Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Response to 'The Sad Strange Tale of the Girl with Red Hair'

This is a response I got from a friend, who wishes to remain Anonymous, to my post The Sad Strange Tale of the Girl with Red Hair. You can read part 1 and part 2 by following the links. Since one of the main priorities of this blog is foster discussion I'm posting his response, with permission, to continue the dialogue in public.

'So this is in response to your tale of the read headed girl.
There will always be red headed girls, there will always be men to prey on them, and there is nothing we can do about trying to stop the self-perpetuating cycle. Here's how I know:

Picture many summers ago. It is a July night and I am on a ride-along with a police officer. It's already dark out, but still relatively early. The tones go off in the car for a call. I believe it's paged out as a fight. Neighbors called it in; said they heard the apartment next to them arguing at a great volume, things crashing, and general sounds indicative of no good. And so the officer I'm with responds. We get there, and he points at me and says "You can come in, but wait in the hall until I tell you to come in". Ok.

So in we go. He knocks on the door, and it is pulled open slowly by the woman whom I can only assume lives there (She does, I find out soon enough). The left side of her cheek is swollen and she doesn't look either of us in the eye. The officer announces and identifies himself, and indicates the reason why he is at their doorstep. She motions and says "Come in". Her boyfriend is reclined on a lay-z-boy type chair, watching television. He questions the both of them individually, in separate rooms. The boyfriend says he was watching tv, heard a crash or loud noise, and found her like that. She says she tripped and fell into the corner of their kitchen table and refuses medical aid. (how abjectly stereotypical, right? That's what I thought at the time. "I can't believe I'm seeing this. This doesn't really happen. This is the stuff of West Virginian trailer parks and after school specials. This stereotype is such an extreme; come on, this can't really be happening).

So he completes the interviews with the both of them. He goes back to the television, completely calm and unbothered. She resumes staring at her feet. If no wants to press charges, well, there's nothing that can be done at this point. Before we leave, the officer takes her aside, looks her in the eye, and says "It's never going to end, you know? It's never going to stop". And she exhales, and continues to look at her feet, and just says "...I know".

Clearly, domestic abuse is an inherently complicated issue. Everyone knows the cycle of abuse is incredibly difficult to break out of. And I'm not standing here going "Well little lady, pull yourself up by the bootstraps and make a life for yourself because this is America, land of dreams, don't you know". My point is that you can scream and shout til you're blue in the face, and point out all sorts of obvious behavior, all the signs that it will continue to escalate, make people aware of numerous services available to help them, but if they're not willing to take the first step, not willing to take responsibility for what they're letting happen to them, there's nothing an outside person can do.

It seems to me, from this story at least, that this red headed girl wasn't there yet. Maybe she'll get there one day, maybe she won't. I don't know. But as long as there are people who let themselves get treated this way, there will be people to take advantage of this fact.

And I think this contemporary victim culture we live in today that celebrates problems and psychological issues and being "tortured" and shitty childhoods and having a therapist certainly doesn't help.'

There are a few things in there that I agree with, and a lot of things I very strongly disagree with. I thought about commenting here and now, but I decided not to. I'm going to write my own post in response, but I wanted this to have the chance to stand as it's own piece first, rather than being a springboard to my thoughts. So you can look for that response soon.


Daniel said...

Give me a god damn break. The leap from "she got hurt and it needs to stop" to "its her own fault for not helping herself" is so ridiculous and attenuated, I'm embarrassed that you would post such a thing in the public domain.

But I'm going to leave you out of it, and I'm just going to talk about the girl. Look at it from her own point of view.

15 minutes ago she was taking fists to the face because she's "good for nothing" or "a fucking whore". The episode is so explosive that the neighbors notice, and they fear for her safety. So the police show up. Now she's got a shiner, a policeman and a pissed off boyfriend.

She knows, 100%, who made that cop come: She did. It's her fault. She shattered the privacy of the home by making the fucking cops show up. She'll need to be taught a lesson. So she faces 1 of 2 options:

Do as much as she can to get the cop to leave, quickly, so she can prove to her boyfriend that she's no 'trouble'.


Tell the cop 'he beats me', watch her boyfriend get hauled off to the slammer for a couple of nights, spring on a fairly small bail, pay a fine, and maybe spend 30 days in jail.

Option one gets her a healthy dose of verbal abuse, and maybe a few slaps. Option two gets her a visit to the emergency room with internal bleeding and head trauma.

Battered women aren't the product of "society's victimization problem". Battered women are attuned to their abuser's moods and moves. They know when, and how its coming. And everything they do is a twisted calculation to minimize the physical and emotional punishment they can predict.

But I'm sure you've got any easy response to this, right?

Walk away you say? Head to a women's shelter? Easy for you to say. Go ahead, get up out of your chair, walk out of your house and head to a homeless shelter. Leave your life behind, and put your very survival in the unknown (and inadequate) hands of another. It's easy, nothing's stopping you from do it. I don't want to hear excuses about a job, responsibilities or 'differing situations'. You have as much opportunity as any beaten girl to do it.

But the fact is walking away from everything is hard enough as is- throw in the emotional strain and fear a battered woman suffers and it becomes damn near impossible. For legitimate reasons.

So please, take a step back. The equation isn't nearly as simple as I've presented it, so it's a exponentially more complicated than "before anyone can help you, you have to help yourself". If anything, we need more extrinsic influence to pull battered women out of these situations, not less.

Jason Heat said...

Whether I agree or disagree with something, and however thoroughly, I'll never be embarassed at having posted a response to a post because getting responses whether we agree or not is exactly why I put something up in the first place, not to exist in a vacuum.

With that said, I agree with pretty much everything you said and the idea that there's some sort of 'victim culture' is a joke, especially when tied to the idea of therapy as it is here. If anything, our society is still entrenched in a blame the victim mode that is entirely wrong, and can be seen in how we still treat rape cases (among 800 other examples).

The well made point is that no matter how abjectly frustrating, there's so little we can do to help someone who's not in a position mentally or emotionally to recieve it. It's still our responsibility as decent people to always try, never stop trying, and to understand the circumstances leading up to decisions we may personally not make or see more clearly in a different light.

But I do resent that you'd attack me for putting up the viewpoint of someone else, because without that out there, you wouldn't have an opportunity to say how wrong you think it is or to combat it.

Daniel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel said...

I wasn't attacking you?

I was responding to the original quote in red. I have absolutely no problem with you posting it. Sorry I was unclear about that :(

Jason Heat said...

Well that clears that up - when you said "I'm embarrassed that you would post such a thing in the public domain." I thought you were reffering to my putting it up and was taken aback, cause I was pretty sure you knew me well enough to know my thoughts.

That makes me feel better though - I'll have my response up tom, prob.

Jason Heat said...

Also, I totally thought you were daniel strauss and you're not, so hi! welcome to the blog.

Stephen said...

A wife beater is such an easy target, so I'll just say that wife beaters are horrible people and leave it at that.

As far as putting blame on the victim, while I don't agree with his view, I certainly understand the point that Red Font guy was making. Seeing this scenario play out first hand in real life can no doubt have an impact on a person.

I remember seeing a situation like this on TV on Cops or Law & Order or something, it's not important. What is important is that I had this knee jerk reaction, thinking "what the hell are you thinking? Why aren't you walking out the door if you know this will happen again?"

While I don't particularly appreciate the multi-layered hypothetical situations and friendly quoted paraphrasing moments in Daniel's response, his overall point is well taken. But what's missing in it is the core of the issue.

What truly complicates the situation is that the victim generally has LOVE for their attacker in cases of domestic abuse. Even if the financial situation is fine and dandy, domestic abuse can still exist. If leaving is easy and possible, the question for the victim is about leaving a person she promised to be with forever, and has a history with, and has love for.

As for repeat victims, their choice seems to be a dramatically emotional one, beyond logical reasoning, but beyond any blame I or anyone should give.

Adam said...

I think, Stephen, that's the best point I've read.

Jason Heat said...

I agree.