A Culture Without Violence
A couple of years ago, I started a new journey as a doctoral student. In doing so, I know I have joined a new community. The people I see every day do not recognize me as a survivor of dating violence. It’s just not something that comes up in conversation.
As part of my program, I’ve been teaching an undergraduate course for the past few semesters, and I’ve been asking my students to think about the term “culture.” What is it? What do we think of when we think of it? How do we define it? For many of my students, “culture” in their lives co-exists with some form of “violence.”
For years, violence interwove itself into my understanding of “culture” as it did for my students. I worked for years with Day One, a nonprofit organization based in New York City that works with young people to end dating abuse.
I first arrived at Day One as a nervous undergraduate student not sure what to expect of entering into a space where I would be known as a victim. Truthfully, at that point in my life, I was exactly that – a victim. The aftermath of my abusive relationship consumed me and my identity.
Slowly, I began to grow, to learn, and to understand that I had control over my life. I cannot pinpoint the exact moment when I realized I was no longer a victim. I can only point to pieces of my journey. I experienced abuse. I lived through it. I had friends and family who showed me love and supported me. I have been lucky enough to meet other courageous young women who have survived abusive relationships, each one with a different story to tell. Each one has given me the ability to understand that we all take different paths to survival.
Essentially, I took a journey that helped me to untangle violence from culture. I know I’ve frustrated those people who cared about me who have seen my choices to remain in abusive relationships and to hide the abuse as self-destructive. Still, I am fortunate to have had the support of those same people in providing me with a foundation from which I could grow and move past the violence. I live in a world now where I don’t have to identify as a survivor or former victim of domestic violence anymore. I choose to.
Sometimes, after a difficult or long day, I will take a different route home – a different subway line, a different (if less efficient) walk to or from the subway station. I don’t know when I started doing this, but I do know why. I have always loved the process of going from one place (literally or figuratively) from one place to the next. It is one of the reasons I love living in a city. You spend a great deal of time getting to where you are going. When you are in-between and moving, you cannot help but learn something new – about the spaces you inhabit, the people you see, and the person you are.
Chances are, every one of us knows and loves a victim of domestic violence and dating abuse. Often times, it’s frustrating and painful to see these people we love experience abuse. We want to step in, and we want to figure out how to make it stop. It’s not uncommon for friends and family of victims to get frustrated during this journey. There are stops and starts. What is important to remember, though, is that we all learn by taking different paths. With support from my friends and family, I had to re-define my own culture as one that does not accept violence.
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This October, please remember, victims of domestic violence won’t always take the fastest or easiest way out of an abusive relationship, but they can’t do it without the love and support of those who truly love and care for them. Our culture doesn’t have to be tainted by violence. Let’s teach all the young people in our lives that violence does not have space in our culture.