When the Abuser is a Victim
Very often when I speak to people about Intimate Partner Violence, I see that they fail to recognize that abuse can occur between two teenage lovers, they tend to believe that it transpires just between an older man/woman and a teenager. Sadly, in our part of the world teenagers are not encouraged to be in relationships hence we have very few teenagers coming out and looking for help for fear of being shamed and ridiculed.
But then again I wish that being shamed was the worst part of this; when we live in a society that is oblivious to the realities of abusive teenage relationships, we end up with emotionally damaged adults who are just becoming aware of an abuse that occurred years ago.
The idea and knowledge of abuse widely spread do not incorporate relationships where teenagers are abused by their own peers, and the different dynamic and forms abuse can occur.
As a teenager, information that addresses all these dynamics would have greatly helped me navigate and discern exactly what is and is not a healthy relationship. A certain relationship comes to mind when I look back. As a fast paced teenager, I got myself in a relationship where I believed we loved each other, and to express our love for each other, my boyfriend would propose we have sexual intercourse but it was not something I believed I was ready for. So he came with an idea that we just play it out, as clueless teenagers we would get in position and have what people call dry sex; all the sexual activities just with no penetration. During these moments of passion, I would be in physical pain but I had lacked the strength to stop him, as I knew he wouldn’t stop until he was done. So every time we met we would go through the same routine and all times I felt powerless, and a sadness that I could not understand consumed me. I often feared to refuse him these moments of passion as I knew he would walk me out like he did once. The days I tried to leave the relationship, he would beg me and everyone he knew and never stopped telling me he loved me.
With this, one will be tempted to imagine me as young, naïve and timid young lady but I was the complete opposite. I was not shy and I voiced my opinion regarding anything and anyone, even to my boyfriend but when it came down to those moments my voice was needed the most, I could not! I have heard of ladies who have been in the similar situations but were seen as strong and opinionated women that one won’t dare believe will stay in such situation. However what people fail to realize is that a lot of people voice out more in other situations to overcompensate for that area they lack the strength to speak up; in a bid to cover their shame of powerlessness and live in a false reality that they are in control even in those moments.
False sense of control and power can also occur when the abuser begs and cries for you not to leave the relationship. You see that as an act of victory for all those moments where you were powerless, hence you feel it’s normal. You have revenged and gotten your pound of flesh, but during that moment of passion, the sadness that consumes you reminds you that you are not in control.
So, he would beg me to take him back, nonetheless I knew within me that I did not like how I felt in that relationship but I knew that we loved each other .It was very hard for me to fully understand why I felt that way, I choked it up as I needed someone new and something fresh, after all the relationship had lasted a few years. But all the instances I tried to leave were futile, and to my surprise the moment I had long been waiting for came, I travelled to further my studies. I made sure we stop communicating and suspected he would know we no longer could date. A year past and I confided in a close University friend and explained everything, very casually if I might add. She was in awe and explained to me that what happened in that relationship was abuse and I was being emotionally and sexually abused. I didn’t want to believe her because there was no way I will be abused and not recognize it, I knew he didn’t force me or inflict bruises on me so I did not see where the abuse was coming from; but on the other hand my emotions betrayed me. It reminded me of the sadness I felt and after I googled it up, all emotions linked to abuse.
The first thing one will ask “Why didn’t you tell someone?” but in teenage relationships, things are often never black and white. In regards to sexual activities, one can’t confide in their peers because these peers believe that it’s normal in relationship and hence won’t be of much help and for adults they would shame you for being in a relationship and believe you asked for it as they also equate dating with sex.
The rationale that dating is synonymous with sex has caused much harm in our society that teenagers go into a relationship with that as the core in mind, hence when the teen girl or guy does not give or request for sex, they believe that the relationship is futile and somewhat shameful. I am aware that back then in our great-grand parents’ world, the people got married quite early- their late teenage years, just as they came into their sexual prime. This is not the case for our world now, as young people wait till their mid and late 20 to get married; sadly this gap gives room for sexual activities to occur among mid and late teens.
Equally this gap is never addressed and teenagers believe sex is something that ought to happen in a relationship, young girls lacks the motivation to fight back and refuse to get involved in sexual activities as she believes it is something that she has to give into if not she’s not in a proper romantic relationship. One of the main reasons we have lots of teenagers having voluntary but unwanted sex; that is they give consent but they ultimately did not want to experience intercourse.
This undeniably opens the door for abuse to occur, if we throw in, the emotional maturity that a teenager hasn’t developed, you begin to understand why teenagers are unable to understand and rationalise why they feel a certain way and remain oblivious to that fact that are being abused.
After I googled up abuse and began to relate them with what had happened me and I accepted it. Years passed and I reached out to that boyfriend of mine, I noticed that he still lived in the memory of an “ideal” us and how much he loved what we shared. He spoke about how I had left him devastated when I broke contact with him and how often he wondered why I disappeared in that manner as he knew we were in a happy place when I relocated. I then decided to disclose all that had transpired in our relationship from my own eyes and exactly how it made me feel. I could sense that he was devastated and incredibly apologetic , it troubled me as I did not believe he was honestly remorseful but he disclosed to me , how he too was unaware of what he was doing as he was very young as well. He never believed his actions hurt me in those ways and believed that was the normal way to live.
Sigh! You see everything is not always what they seem; a few years ago I would say that I alone was the victim in this abusive relationship .But! That is not entirely true; I and my boyfriend were both victims. I was a victim of his lack of knowledge and he was a victim of a society that do not carter to young boys. A society where these young boys grow up with no idea of what a relationship should be about; they grow up practicing what they believe seems okay, that is what they learnt from the street, uncle and peers who themselves have no concrete knowledge of what a relationship is all about, so we have a vicious cycle.
Undoubtedly he acted in ways his peers did, thinking it was the normal thing to do, I am also aware that people will be skeptical and have doubts about young men like him believing it’s the abuser technique to apologise when caught and continue. But I urge us all to look at matters like these from a different lens; why do we assume that a young man is emotionally mature to understand and properly rationalise his feelings but a young girl is not? It is a mistake we all make, we all believe that young men choose to be abusive regardless of if they know better or not, but tend to understand that young girls do not know better. It is this belief that lets us as a society leave young boys to carter for themselves believing that they do not need much guidance , hence we fail to provide mentors who will guide them and teach them how to discern what is healthy and unhealthy.
In our society we teach boys what to expect and not how to behave and teach girls how to behave and not what to expect, there is no way this won’t cause conflict. The young man believed physical intimacy was what was expected of a relationships and I believed I was meant to behave in a way that matched up to that expectation.
Our boys need to be taught to ask “Is that okay” as we live in a patriarchal society , boys are tempted to believe that whatever they do is perfectly acceptable as long as it pleases them ; they are oblivious to the fact that it just might not sit well with someone else. Our girls also need to learn to how to say “That is not okay” without being asked or waiting for someone to validate their pain.
All around the world, women express their anger everyday on how ill-mannered men behave and when asked to teach them exactly how they should behave, they shrivel away agitated as they believe it is not their job to. But what happens when we all fold our arms and pout, is that we have a society where young men act with no regards for anyone not because they want to hurt you but because their moral compass has being broken; they do not know what is right from wrong.
Our men need to come together and address this gap; lack of positive mentors for young boys and a safe place where non-judgmental dialogues can be held are very paramount as violence will continue to occur in our society when teenagers do not understand anything about relationship and lack good mentors guiding them along the way.