Living in Atlanta has been quite interesting in the past weeks as one of the most popular tele evangelists in our fair state was accused of touching little boys. Catholics, breathe a sigh of relief. The heat is off of us! The boys who are now young men, are suing the famously buff Bishop Eddie Long for sexual misconduct. Pictures of him wearing extremely tight clothing taken with his cell phone which were supposedly sent to the young boys have been circulating the internet and are very damning to the Bishop’s image. As the boys are suing for damages: money, the inevitable questions on people’s minds are: why sue for money and why did they not tell earlier. One of the boys who was tracked down in Colorado by Fox 5 Atlanta, said he did not want to lose the only father figure he had ever known. When a person has longed for something so deeply and for so long, sometimes they are able to rationalize making a personal sacrifice for that need. In this case, the boys received support for themselves and their families, cash, cars, trips and even houses. It is not a trade of sex for material possessions but rather, giving your father what he wants so that he likes you and sticks around. I don’t think that anyone who has never grown up without wanting to have a father figure badly enough can adequately understand that mindset. I believe that the inability to empathize is what causes judgement. In our society, I find that victims of abuse are judged a lot but maybe we need to take the time to understand the process it takes for one to become a victim and then trade our judgement for support.
I almost ended up in an abusive relationship with the potential of going to some very dark places had it not been for a very persistent and dear friend. I met J walking to class one morning and after a little conversation, found out we both lived in the same building. We made plans to hang out sometime and it was not long before we were always in each other’s rooms. It got to a point where I would never lock my door, so that J did not need to knock and wait to come in. Everything was great until, whispers then became full-blown remarks about my weight. Comments like: “You know you could stand to lose some weight. You should work out more. Are you really going to eat that?” Gradually, I found myself being very careful about what I ate , going as far as eating a half a pack of Ramen noodles for lunch and the other half for dinner. I would wake up at 5am, to go running before my 7 am classes. As the pounds started melting away and I received positive reinforcement by way of compliments, J would remark that he was the catalyst for the weight loss and I should be grateful; in time I indeed began to feel gratitude. As much as we hung out, we had never defined the nature of our relationship and being the extremely liberal person I am, I was not going to push the issue but be patient and see where things would lead. However, I must admit I was quite taken aback when J began talking about a classmates amidst comments of how cute she was. This eventually grew to include flirting with my friends right in front of me and subsequent conversations about the beauty of said friends on the drive back to our building. I remember standing by the window in J’s room one day and being told to move away because my presence in the room was not a public affair. Translation: I do not want anyone to know you are in here with me. I spent the next couple of days analyzing that statement, trying to justify its meaning while also trying to reconcile it with the person who had just taken me shopping for new clothes as the ones I had no longer fit from all the weight I had lost. I rationalized that I had misunderstood the comment and chose to forget the incident. This went on for months as I got skinnier and my friends saw less and less of me. Finally, my very good friend managed to track me down after several on my way to class and insisted on talking to me. She laid the facts out plain and bare. I had lost too much weight in too little time. I had isolated myself and never saw my friends. And further more she told me that she had met J at several parties flirting and carrying on with other people and when asked about me would claim not to have seen me in days even weeks. Once I got home from class, in the little time I had before J came over, I began thinking very carefully about what my friend had said. She had no reason to lie and when I thought about it, I could not remember the last time I had talked to her previously. For whatever reason, I decided to perform a small experiment. I locked my room door amazing even my roommate. I only found out that J had been by, through an IM asking why my door was locked. I responded that I felt like it but a simple knock would open the door. J responded that if I did not leave the door unlocked I could forget it. When I thought back on what my friend had said, I figured “forget it” sounded mighty nice. As simple as that, J and I were over.
The only power an abuser has is given to them by the abused and this power becomes stronger and stronger the more confidence the abused loses. Finally, the abused is nothing but a cowering shell of a person and the abuser is able to entertain delusions of grandeur about controlling and even owning the abused. Furthermore, the abuser tends to isolate the abused so that she is not able to communicate to others what is going on and the abused soon comes to believe that their world is just for two. I am physically imposing in stature. Not exactly a person you want to mess with at first glance but I cannot tell a lie that if J had one day tried to up the ante by saying something physically instead of verbally, I would have fought back. When you have been so isolated and made to feel like this person is all you have for support, rationale becomes your invisible friend. It is ever-present to make every situation make sense again where it did not moments before.
My story pales in comparison to what millions of women, children and sometimes even men face everyday. However, it shows that it can happen to anyone. I believe that support is the key. There are some basic signs to watch for in cases of abuse: Isolation, halting of past behaviours, dependency on the person they are with, making excuses when discussing the relationship. I firmly believe that support is the best tool for dealing with abuse; before, during and after. Judgement has no place in the equation as that person has already judged themselves millions of times over. Victims of long-term abuse can only hope for a chance at normalcy through intense therapy and even then severe emotional scars remain. Ever so often, I still find myself wondering how I let myself end up in that situation. My answer to myself is this: wondering is null, rather, I will thank God for my friend’s persistence and support. And hope, even though I pray for an end to all forms of abuse in the world, that I may one day return the favour to someone else.