It is common to assume that victims of domestic violence live in trailer parks with men who drink too much beer and vote for the Tea Party. Though we are told, often, that domestic violence is something that happens to “everyone,” the day-to-day facts often seem to undercut such claims. I worked as a volunteer in a shelter for two years–and I must say that I never saw anybody middle class or educated come through those doors.
So domestic violence becomes, in spite of the data that strongly suggest otherwise, another problem where “we” help “others.” The same way we loan money through Kiva, let’s say, or give money to CARE.
The TedX speech by Leslie Morgan Steiner, just posted, is important because it makes real the claim that domestic violence also happens to people “like us.” She graduated from Harvard, has an MBA from Wharton, and has worked for several very big and respected companies. Yet she was held hostage for years by a guy who seemed at first completely harmless–her “soulmate,” she says–and whom she really believed loved her, until she realized he was going to kill her if she didn’t leave him.
I have often mentally speculated whether the reason we never hear stories like this one is that privileged women have someplace else to go besides shelters–or maybe because their families never let their narratives end up on the front page. Listening to Steiner, I can see that this could be it: it is uncomfortable to hear a woman who is otherwise so much like me (like my friends, like my family, like my students) tell a story that, yes, could have happened to any of us.
Steiner carefully sets up the circumstances of her abuse in a way that makes it completely plausible that any of us could have been similarly “sucked in.” In fact, I am guessing that many women I know have been on the very edge of such a vortex many times. I myself can remember going out with men who seemed capable of such behavior–fortunately, none of those dates ever “went anywhere.” But they could have. And, frankly, I have been in one long term relationship with someone who seduced me with the kind of total attention and admiration Steiner describes–and then became a monster. He never actually hit me, but was outrageously abusive, verbally and psychologically. So, yeah, it could have been me. And I, like Steiner, am a strong woman.
So I’m recommending this video to everybody. Please watch the whole thing. She asks us to open up discussion amongst ourselves, our friends and families. One way to do that is to share this very impressive video.