“I’m running in the rain; my mind is scanning every single second of my day: me, eating in a hurry, forgetting to take an umbrella and leaving home absently saying goodbye to my mother. It takes ten minutes of walking to get to the bus stop, but it seems endless to me. I know I’ll miss the bus and I know he will be angry. I’m out of breath, but I do not stop and I keep trudging in the rain. I think I can do it, this time I can show him that I am the way he wants me to be, I’m not letting him down. He will love me, I’m willing to do anything to be accepted by him. The bus has just gone. While I’m taking the next one, I convince myself that I will apologize for my behaviour and he will understand; maybe he will raise his voice but I’m sure I will make up to him somehow. I walk head-on into his room, completely wet, and he’s smiling at me, but his is not a sweet and sympathetic smile, but a grin instead. I soon realize he is disappointed and mad at me. I try to apologize I was late, but he won’t hear my excuses, tells me he’s going to punish me, so I’ll learn to be on time, not to make him wait and waste his time. I’m prepared for the consequences, I know I did wrong and I know I could have run faster and taken the bus. I feel like I’m nothing, a little disgusting bug that only deserves to be crushed. He grabs his wooden baseball bat that he keeps in his room and he tells me he’s going to hit me because it is the only way I can realize my mistakes. I try to apologize, again, but I’m prepared for the consequences. He hits me, but I’m too slender to sustain that beating and he can tell. He’s not screaming, he’s thinking straight; he just has a grin on his face. He decides, then, that punch me is the proper punishment. Void.”
I decided to share part of my story because it could be the same story of one of your girlfriends, neighbours, sisters or your mother. Understanding the ordinariness of this phenomenon is a fundamental step for the sake of restrain its existence; as a matter of fact, its spectacularization carried out by the media does not serve the purpose. The very definition of violence is controversial and must be investigated in a more complex framework. According to Galtung, violence is not only direct, but indirect and cultural as well. Firstly, it is part of the structure of the society we live in; it is an external agent that controls the individual. Intervening on structural violence means prevent the socialization to violence and halt violent attitudes unconsciously carried out by individuals. Furthermore, violence can be also cultural and appears in the form of symbols passed down through stereotypes, norms and habits. Not being something tangible, often makes violence a subtle phenomenon, difficult to detect.
I started this article with a concrete, harsh and brutal event, but violence is more than that. The gesture of an abuser is not “just a slap”, but a series of systematic episodes that on one hand instil a mechanism of shame, humiliation and subjugation, but also complete devotion on the other. The couple becomes a prison, the madness of two, where one of the partners is in a state of submission and complete coercion.
Why did no one intervene? Frequently, in the name of the cohesion of the group. Whether it is the case of a couple, a community or a nation, there is the need to build up an external enemy. As far as I’m concerned, the external enemy were my parents who wanted to separate us and that tried to prevent us from realizing our romance. The one in which we were living was a separate world, us against them; I was determined to be whatever he wanted me to be, and if this meant being insulted and denigrated, I was willing to suffer. I was the wrong one. It is precisely the sense of shame and powerlessness that refrains many men and women from denouncing their oppressor. It acts as stigma, so the abuser is able to convince you of the voidness of your existence. Usually, complaints are filled after years or they aren’t filled at all, precisely because the trauma experienced is so serious that the brain “freezes” and tries to forget. You do not react because the one who’s hurting you is the one you love and you put your faith in.
The 25th of November is the international day for the elimination of violence against women. With my testimonial I renew my cry and I call for every women and men to be educated towards respect, independence and gender equality. Education must start since childhood and everyone must be taught to recognise violent behaviours. Depriving someone of their freedom of going out, of wearing what they want, of pursue their personal objectives and develop their own personality, it does not mean loving someone, rather it means imprison them in an unhealthy relationship. I dedicate this article to all the women victims of violence, so that all of us keep fighting for our rights.
Original version: Silvia Passoni
Translated by: Elisabetta Castellotti