moreover we must know where the boundary lies. Sometimes, it may be tricky to identify the line, but in that case, place yourself outside the situation and try to see if you would count it as abuse if you saw another couple interacting in this manner.
When I was in school, I used to read articles about violence against women, dowry violence and sexual harassment, wondering what good could come out of these clichéd writings. I always thought the system would continue regardless and the ones who needed to be reached would probably just glance over these writings in their tenacious effort to remain in a state of denial.
But as I write this now, I do have hope, because I believe that for someone to realise they are living in a system of abuse, they need to be constantly reminded of it, it needs to be constantly pointed out to them. I hope this piece might be another reminder, another weight on the reader’s conscious, perhaps the tipping point that will eventually let them break out of their system of abuse. This piece is in hopes that you, sitting there, dreading the next time you have to convince yourself all over again that your partner “didn’t mean it,” will realise, will rise and will come out of the confines of abuse. Come out to a world that is waiting to listen to you.
Published in the Weekend Magazine of Dhaka Tribune on September 20, 2013 http://www.dhakatribune.com/relationships/2013/sep/20/defining-abuse#sthash.d61rNI4c.dpuf