Trigger warning: rape, sexual assault, domestic abuse, graphic sexual content
In Part 1 of this story, I introduced a discussion of Johan Galtung’s theory of cultural violence as it relates to my experience as a young woman in an abusive relationship. To recap:
Cultural violence is: “…any aspect of a culture that can be used to legitimize violence in its direct or structural form. Symbolic violence built into a culture does not kill or maim like direct violence or the violence built into the structure. However, it is used to legitimize either or both.”
Cultural violence against women is: Normalization and promotion of pornography, prostitution, degradation, and sexual objectification of females in media, predominantly male language in civic, business, and religious institutions, gender roles and stereotypes, misogynist humor, gaslighting, minimizing or denying any of these forms of violence.
In Part 2, I described how my abusive ex-boyfriend tortured me for four years based on the premise that my job, as a female, was to appease my male partner’s violent perversions as his subhuman sexual slave. As I said, “the entire premise of our relationship was that he, as a man, deserved to be completely gratified sexually by having unlimited access to using and abusing a female body, without any regard whatsoever to her preferences, choice, health, safety, dignity, or humanity. You see, females, in this world, are not human.”
I was with this monster for four years. As time wore on, despite my continually sleep deprived and traumatized state, my own brain gradually gained the ability to see through my abuser’s arguments justifying his treatment of me. At the beginning of our relationship, I had no answers to his slick manipulations and gaslighting. But over the months and years, I began to formulate the logic and evidence to counter more and more of his slick reasoning, his manipulative justification for the psychological, physical, and sexual abuse. Of course, my standing up for myself, however calmly, did not go over well. It inevitably exacerbated his rage and his violence. But I needed to do it, for myself, at least some of the time. I needed to reject his assertions that I deserved to be treated with cruelty, brutality, and degradation, in order to keep myself from suicide. by the time I had been with him for over three years, I knew he was wrong about everything, and I was desperate to leave him. However, I felt completely trapped. My family had all but disowned me, I had no friends, and he controlled all my money. I felt hopeless.
Then, two miracles occurred at the same time, miracles that saved me.
The first was that my twin sister and older sister decided to bring me back home through love. My twin sister started calling me regularly and talking only in loving and nonjudgmental ways. They both started sending me care packages and loving letters. My abusive ex was furious about these actions and tried hard to convince me that they were some sort of insult or lack of respect for him and our relationship. But his ploy failed this time – because they never once criticized him or our relationship, and because I no longer cared how angry it made him if I talked to my sister.
My twin sister Tallessyn believed that if she could just get me alone, just the two of us by ourselves for a week, she could make real progress. So she plotted with our family to give the two of us a trip to France for our college graduation present. My abuser hated the idea and tried everything to prevent me from going (he had previously succeeded in keeping me from going on a trip to Scotland with my sisters and uncle), but I was determined that nothing would stop me this time.
The trip had its desired effect. As the days wore on with just the two of us together again, I gradually felt myself relaxing. Instead of constant anxiety about looking “hot” enough that my ex wouldn’t punish me, I was able to hold my head up and enjoy the incredible beauty and culture of a place I’d always wanted to see, with the person I had always loved and trusted most in the world. The photos of the trip show this transition. At the beginning, I look pained and self-conscious. By the end, I look much happier.
After the trip ended, my abuser could tell I was not as psychologically enslaved or submissive to him. His cruelty increased, via attempts to make me feel as bad about my body as possible and via his disgusting sexual perversions. Even though I never said a word against him to my twin, he felt deeply threatened by my newfound closeness with her, and he criticized her constantly; he even joked about murdering her. Every word he said against her, against the most wonderful human I’d ever known, made me secretly despise him more.
The second miracle is named Lisa. I did my senior biology thesis in a lab where she worked, and after I graduated, I took a job as a lab technician working for Lisa. Lisa was so reserved at that time, that I thought she disliked me. But working together every day brought us closer and closer together, until we became good friends. She was the first friend I’d made since moving to Minnesota because my abuser did not allow me to have friends. I did not realize that little offhand comments I made had caused Lisa some alarm. I knew Lisa was a loving and fun person; I did not yet realize that she was a goddess.
One day, Lisa gathered two other mutual lab friends, and the three of them took me out to lunch. Lisa said, “We are worried about you. We can tell you are in a very unhealthy relationship, and we want to do whatever it takes to help you leave him”
To be continued…
Trelawney Grenfell-Muir teaches courses about Sex, Dating, Marriage, and Work in the Religion and Theological Studies Department at Merrimack College and about Cross Cultural Conflict in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A Senior Discussant at the Religion and the Practices of Peace Initiative at Harvard University, she holds an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology with a concentration in Religion and Conflict, and a Ph.D. in Conflict Studies and Religion with the University Professors Program at Boston University. Previously a fellow at the Institute of Culture, Religion, and World Affairs and at the Earhart Foundation, Grenfell-Muir has conducted field research in situations of ongoing conflict in Syria, Lebanon, and Northern Ireland. Her dissertation explores the methodology, constraints, and effectiveness of clergy peacebuilders in Northern Ireland. She has been an invited speaker in community settings and at MIT, Boston University, Tufts, and Boston College on topics of gender violence, economic injustice, and religious or ethnic conflicts and has also moderated panels on genetic engineering, cloning, and other bioethics issues. She currently writes articles, book chapters, and liturgical resources about feminist, nature-based Christianity.
Categories: abuse, Body, Consent, Domestic Violence, Family, female friendship, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, Friendship, Gender, Gender and Power, Gender and Sexuality, General, Sexual Violence, trauma, Violence, Violence Against Women