Some of you may remember one of our ‘Judge of the Day’ posts from last year on the assault of Jane Ruffino by her then boyfriend. On the anniversary of the attack, Jane wrote the article below and posted it on Facebook. It was subsequently removed without explanation or notification and was restored today (with a similar lack of explanation) and then pulled again. We’ve republished it here in full with permission from Jane.
Update: Facebook this evening said the article should not have been taken down, that it was removed in error and have apologised to Ms Ruffino.
Update 11/05/2013: And it’s gone again.
Exactly a year ago, my then-boyfriend put me in a headlock and punched me until his hand shattered. The only reason I didn’t die on my bedroom floor on the night of May 3, 2012 is that he didn’t know where to put his thumb when he made a fist. It wasn’t the first time, nor, I’m sad to say, was it the last time, but it was the one he got caught for, and the one I can’t get sued for talking about.
He spent the night in a hospital, having his hand rebuilt with pins. I spent the night strapped to a trolley in a different hospital, having everything x-rayed. I left with stitches in my face and my blood-soaked clothes in a Dunnes Stores bag. He left the hospital five days later, in a cast, and with a diagnosis of “work and home stress”.
I still get concealer in my scar (and it is still sore), and I’m still not totally safe, but I’ve started to rebuild my life, and it’s getting pretty good. But while my life improves, dudes are still beating up women.
As much as I’d like to shut up about this and have people stop identifying me with something that happened to me, it’s not that common for an abuser to be convicted. I’m in a position to do something that many women are not, so I’ll keep talking until dudes stop beating up women.
We all know victims, so we all know perpetrators. It’s always someone you wish it weren’t. Believe me, I know this better than anyone.
Even though you can’t make a relationship with a violent dickhead safe for his girlfriend (or possibly for any woman), we can make the world safer for women by making it harder to get away with cracking our faces open.
Here’s some of what I think we need to do differently.
1. Swap your sympathy for empathy, and get angry: Nothing could get better for me until I got really angry, and empathy helped me get there. Empathising with me means you’ll stop asking me why I stayed, and assume that, like with any violent crime, it could happen to anyone. Empathising with him means you accept that it’s done by seemingly normal human beings, and not by easily identifiable monsters.
I do appreciate the “Sorry for your troubles”, but I’d rather you be angry with me than sad on my behalf. I know the sympathy comes from the right place, but it can feel a little like a pat on the head, and even a bit isolating. We live in a world where you can beat your girlfriend nearly to death and walk out of a criminal court straight into a pub for a burger and a pint. That should piss you right the fuck off, so if you don’t think it’s my fault, then don’t make it all my responsibility.
2. Trust us: Women like me lose the ability to trust ourselves, and we don’t often speak believably about what’s happening until it’s well in the past. Even I sometimes don’t believe me. And yes, we all take them back. It seems to have undermined my credibility with a lot of people, forever. Because hey, if I hadn’t been exaggerating all along, then why would I take someone back after he put me in the hospital?
I managed to gloss over the time I woke up with a pillow being pushed to my face. I didn’t want to believe he was capable of it any more than you did, so you should probably trust that I’m not going to make this shit up.
3. Start calling bullshit: Does your friend, your brother, your colleague insist that his girlfriend or wife is“batshit crazy”? Does she sound like a wild-eyed shrieking harpy who is totally ruining his life? I’ll tell you something: having the shit slapped out of you makes you a little crazy. Five weeks after I contacted his family to ask them to help him, I was in the hospital with a busted face. They hadn’t believed me because they’d been told I was crazy. I’m not, by the way, which I feel the need to say because trauma does all sorts of things to you, whether or not you ever get your face broken. But maybe if someone had started calling his bullshit years ago, he wouldn’t have ended up the way he is, and I would not have to rebuild my life and my sense of self.
Try it. Next time some guy says “She’s crazy”, assume what he really means is, “I’m an enormous dickhead with no respect for women.”
4. Stop looking for the truth: My account is true and real, and verified in a criminal court, but his account also represents a world he truly lived in. The fact is, we were both delusional. He believed I was a monstrous asshole, and I thought if I stopped being such a monstrous asshole, he would stop throwing things at my head and be the loving boyfriend he promised he’d be – if I only changed a few more things about myself.
It’s a Venn diagram, where the overlapping bit was “Jane is an irredeemable piece of shit”. It’s when I started insisting I was a worthy human being, when the punches and the slaps would start. You can rearrange the data points all you like, and get a hundred different versions, but there is no grey area between two overarching perspectives where you’ll find the truth you’re looking for. That crisscrossing of narratives applies to normal human relationships, but these were two competing and incompatible narratives, neither of which were rational.
This was a situation where I was trying to have a normal relationship with someone who once threw a pint of beer over me to prove he wasn’t an alcoholic. OK, so maybe that is a little crazy.
5. Let go of the checklist: You know the one. You Google “emotional abuse” because someone was a dick to you, and there it is. It’s a useful guide, perhaps, but you can’t identify abuse through a Cosmo quiz. Yes, abusers fit a profile, and in some ways, they’re all the damn same. They all try to smash your computer. They all put your phone through a wall. They all search your fucking email. And they all cry and beg for your love right after you’ve cleaned up the glass they smashed at your feet.