In the article “Do You Really Know Thy Neighbor?” I made a reference in the story about doing a future article regarding the following:
“When loved ones and/or professionals presume to ‘know’ the abuser better then the victim-survivor, not only are they stepping into dangerous territory (the topic of a future article) but it’s extremely offensive, invalidating and belittling to the victim-survivor.”
There’s nothing wrong with talking to an abuser UNLESS it has anything to do with the victim-survivor and/or her children. This is where “the road to hell” that’s “paved with good intentions” arises if the person engaging the abuser is ignorant about the dynamics of abuse. To be very specific here, I’m talking about conversation with an abuser where the topic is about the victim-survivor, the (past) relationship between the victim and abuser, the children shared between the former couple and/or anything having to do with the victim-survivor.
In “normal”/non-abusive divorces or separations, it’s not uncommon for family members and friends to ask about the circumstances of the divorce but it’s often done in a tone of “I know this may be none of my business” and if the person declines from sharing, no one pushes, prods, insists or takes it upon themselves to “play marriage counselor” with the estranged spouse. For example, if a spouse identifies infidelity as the reason for the disintegration of the marriage, friends and family members may express shock and surprise but the spouse disclosing this information does not have his/her credibility called into question nor is a detailed explanation expected. The separation is considered a personal and private matter where each spouse is given the respect, support and space they might need – not so in splits where violence and abuse have been alleged.
Curiously, when a victim raises abuse as the reason for the disintegration of the marriage the opposite occurs: often times friends and family members not only express shock and surprise but in too many instances, it’s expressed in a way that indicates disbelief – and a disbelief that demands an explanation from the victim. The more or better the friend or family member knows the abuser, the higher the skepticism and doubt that faces the victim. The reactions the victims face run the gamut from anger, to laughter, to direct challenge, to a flat out dismissive “I don’t believe you”. (BTW, does any of this sound like the warm, sensitive, accepting reception victims are supposed to receive when disclosing abuse?)
Contrary to non-abusive situations, there are LOTS of people who will push, prod, insist upon and even demand specifics of the abuse from the victim in an entitled manner – particularly if professionals are involved in the case – but worse is when any of these people decide to “play private investigator” to “cross check the facts” with the abuser or “play marriage counselor” and interact with the abuser on such a level. This is the dangerous territory I was referring to.
Best of intentions aside, WHO would presume to act/intervene with an abuser in such an invasive manner? Anyone (personally or professionally) who:
- Doesn’t buy into the fact that the abuser actually is one
- Thinks the victim-survivor had/has some fault or responsibility for the abuse
- Minimizes or disregards the potential threat the abuser poses
- Has an established and ongoing relationship with the abuser
- Believes they know the abuser better, longer, more intimately
- Thinks they can manage a calm, civil and productive discussion with the abuser because they’ve done so in the past
- Believes that they know how to “take the higher road” where the victim “cannot”; that they’re more mature, skilled or capable of holding a conversation with the abuser where the victim-survivor clearly “isn’t able” to
- Wants to show the victim-survivor up by doing/achieving what they can’t
The answers to as WHY someone would personally take it upon him/herself to engage an abuser as a pseudo-authority are the very same reasons listed above.
Talking to an abuser whose recently been left can actually be a serious safety issue for the victim because he’ll be DESPERATE to know her location or any other information that can be provided about her and/or the kids, especially if she’s in hiding.
After listening to a victim’s account, those anticipating an angry, controlling monster are often pleasantly surprised by “what a nice guy” he really is after talking to him about “what’s really going on”. If an abuser is intent on learning information about his victim, he will come across as charming, sympathetic and endearing, presenting himself as a picture of a broken man – a father who loves his children with all his heart, who only wants to be a part of their lives, whose sorrier beyond what words can convey. He’ll bare his innermost thoughts to gain trust with tears or sobs to seal the deal and if you don’t know any better, you’ve just become inducted as “the only one who understands”. The closer you are to the victim, the more engagement value you have to him and the more you engage him, the more chances there will be to “slip-up” in divulging information – in offering reassurance, trying to allay a fear he might have, inadvertently, in correcting a fact, debating a point with him, etc.
Sometimes, friends and family don’t even need to make the effort to get in-touch with the abuser because he’ll initiate contact. It’s NOT uncommon for an abuser to begin stalking or tracking his victim’s friends and/or her family members because he wants to be in her inner circle to learn what he can, to gain sympathy from HER support system (that will not only serve to debunk her claims of abuse in legal proceedings but will hurt her enormously when she feels “betrayed by her own”) and to poison the victim’s relationships with her own family and friends (which will also assist him in legal proceedings because think about it: how cool is it for him to show up at court with the victim’s sister who will say on-record that she’s NEVER known him to be violent, she’s NEVER heard her sister say anything about abuse AND she thinks he’s a good father? The added bonuses to this being that he’s successfully put the victim at odds with her own and has hurt her by turning her own against her/for him).
The worst-case scenario in talking story with an abuser about the victim is lethality but there are other situations that may compromise the ongoing safety and wellbeing of survivors and their children when someone thinks they know more or better about the abuser then the victim-survivor.
Probably one of the most harmful situations for a survivor is when an abuser’s new wife (or girlfriend) decides that she’s the authority “on her man” and chooses to be pro-active about her position. Under the impression that the survivor is jealous/envious of her, a misperception planted by the abuser, what the new wife doesn’t know is that the survivor is having mixed feelings – NOT of jealousy, resentment or envy – but between “Thank GOD he found someone else; now may-be he’ll leave me alone!” and “Should I warn her about what she’s in for?”
The real harm ISN’T about rivalry or territory but is about the new wife who, completely believing the abuser at his word, goes on-record in court proceedings to aid her husband in denouncing his ex wife’s abuse history by using her (so far) non-abusive relationship as proof of her husband’s innocence.
When the survivor’s abuse history with her ex is challenged in court, aided by the new wife’s testimony, detrimental custody and visitation decisions may occur. Not all abusers will go on to become serial batterers, so new wives who’ve assisted their husbands in this manner may never realize the harm they’ve brought about. For those new wives who become “punching bag #2” after formally declaring their husband’s non-abusiveness, not only are they saddled with guilt for what they’ve done but if they choose to flee their own situation, they have legal documented evidence where they’ve denied the abuse that they’re claiming now exists (and there goes her credibility with the only “credibility” remaining being that of the abusers: “I dunno – I hooked up with two crazy chicks – what can I say?”)
To avoid being tricked or trapped by an abuser, stay safe by staying out of it.