How can we help prevent instances of abuse in relationships? Often times the answer to this question can be complex, but other situations can reveal opportunities for the prevention of abuse that involve nothing more than open discussion and mutual care in our communities. My summer was one of these instances.
This I summer I found myself on the cusp of entering into a romantic relationship. A boy from school had shown an interest in me and we had hung out in a way that suggested the relationship was going to progress into more than a platonic friendship. He seemed charming and we got on well, why not! I thought. I looked forward to one of my favourite parts of getting into a new relationship: a gossip and a giggle with my friends. But when it came to the opportunity for me to divulge what was going on to a friend, the laughs were few and the expected silliness was replaced by a tone of concern. ‘I think he is abusive’, my friend confessed. I was shocked and surprised, unwilling to believe it but also aware of how rare it is that women accuse men of abuse when it has not occurred. I decided to investigate, I asked other friends and a few anecdotes backed up my friends concern. I decided to ask him, and he seemed upset and hurt at the accusation, assured me that it wasn’t true. But ultimately I decided I couldn’t know for certain.
My last step was to ask Tender for advice, having been a member of their Youth Board for a year and working with them over the summer I wanted to seek advice from people that work in the field. Tenders highlighted the rarity of abusive behavior being named, and how it was likely that those who had confirmed the rumor were telling the truth. Ultimately Tender suggested I walk away, but left the decision open to me.
I took my friends’ and Tender’s advice and called the relationship off. On reflection, its sobering to consider that I may have escaped years of being trapped in an unhealthy relationship. I feel lucky that my circumstances meant that I was warned, and that I had a support network with whom I could openly discuss the situation: my friends and the professionals at Tender. For me this has highlighted the power of community and open discussion. Without the community around school that knew about the abuse and were happy to discuss it, I wouldn’t have heard the rumours. Without the social understanding that abusive behavior is wrong and people should be warned of it, there might have been another instance of abuse for another woman. Without professional advice I might have decided to take the risk, highlighting the importance of discussing difficult issues with those around you.
Ultimately what I have taken from this situation is that sometimes it’s incredibly difficult to prevent abuse, but sometimes it can be as simple as having a conversation. The more we talk about abuse and the more knowledge people have of it, the easier it will be to prevent it ever happening.