by Samantha Tucker, Grants Manager, Safe Harbor
When I was 12, I was tired of being a tomboy and I wanted to be a cheerleader… to give bows and skirts a chance. Tryouts were a several-day process of learning one chant and one cheer (those are apparently two very different things), then performing them in front of a judging panel. Simple enough.
I started out overconfident – after all, I was a gymnast and I could tumble across the floor like a rock skipping across water. What more could it take? But as the time drew closer my confidence lessened. I suddenly felt less cute than the other girls, like I was wearing a costume. I felt out of place. I felt ill prepared. My nerves hurt my stomach and I thought I might cry.
I walked into the gym and the panic intensified. I froze. There I stood, ponytailed girls chanting all around me, my feet stuck to the ground and my lips pressed closed. It was awful. How had I gone from an easygoing athletic girl to someone I’d never known myself to be?
Jennifer describes being a victim as being in many little pieces without knowledge of how to put the pieces back together. What a powerful way to depict the experience. Having worked at Safe Harbor for eight years, I’ve never heard it phrased this way but it very much resonates with me. As I listened to her, I recalled that feeling from back when I was 12 years old – I’d known what I was capable of and what I needed to do. But those feelings of inadequacy, of fear, of insecurity, and of panic were so much stronger. They were completely debilitating.
My analogy is oversimplifying the complexity of victimization and the intense control a perpetrator holds over his victim. However, for many years at Safe Harbor I’ve heard people say of the victim, “Why doesn’t she just…”, or “I would never…”. It is easy to assume our behaviors and our choices when they are hypothetical, third-person, and based on clear-minded thoughts. But add the barriers a woman faces when she realizes she needs help in order to escape the grips of her abuser…someone who has presented himself as completely capable of killing her or even her children. A perpetrator is remarkably skilled at controlling the victim, isolating her from resources including friends, family, money, transportation, means of communication, etc. He beats her down until she’s not the person she once was. He’s told her time and again that she is stupid, she is worthless, she is ugly, she is a bad mother. She’s made to believe that if she leaves, he’ll take the kids. He’ll kill himself. He’ll kill her.
Her life is in his hands and his behavior hinges on the decisions she’s making. I can completely relate to those feelings of fear, of insecurity, and of panic…and feeling utterly paralyzed by them. Can you remember a time that you felt totally detached from the person you know that you are? Can you imagine someone trying to make you feel that way?
Steve Jobs said, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” I love what I do because I believe in the mission of Safe Harbor. Safe Harbor is here, as Jennifer says so beautifully, to help put all those little pieces back together again. How fortunate we are to watch many victims rediscover themselves, heal from the pain and learn to live life again.