As his fingers closed around my throat, my brain flipped a switch that went primal. My only instincts were to keep breathing and to kick. Turns out, heels come in handy.
years ago, I experienced an all too familiar scenario in an intimate
relationship. My partner exerted his physical strength in an altercation
witnessed by five of our friends. A gaping hole was left in my
apartment wall and barely-visible bruises remained on my neck. The
sharpest memories I have of that night were of unadulterated heartbreak,
confusion and fear.
Scenes like the one I lived through play out all
too frequently for women everywhere, including this campus. While
dating violence, sexual assault and rape are severely underreported
crimes, at least 32 percent of college women have experienced dating
violence at the hands of a former boyfriend. Violence against women is
often socially sanctioned behavior reinforced by a "rape culture"-a term
that refers to social norms that encourage rape behavior. But this rape
culture is not limited to rape. Rather, it is part of a larger cultural
discourse that envelops many other forms of violence against women,
including dating violence.
were five other people in my apartment that night. Only one of them
actively intervened on my behalf. I am forever grateful and indebted to
her for the choice she made.
Bystander intervention, which
is what my friend engaged in when she inserted herself in the drama
unfolding before her, does not occur often enough. In taking action, she
contradicted what usually happens in situations like these, labeled the
"bystander effect." The bystander effect was in full force in 1964,
when Kitty Genovese was publicly assaulted within earshot and view of
allegedly 38 people. While each of those 38 bystanders assumed that
someone was calling the police, her attacker had time to flee the scene,
returning later to rape and murder her. This is the downfall of
collective behavior. People are significantly more hesitant to act
during a nearby assault when the former are not alone, while a lone
bystander is more likely to come to a victim's aid.
Many of us
have misconceptions about what it means to successfully intervene in a
dangerous situation. Contrary to popular belief, which assumes that
intervention guarantees danger to the good samaritan, there are other
means by which we can combat rape culture. These include giving a silent
stare when someone voices sexist or violent rhetoric, using an
appropriate amount of humor to lighten tension and distracting a
perpetrator by asking a mundane question like "Do you know what time it
is?" to divert attention. By adding these methods to our arsenal, each
of us can be prepared to actively intervene in a moment of gross
"How could you ever
stay with him?" "When will you stand up for yourself and stop letting
him run the show?" "How could you let him do that to you?"
can't count how many times my family and friends asked these questions.
The relationship that I had with my ex-boyfriend lasted nearly six
years. Four years after the brief but remarkable display of physical
abuse occurred, our involvement finally came to a dramatic yet
violence-free ending. Nearly a full year later, I am still amazed not
only at how long our attachment lagged on, but also at how slowly I came
to realize the pattern of power so outwardly apparent to others
observing our relationship. Ultimately, power and control are the
necessary components to violence. There is little room for respect and
trust; traits that characterize healthy relationships. Although my
boyfriend never violated my body again and apologized deeply for his
actions, there was little respect and virtually no trust left between
It can be easier to pass judgment by grandly proclaiming that
you would never allow someone to get away with treating you "like that"
than it is to patiently listen, sans judgment, to a survivor's story.
Relationships are always complicated, but the key to most abusive
relationships is that these bonds begin much the same as non-violent
There is love and potent physical chemistry first, but then
the ingredients for a darker, violent dynamic slowly come together.
This often emerges as a subtle pattern of behaviors that may or may not
crescendo to violent outbursts. This contradicts a popular myth that
women enter into relationships that are immediately dangerous, or that a
woman knew he was a "bad" guy before she committed to him. This
misconception leads many to a victim blaming mentality, wherein
responsibility is shifted from the abuser to his victim. There is never
an excuse for abuse. One never "loses control", rather an individual
chooses to assert power over another human being.