Content warning: abuse
When it comes to abuse allegations, others’ experiences with an abuser are often touted as an exonerating character witness, a testimony affirming, “They were nice to me, so that couldn’t have happened.” And maybe the people who offer this (unsolicited) opinion intend simply to stand up for a friend they believe is being wrongfully accused. Maybe they hope to do justice by speaking what their experience suggests to be true. But unfortunately, when you imply that your experience excludes the possibility of abuse, you’re really just invalidating the victim and contributing to a perpetual cycle of gaslighting. I know because that’s what happened to me.
So, for the friends who abandoned me and chose to side with my abuser because “she was always nothing but lovely to you,” and to my abuser’s fan club who egged her on as she vilified me to anyone who would listen– congratulations. The truth is, I’m happy for you. As much as I wish you’d seen the reality of who she is, I guess you’re lucky that you spent so much time in the presence of a snake who chose not to bite you. But your lack of injuries doesn’t preclude the existence of mine and you don’t get to use your experience as a free pass to invalidate my trauma.
And for other survivors who were gaslighted every day, isolated from their support networks, and had every shred of their self-worth destroyed on a daily basis– I believe you. I will believe you when years of gaslighting has destroyed your ability to believe what you’ve literally seen with your own eyes. I will believe you when your abuser has convinced everyone around them that they are the victim or that you abused them. Because I know how hard it is to come forward when your abuser was lovely to everyone in public, when there is no evidence other than the trauma you carry with you every day. Because no matter what their public persona was, your abuser is not a lovely person and you did not make up what happened to you anymore than you deserved to be treated that way. If anything, the fact that they controlled their behavior in public is a reminder that they did abuse you on purpose and they were fully capable of making different choices.
This is the reality that should be reflected in the way we talk about abuse and in our attitudes toward survivors’ stories. Because while it’s true that my trauma doesn’t cancel out your positive experience with my abuser, it’s important to remember that the story doesn’t have to be one or the other. In fact, if you’ve ever watched literally any crime show, you know that it’s fully possible for your “perfectly normal” buddy to be the same person who made my life a daily hell.
But to insist that my abuser was always nice to you– and imply this is somehow meaningful in any way– is to paint her as a “good person who snapped” or someone who was legitimately provoked. The implication thus becomes, “She was always nice to me, so what did you do to provoke her?” And whether you mean to say that or not, the message survivors receive is that we should have stayed silent or that our suffering pales in comparison to the besmirching of our abusers’ good names. And that is quite simply never the case.