I was in Melbourne over the long weekend. It’s interesting that media coverage seems to run in themes, and, coincidentally, there was a great deal in Victorian newspapers over the weekend about domestic violence. Sympathetic, most of it; some of it even went as far as to be empathetic. And, like a person fingering a bruise, or prodding a scab to discern the healing beneath, I read every word.
It triggered feelings, of course it did. But it also made me think. Because the statistics that were mentioned – one in four women will be the victim of a physical or sexual assault perpetrated by a man – were the same statistic that I raised at a dinner party, long ago. The same statistic that was shot down by a disbelieving dinner guest: it was made up by someone pushing a feminist agenda; it was a mis-print or a mathematical aberration. Not something that could happen in his world, to people like him. To people he knows, both perpetrators and victims. Not something that could – and should – touch him in his genuinely well-meaning and respectful innocence.
I remembered, reading these articles, the challenge around the table: let’s prove it. Raise your hand if you’ve been the victim of domestic violence. And the shock, painful and abrupt, of experience’s penetration of innocence.
I also remember something else: pride.
Shame goes hand in hand with victimhood: shame at being unable to protect yourself. Shame at being unworthy of safety, deserving of the pain that’s inflicted. Shame at the fear you still fear, the vast chasm between a victim of violence and the real people who can’t possibly understand what it’s like, who are somehow unsullied by such filth. Not that night, though. That night, I stuck my hand high into the air, in the solidarity of friendship, of mutual survivorhood, two strong, brave women either side of me also with their hands raised. But I think that even if my hand had been the only one to lift to tell my story, I still wouldn’t have been ashamed. Because that night, there in my friend’s kitchen, I broke the stereotype. I told my story: in that action, I shared just a small part of my narrative without even needing to open my mouth. In that action, I was counted. In acknowledging myself as a statistic, I became so much more than that.
Also, I’m no longer a victim of domestic violence. I’m a survivor. And you’d better believe I’m proud of that too.