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Why didn’t you tell anyone?

After reading the story last week of the abuse I endured the night I graduated from high school, a friend commented that on that evening I had ‘rescue boats’ sent to me – friends, police officers, Brock’s parents, and my parents. Her comment made sense but also surprised me.

Other than the police, I hadn’t seen the others as people that could help. That sounds strange to write. Of course, my parents and friends would have tried to help me. But I was so ashamed of the place I was in I never knew how to ask for help and instead had always worked to hide it and hoped it would get better. I hoped I could do things differently so that Brock would stop getting angry with me.

After hearing my friend’s response, initially, I was confused about why I would have said anything to my high school friends at our graduation dinner since the ‘abuse’ hadn’t happened yet. But as I look back, with her question in mind, I realize I was already hurting that night. Brock didn’t want me at the parties and celebrations. Rather than say what was going on I worked to hide it.

After I picked up Brock and he punched me in the face repeatedly, I still remember how desperately I wanted to stop and ask the police for help. But Brock was sitting right next to me. Monitoring my every move. How could I veer off my lane to get close to the cops? His hands were inches from me. Hands that had just beaten my face. Over and over, I played how to quickly pull over and jump from the car, and each time I knew Brock would do something before I could get out of the car. I knew there would be consequences for my attempt. Despite how close the cops were, Brock was closer.

Brock’s family was an option. After Brock passed out, his mom or brother told me I should leave him. I heard their words, but I couldn’t comprehend it. As I sat terrified and numb, holding frozen peas on my face, I couldn’t put a thought together about what that would look like. Looking back, I realize I was probably in shock. I’d just endured several, horrible hours. I’d gone from sitting with his parents, feeling lonely and like a loser, to having my face pummeled, then watching Brock's emotions swing back and forth from rage to remorse before finally passing out. It was one of the worst nights of my life and for the next few days, I functioned in a daze.

When I went home the next morning, I could have told my parents, my boss, or my co-workers. Again, I was just numb. I was hurting. Rather than looking ahead to how to end this relationship, I was going through the motions of my days and working to hide what was going on.

In the days after, I was embarrassed and when I picked up my high school yearbook, I wore sunglasses to hide the bruises. I hoped no one noticed what the glasses were hiding. Over countless times, Brock had taught me the abuse was my fault. His reaction to something I had done wrong. I was ashamed and embarrassed rather than indigent and lacked the knowledge and confidence to ask for help.

I’ve also realized that while at some level I knew being treated this way was wrong, I’d never really been taught that it was wrong or more importantly, how to respond. So, the first time Brock pushed me, I made up excuses, I told myself it couldn’t be what I thought it was. I told myself he didn’t mean to do it. As our relationship continued and the abuse grew, I stayed trapped by excuses, denial, declaration of how much he loved me, and hope that it would get better.

I did finally find the courage to leave. But I only told a few people small details of the relationship. I didn't talk with my family about it for twenty years. Studies show only 30% ever talk about being in an abusive relationship. This month, we’ll share another post discussing how to ask for help and why it’s important.

Below is a list of common reasons people don’t ask for help when they’re in an abusive relationship.

Low self-esteem – the abuser has likely been verbally or emotionally abusive, putting down the victim, saying derogatory comments, and/or belittling them.

Ashamed/Embarrassed – this one is hard to understand, it’s not the victim’s fault, but they may feel like something is wrong with them. (Similar to bullies and victims in elementary school, the victim works to hide the abuse out of shame and fear of retaliation or making it worse)

Lack of information – they may have heard of an extreme example of an abusive relationship, such as one that makes the news, but aren’t aware of how verbal, emotional, sexual, or physical abuse usually starts subtly and grows. They need to be aware of the early warning signs and how to respond.

Denial – the relationship isn’t all bad. There may even be many good aspects to it. So, the victim makes up excuses, tells themselves it’s not that bad, or if they could do things better it wouldn’t happen.

Guilt – often the abuser has told the victim the abuse is their fault.

Love – the victim probably has strong feelings for the abuser and doesn’t want others to think poorly of them.

Protecting the abuser – while they want the abuse to end, they may not want anything bad to happen to the abuser (from parents, at school, or with authorities)

Confused – They’re going through a lot on top of other responsibilities such as school and/or work. They may not have time to reflect or process how they’re feeling, what’s right and wrong in the relationship, or what to do about it.

They’re not ready to leave – the victim may want the abuse to stop, but still be with the abuser. It’s natural that if they tell others, those people will encourage them to leave the relationship.

Threats – the abuser may threaten the victim if they say anything to others.

Learn more: The posts about why the victim stays or how to help provide additional information.  

The book, It Doesn’t Start with a Punch: My Journey through an Abusive Teen Dating Relationship, provides more detail on how the abuse started, grew, why I stayed, and how I finally found the courage to walk away.


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