It takes a hell of a lot of courage to step forward as a victim of domestic abuse.

To discount someone’s story by saying “well, they fought back” or “they didn’t leave” or “they’re crazy” or “there’s two sides to every story” is an act of cowardice.

Given the overwhelming pressure placed on victims to stay quiet, the burden of proof should not be on the person claiming ill treatment. Don’t fucking tell me that someone’s making it up unless you know for absolute certain.

It’s true, some people do lie. Most people who lie, though, are likely trying to gain attention, affection, or favor. Most people who lie don’t do it in order to appear weak, frail, or any one of the other million pejoratives thrown at victims.*

So how can you, the casual observer, tell when someone is lying about abuse? Well, really, you can’t, unless there’s court cases involved, and even then, well…

However, here’s two handy tidbits I’ve picked up over the years:

  1. Trust women. You barely need to be classed as a vertebrate to see that in American culture (and I can only speak to American culture), women simply have less power than men. Need proof? We call weak men pussies and say strong men have huge balls. Too often, women are pressured, if not bullied and threatened, into silence about harassment, abuse, assault and rape. Imagine what they may lose by speaking out.
  2. Trust victims, even if they aren’t women. Abuse is a series of behaviors that weaken, isolate, and even emasculate those who experience its business end. It reduces people. For the cultural effects of being seen as weak or emasculated, see #1 above.

That said, an adept reader may notice certain patterns that could reveal the truth. When talking about abuse, victims will often make excuses for their abusers’ behavior: “they threatened me, but I was making them angry,” or “I wasn’t allowed to eat, but I really could stand to lose weight” or “they hit me, but the abuse was mutual.” Abusers will often make excuses for their own behavior: “I did some fucked up shit, but they fought back” or “I hit them, but the abuse was mutual.”

The basic gist is this: usually, abusers stand to lose from being accused and fear it; victims feel they stand to lose from coming forward and fear that. It’s relatively easy to get a solid gut reaction.

You might notice that I’ve been avoiding gendered pronouns. (Or you might not. I prefer to avoid them when they’re not necessary, and I’m quite happy that the singular “they” is FINALLY becoming more accepted.)

Hi. I’m Matthew. I’ve been through tougher shit than I’ve admitted to many people.

Like I said before, it’s not just women who get abused. I would know. I’m a survivor of domestic abuse. It’s long past time I honored the courage of the many amazing people I know who have stepped forward themselves and who have spoken about their experiences:

I am a man who was abused by a woman for four years. I am a man who stayed longer than he should have.

This is not the first time I’ve said as much publicly, but this is the first time I’ve said it publicly and directly. I never pressed charges. I stayed until she was done with me. I still defend her if people try to complain about her to me — they usually don’t understand what the problem was anyway. I won’t name names; this isn’t about her, and I won’t allow it to be. Her echoes ring too loudly in my bones as it is. That’s enough about it for now.

It takes a hell of a lot of courage to step forward as a victim of domestic abuse. It’s taken me four years to do it. I’m not inclined to question those who do it sooner.

If you’ve never been in an abusive relationship, I’m genuinely happy for you. If you’re listening to your gut, and it’s serving you well, keep it up. Thanks for reading this far.

If you are or have been an abuser (or have been accused, whether you own up to it or not), it’s entirely possible that there are deeper causes to your actions, but you are responsible for seeking them out and addressing them, ideally with the help of a professional. And you are, unequivocally, responsible for your actions.

If you’re in an abusive relationship, it’s terrifying to leave. You might not even be able to see it for what it is yet. But you need to — and can — find a safe way to leave.

It takes a long time, but things DO get better once you’re out.

If you’re in my area (Memphis, Tennessee), I can help you find resources. If you’re not, resources are out there, and I’ll do what little I can to help.

*Also, fuck that word, “victim.” I use the word throughout, for clarity, but not without significant disgust. No one is born a victim. People are made into victims by the actions of others. (Excluding disease victims, which is still a pretty bullshit use of the word, unless that person has already died of the disease in question, in which case, may they rest in peace and know I mean no disrespect to them.) “Abuse victim” is an artificial state that requires the intentional misdeeds of others.

(Shouts out to kc orcutt and my friend Sarah for looking this piece over and offering suggestions, and to Rachel Syme, whose article, “Selfie,” was my first timid step forward.)