Stone face. This is how a class of middle school students took care of me. I introduced myself as the president/founder of a Maine non-profit organization that is breaking the silence about domestic violence in Maine. The concepts of enforced silence and domestic violence seemed foreign to them.
I was there to present the art project Finding Our Voices K-12 Love/not Love, allowing young people to find their voice around what is love and what is not. Eye-, mind- and heart-opening results – painting, collage, poetry, sculpture and comics, by boys and girls aged 4 to 18 from a dozen partner schools – are on display at Midcoast Maine until June.
Alright, I said. Tear up a piece of paper and write down why someone might keep quiet. Folded pieces of paper were picked up. I read aloud the anonymous sentences written in pencil.
“I don’t want to rock the boat.”
“Another person could retaliate”
“Afraid of being laughed at. »
“They might not think it’s important (even if it is)”
“No body will listen.”
These statements from 13 and 14 year olds are darts that explain why there is so much terror in the kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms of our communities, and also why the verdict that has just been handed down in the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard -The trial is so dangerous for victims of domestic abuse.
Heard was ordered to pay Depp $15 million for calling herself a “public figure representing domestic violence” in a 2018 Washington Post op-ed. She didn’t mention him by name. She gave no details of what he allegedly did to her. She only said that she had been the victim of domestic violence.
Anyone can sue anything, and Depp sued her for it. And, for that, a jury found her guilty of defamation.
It doesn’t matter here if Johnny Depp was abusive, if Amber Heard was abusive, or if they were both abusive.
What matters is that someone has been severely punished by our justice system for publicly calling themselves a victim of domestic violence, and that a legal precedent has been set that everyone – victims, lawyers, abusers – now knows.
An emboldened domestic abuser is a more dangerous domestic abuser. And this verdict is sure to further embolden the aggressors and further silence the victims.
Someone does not “stay” in domestic violence. They are held hostage, traumatized every day by the endless quest to “keep the peace” with someone who only wants to create chaos and who is totally unpredictable as to what will trigger it.
The key to breaking free from domestic violence and freeing your children is to tell someone something. Saying something alerts others that something is wrong and also alerts you, because to express it is to make it real. Saying something can produce help you don’t know is there and break the intergenerational cycle. It can save your sanity, restore your life and save your life.
But when you’re trapped in domestic violence, everything conspires to silence you and that’s why it almost never gets reported.
Here are a few other reasons during my visits to the school that were cited by middle schoolers in Maine for keeping quiet:
“You don’t want to get the abuser in trouble because you love him.”
“Their partner/family member can be scary.”
“It’s embarrassing for people to see me like this.”
“Afraid you’ll be hurt again”
“The victim might think there is no help.”
And this one: “Afraid of what the outcome might be and who it would benefit.”
— Special for the Press Herald
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