Non-survivor privilege and silence

Fri 13 January 2017

While it shouldn’t be a privilege to escape abuse in this life, there are trappings of privilege for those who have been so lucky. I know it’s an odd thing to say, and it’s a realization I’ve been slowly moving toward since childhood, but it works like this:

  • Once you survive abuse or violation, you have a knowledge of the human capacity for nastiness that others around you don’t share.
  • It is your duty to keep them blissfully ignorant at the expense of your own soul.
  • When they chatter on about how disgraceful it is for a child not to be on speaking terms with his family, you are a rude asshole if you remind them that the abuse rate in the US and most countries is staggering, so maybe the child had good reason.
  • When you’re the child they’re complaining about, no one will take your side if you try to explain to them six ways from Sunday why it’s much, much better for everyone that you have no contact with your parent/family/ex-husband, or eventually give up and tell the person to mind its own business.
  • If you try to tell your friends that their latest crush shows signs of being violent or abusive, they’ll hate you. If you turn out to be right, they’ll hate you more.

And so on, and so forth. Honestly, if I go through every example, I’ll get too depressed to finish the article. Most of them come from personal experience.

And this - more than anything - is why I hate human beings. Because out of those of you who’ve had the good fortune not to be abused or violated in your lifetime, maybe 1 in 1,000 can be bothered to muster sympathy for those who have. Oh, if you see an abused child on Oprah you cry your heart out, sure. But I’m talking about putting the feelings of a survivor ahead of your own when they’re right there in your face.

When they’re someone you know; someone very much like you. When you get that crumpled feeling in the gut that it’s only random chance it was them and not you, and your first instinct is to explain away why it happened to them (and could therefore never happen to you). Or deny that it happened at all. Or have the awkward sympathetic moment you find yourself trapped in, but immediately pull back to superficiality with this person you once called friend.

When you make some ignorant comment about abuse and someone corrects you with a story from her own experience and your first instinct is to prove her wrong, maybe the “greenest” thing you could do for the environment is become part of it already. Yeah, I’m so gosh darn mean, but goddamnit, this needs to be said.

Those of us who’ve experienced abuse, rape and other violations don’t keep it quiet because we’re ashamed. Or because it’s intensely personal. The main reason we keep it quiet is because we know how you’ll treat us if we tell you. We know you have a culturally-granted privilege to remain ignorant. To not know, and therefore not to be responsible. Not to bother. Not to think about it.

And certainly not to do anything that might help stop or at least curtail it somewhat in the future.

But you are responsible. If you’re not aware that statistically a certain percentage of the people you know must have experienced physical, emotional or sexual abuse at some point in their lives, you are helping the perpetrators of those crimes keep working in the shadows. Because as long as you imagine the problem doesn’t really touch anyone you know, the problem stays hidden.

I saw on a forum the other day some people discrediting a study about rape statistics. “If this study is true,” one poster said, “then about a fourth of the women I know must have been raped at some point, and that’s just not true.” How can anyone think that because a fourth of the women he knows haven’t told him, “Oh, by the way, I’ve been raped before” they must not have been? The answer is: they can’t. They’re beating the knowledge to the punch. They’re shouting in every way they can, “You will not drag me kicking and screaming to the realization that life isn’t fair and I’m one lucky shit not to have suffered worse than I have!”

He might as well help round up victims for abusers. He’s perpetuating the unfairness by perpetuating the silence.

As long as you’re more concerned about your right to be in la-la land denial than someone else’s right not to go through hell, you are fighting on the abuser’s side.

The fact that this is a privilege you are granted through the culture which dictates that abuse victims should lie rather than tell Nice People an uncomfortable truth says something odious about the culture. We are a culture of abuse. We believe strongly in the rights of the best-funded 5% to rule over the less-funded and harder-working 95%. We convince ourselves it’s only natural if certain people, defined by such superficialities as gender and skin color rather than important traits like capability or good judgment, should rule. We convince ourselves that cleaning lady who works two jobs just to make ends meet couldn’t possibly have had the cure for cancer locked in her brain behind a lack of education, so no big loss of potential there!

It’s all part of the same thing. As soon as you decide it’s okay for some people to carry double and triple burdens so that others may carry nothing at all, you have decided abuse is pretty neat and you’re all for it. And if that’s the case, all I’m asking is that you shuck off your privilege and take responsibility for the decision you’ve made and the side you’ve taken.

Ignorance is not “nice.” It’s not “good people.” It’s not “I was just trying to have a nice dinner party, why’d she go and bring up a thing like that when all we were doing was saying how gosh awful wonderful the person who abused her is and how much we’d all like to see him elected God.” Ignorance is the hammer in the hand of oppression.

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