Yesterday, I recorded an interview with Lucia Matuonto, author and host of The Relatable Voice podcast. (I will post the podcast when it airs.) Since the teenaged main character in FINGERPRINTS is in an abusive relationship, we talked about symptoms of dating violence and the challenges of leaving an abusive relationship. Then this morning, a Facebook memory appeared in my feed. One year ago, I wrote: "As those of you who’ve read my YA novel FINGERPRINTS know, when I was a teenager, I had an abusive boyfriend. Whenever he felt like my light was brighter or shinier than his, he’d attack. He’d yell that I wasn’t a good girlfriend or that I’d made him look stupid. He’d make sure I knew that whatever was happening to him was my fault.
He’d tell me how dumb I was. He’d make up lies. He’d say that people were talking about me and nobody liked me and then he would go on and on about how lucky I was to go out with him because he was wonderful. The best boyfriend I would ever have in my life. That no other boyfriend would ever do what he had done for me.
And with every shout, I’d grow weary. I’d feel myself getting smaller and smaller and more confused. He’d have my head spinning so fast that I wouldn’t even be able to speak. I’d keep my words in my head, praying that it would just end soon.
That’s what abusers do. They attack. They aim to confuse. They aim to silence.
Abusers are strategic. They isolate their prey, strip away the prey’s independence, overstate their power, create a sense a hopelessness, and generate a grave fear that you’ll never survive without them.
None of that is real." At the time, that Facebook post was meant to reveal the bluster and gaslighting of the 45th President of the US. As I read it this morning, fresh from my conversation with Lucia, I realize it's missing the most important part: what to do. Abusers strip the victim of all their power. The abuser controls everything. They monitor the victim's whereabouts: "You should have been home 10 minutes ago. Where were you?" "Who were you with?" The abuser monitors the victim's actions: "I saw you looking at the guy!" "You were flirting with him!" The abuser controls the living space: "Why are there dishes in the sink?" "Why did you put that there?" The abuser controls the money: "I didn't say you could by that." "How did you pay for that?" The abuser controls who the victim spends time with: "Your friend is a whore. You're not allowed to hang out with her." "Your sister is a busy body. I don't want her coming here." The victim is tired, broke, friendless, and confused. All the victim wants is to get back to the way it was in the beginning. Abusers are charming, loving, and wonderful in the beginning. Over time, they systematically break down their victims. It's a process meant to dazzle, drain, and ultimately destroy the victim. I was lucky. When I was in an abusive relationship, I was a teenager. I had parents who ultimately (after I finally confided in them and told them what was happening) helped me. If I had been an adult, in addition to all the violence and trauma, an abuser could have taken all my money, property, destroyed my credit, or killed me. The next time you hear of an abusive relationship and someone says, "It's her fault. Why doesn't she just leave?" explain that when someone has been stripped of their family, friends, money, self-worth, confidence, and power, there's nowhere to go. If you suspect someone is in an abusive relationship, check on them. Say, "How are you doing? How are things going? How can I support you?" Then keep asking. Keep checking. Don't worry that you're being intrusive. Don't assume it's none of your business.
You could save a life.