by Carrie Pettit, Community Programs Coordinator, Safe Harbor
“That’s basically the message that is sent.” This last line spoken in this video clip is probably the most important one. Jennifer is talking about how her husband, father of her two young sons, had assaulted her and broken her nose. Her supposed offense was falling asleep after making his breakfast. She goes on to discuss his subsequent arrest for this and other violent attacks against her, the mother of his children. What she finds so funny or ironic is that breaking her nose with his bare hands was considered a misdemeanor, while bashing her over the head with a crystal bowl is a felony. To someone who is just trying to survive a violent, abusive partner the classification of one of those things being “less than” the other seems ludicrous. When you are just trying to survive a war on your identity, your body and your soul; everything feels like an all-out assault.
Yet what a victim takes away from that legal classification is that there are differences in the degree to which your partner can violate you. What they take away is that if you are brave enough to reach out for help and tell someone what is happening behind closed doors, every bruise, assault and threat will be dissected and judged and put into neat little categories for the purpose of deciding accountability for your attacker. The disconnect between the systems we have in place to hold an abuser accountable and the reality of the life and experience of a victim of abuse is enormous. For a victim to step outside of the carefully constructed bubble their abuser has placed them in is frightening. To then ask for help from a system that may have failed to protect them in the past is terrifying. To stand up to their abuser and say, “No more, I am done being harmed by you. I am done being controlled and manipulated and degraded by you” feels like they are facing death.