Updated: Feb 22, 2021
My impetus to begin writing here (see bio) was that way too late in life I became aware of what abuse actually looked like, felt like, acted like, and how it affected me. I have spent a lot of years "wasted" in abusive relationships, and had I known how to identify abusive behavior at a young age, perhaps I could have avoided that. "Wasted" in quotes because nothing has to be wasted if we learn and grow and help others/ourselves with the knowledge and experience.
So, when someone read one of my posts and asked "well, are you going to talk about what you can do once you realize you are being abused?" I began to think about that. One thing that I have always noticed is that there are domestic violence hotlines posted in all manner of places, there is great public awareness, I think, that there are resources to help people. People just don't think those resources or those hotlines apply to THEM because they don't recognize abusive behavior. So, that was one reason why it hadn't occurred to me to discuss this.
Another reason is that I recognize I am a person with privilege. I'm a white female boomer. The two jobs I worked at were both union jobs and I am receiving a lifetime pension from both. Prior to the 2008 disaster I bought and sold two houses with 100% profit. I am financially independent and while not rich per se, I do not have lack. I have had the means to hire attorneys to resist three abusers in my past, and right now it looks like I'll be using another with the current abuser. This sounds like a lot of abusers, but two are my brothers and one is my landlord.
I provide this preface to say that I have never had to escape a violent environment, I have never been in a situation where I could not afford to move out, to hire help like an attorney, to sit at the table so to speak. I am in a word, quite full of myself. I think I am the shit and everyone should just move out of my way, nasty little abusers. I am privileged, hear me roar.
With the current abuser, my landlord, who decided to exercise the 30 day eviction clause in our contract because I told him that in the future, don't go into my bedroom when I'm not home without permission, I did all my research. I consulted my attorney, she read our contract, she told me my options, she told me that he could not shut off the power, could not throw my stuff in the street, THERE WERE LAWS. I could file a suit in court, which wouldn't be heard for months, during which time I could not be removed, pending the judge's ruling. I had the upper hand. Last night he came over and demanded the rent and payment of the electric bill. That was not how to get me to pay. I had conditions under which I would pay those but he didn't want to hear them. He just wanted to tell me to pay and pay now. Or else. The else turned into turn off electricity, turn off water, throw my stuff into the street, KILL MY CATS, he didn't care about the police or the laws or the courts, NOTHING. PAY NOW AND GET OUT NOW. See Intimidation on the Wheel of Power and Control.
I'm not going to say that my privilege disappeared at that point. Privilege doesn't do that. I still had access to professional guidance and a lack of fear of calling the police. I recognize that calling the police is basically impossible for the BIPOC community, so I have a huge advantage of privilege in that arena. The only tiny little thing I realized was that some people, like my landlord, don't obey the direction of money and attorneys and the law and the courts and the police, and then I'm vulnerable, or more vulnerable than I was. He could choose to commit a crime against me. Another part of privilege...I don't often even consider that a possibility.
So I called the police. Landlord was gone by then, so I was given instruction to go make a report in the office the following day. I did. Police told me that in this country, which is not the USA, I can change the locks on the door of the house to which he had the keys. I did that. Police are going to talk to him and if he shows up again I will call them and they will come and I will not be afraid that they will accidentally shoot me instead of the abuser, or decide they have probable cause to search the house. The police did a reasonable job but they (he) still assured me that all this talk from the landlord was just bluff. Which they can't know. I tend to want to take seriously a threat to kill my animals. So, be aware that the police can gaslight you while they seem to be helping you. This officer also offered me the option of having the police go talk to the landlord without me filing a report. Nnnnnoooo. Filing a report, thankyouverymuch. You don't have to let down your guard when your intuition tells you to protect yourself. You don't have to tell yourself that changing the locks is a little EXTREME, dontcha think??? No, it's not. When I leave my house I tend to be gone for hours and hours and worrying about him entering my house and killing my cats.... no. Changing the lock was not extreme for my peace of mind and the safety of my kids. Beso is helping me write and he says that's right mom, thanks, although he is still angry about not being able to go outside.
I guess the point I'm taking so long to get to is this.... our responses to the revelation that we are being abused are incredibly personal. People say, "why didn't she just leave him??" without realizing that he said he'd kill the kids, or the pets, she has no money, even if they are rich, because he withholds it from her, she's terrified he'll track her down and kill her, she's not a citizen, she doesn't speak the language, she is full of shame, she knows it's all her fault, god is so disappointed, and a million others.
Abusers can be very charismatic people. My ex-husband was so much so that both my brothers believed that I was the one at fault and whatever support I may have had from them was not there when I left him. The landlord is visiting every person in this area that he knows I have had any kind of relationship with and spreading shit. People have had their entire support system (like their church) choose to abandon them in the face of a revelation of abuse.
Your level of response to the knowledge of abuse will definitely take into consideration many of these factors. Is it workplace? How good is your HR dept? Can you handle getting fired for some trumped up reason if you make a complaint? Is it an intimate relationship? The dynamics in those are profoundly diverse. Is it family? What sort of abuse is it? Physical? Emotional? Sexual? How old are you? Do you have kids? Do you have custody? Can you leave? Do you have money? Can you call the police? Will a shelter take you? (many don't take men) Do you have a support system you can trust in THIS specific scenario? YES call the hotlines. YES get all the free information you can find about resources in your area. If you need to, do the research at the library so your search history won't be on your computer at home, or wipe it clean. Talk to people who have knowledge and experience that can help you make decisions about what sort of actions would be most helpful. Look for free legal clinics, or sliding scale if you need legal help. Hotlines will have these sorts of resources available for you to contact.
And listen. Sometimes you won't do anything. Maybe not right now. And that's okay. You know your situation better than anyone. You know if something feels safe to do or not. Gather information, though, please. After I got the threat of eviction from the landlord, I gathered information. I found out that I had rights, that there were laws to protect me and give me time. I found out that he couldn't shut off the electricity without breaking the law. I found out that I had to receive an official notification of eviction before the 30 day notice began, so I avoided opening the door when the postal service came with a letter needing signature. They left a notice and I have 30 days to pick it up. When I pick it up on the 30th day and receive my Official Notification, my 30 day eviction notice will begin.
Every piece of information I gathered gave me more power. Then I was ready to tell him I wasn't going to pay the rent unless he complied with certain requirements. He 100% refused to hear anything from me. The fact that he was willing to tell me that he would break the law to get me to pay the rent and get out only moved me into the next stage, it did not negate any of the power I had received from the previous knowledge.
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