As a caveat, This is not really a feel good story. The Just Be Nice Project is about finding ways to help people Just Be Nice, but this issue is a particularly tricky one. It has so many moving parts that I feel like we avoid the conversation about it sometimes. Having experienced it first hand, seeing it during outreach work, speaking to professionals and hearing stories from friends, I want to try to bring the conversation forward so that we can look at constructive and effective ways to support people to move forward through these situations.
I have two friends.
Girl 1 and Girl 2.
Girl 1 used to go out with a guy, but now Girl 2 goes out with this same guy.
Girl 1 is scared of what might happen to her, if I tell Girl 2 that this guy is abusive. Exhibiting nearly every one of the classic signs of being an abusive partner, to date this guy hasn’t physically harmed Girl 1, but has been verbally and emotionally abusive over a period of time, threatened her, thrown furniture in the apartment etc. etc. While he hasn’t laid a violent hand on her to date he has nevertheless engaged in outbursts against others in the very recent past.
I have seen the messages, heard the voicemails, and I have known Girl 1 for a very long time. She is sad, anxious and worried about what this guy might do because his behavior has been getting violent escalating and really, there is the problem.
How do I bring this up with Girl 2? My initial advice to Girl 1 was to get an AVO so that it is recorded, and he can’t just rock up to her door, or go anywhere near her. In a usual situation abusive partners are seldom abusive in front of other people, and tend to do it in private times, or at times when the abused is most vulnerable. So the abuse hasn't always been via text or recorded voicemail. Even then she is concerned that if she gets an AVO he will get mad and attack her before the police can arrive. Hoping simply to ignore him and that he will just go away.
With an AVO there is third party verification (The police/magistrate) have enough reason/evidence to believe that this guy is a liability. It takes away the conjecture that it’s just crazy ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend talk. I feel like it makes the conversation with Girl 2 a bit easier if that’s the case, and I am less worried about what happens with Girl 1, because if this guy breaks the AVO then the police are able to intervene immediately.
But what if Girl 1 is unsure about the AVO?
She has never been so scared of anyone before, because he is so unpredictable and loose.
There is so much more in play here than simply feeling at risk. Girl 1 has had her self esteem attacked by her partner. Someone she loved and cared for. It was a gradual process, starting off with thinking that he was a great guy. He talked a good game. She looked after him and was a great girlfriend…. But over time, as these things happen, he got worse.
Like many others, girl 1 never thought she would be the kind of girl to be in a relationship like that.
I don’t think anybody ever does think they’ll be that person. And if someone was that aggressive and abusive on the first date, it’s unlikely they’d get a second date. But these situations happen over time, without people really noticing. You start to build a life together, you care about each other, and slowly you start to get isolated, your self-esteem starts to get clawed away, slowly. Jealousy, manipulation, a constant cycle of outbursts and apologies. Raging one minute and love and apologies the next.
Not wanting to make him angry, or cause a scene for fear that his aggressive tendencies would be turned toward her, Girl 1 may not even file an for a restraining order. Even though she understands now that like many others, this guy has had similar issues with former partners.
As a man, I am never quite sure how to deal with this. I have been face to face with male violence towards women and nothing boils my blood more. There is perhaps a caveman instinct to go and confront this guy myself….. But that is silly. There is nothing really to be gained from that, there is no benefit in being a vigilante here. Men like this guy are cowards. They prey on the weak, and break them down emotionally and mentally. They are not the ones to go toe to toe with another man, and confront their own failings, in all likelihood if I did confront him, nothing would happen to me, and he would take it out on someone more vulnerable.
So there goes that idea, and it should be gone. There is nothing to be gained from trying to be a big hero and go and call this guy out. I have seen it before and nothing good comes of it like that.
I do, however, need to tell Girl 2 what this guy is like. Knowing full well that at this stage the conversation will be about his crazy ex-girlfriend, and that this guy will be pouring it on, being the victim and promising the world. Even though two days ago, he told Girl 1 that he still loves her.
I am not sure how to support Girl 1 to get the help that she needs, after speaking to a police friend of mine, who said “I've been dealing with it for years - it's hard to watch girls never leave” when I said that I am concerned for my friend and every one of this guys girlfriend afterwards.
As the violent behaviour escalates, we can end up with violent men who have no official record, but are known to police and support services. Eventually an arrest occurs due to a larger, more violent outburst for some poor partner down the track. “Happens all the time [because] Most girls too scared to do anything”
In the end, I will tell Girl 2, and I am obviously here to help Girl 1 with whatever the outcome is. It is a difficult one because I don’t like to see my friends scared, or hurt. I don’t want to be concerned about the long term welfare of friends who are with guys (or girls) like this.
If, on the flip side, I was friends with this guy, and I knew him to be heading down the path of abuse/violence, I would help him to seek the appropriate help to deal with it. As a man and a friend it is up to us to step up and speak to other men that we know, if we know they are acting this way and tell them that it is unacceptable. If you have a friend who acts this way, it is ok to speak to their partner and let them know that you are there to support them and help find the appropriate professional help to deal with the situation. There is no point waiting until something catastrophic happens, if people start to act up, seek the help as early as possible to stop it escalating beyond the point of no return.
In my own experience, one of the most chilling memories of domestic violence was being on the end of my own fathers outburst, alongside my mother, while two of his friends stood there and said nothing and did nothing. I have long known that I would never be one of the men that stands by and just watches this happen… But it doesn’t make it any easier to know what to do in every situation.
I know that it isn’t pleasant, but without a conversation we can’t all move forward and provide a supportive environment for those in distress to speak out and act, and for those with issues to find the support they need to change their behaviours before it is too late. The statistics are far too chilling to just ignore.
Please note, that the discussion of male violence against women does not negate the acts of violence towards men by women. But this piece is written specifically about an experience I have had this week.
If you are unsure of the warning signs there are some here –HERE
If you need someone to call –1800RESPECT is the national family violence and sexual assault counselling service. It is a free, confidential service available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call 1800 737 732 to speak to a professional counsellor.
If you need support you can use the DHS Service Finder - HERE
The quotes have come from online chat that I was having with my friends.So they are direct quotes.
Thanks very much for reading.
Just Be Nice.
Josh Reid Jones - Founder of The Just Be Nice Project and Odin Sports