by Kayla Blau
The women I work with despise the word victim.
Court documents, medical exams, grant proposals all name us victims of domestic violence, us battered women.
We brand-new ourselves survivors
How much punch in the word,
How little of our truths are known
How every Lifetime movie, tabloid, reality show
Packages domestic violence in black eyes and scratch marks, only in seeable bruises Corners us so emotional, irrational, so deserving of the scars
How you judge the mother for staying, for not “protecting her kids”
For not speaking up
Ignorant to the blood pooling in her mouth from silencing her bitten tongue,
quite literally to stay alive,
ignoring the time she mustered all of herself to call 911,
only for her rich white husband to scoff “they won’t believe you.”
They didn’t believe her.
Blue uniformed men came, spoke with man, and left.
Her husband retaliated against her and her children for weeks,
This is who protects us, how we learn to protect ourselves,
Sometimes this means by staying.
This might not make sense to you,
But our decisions to stay or leave are not cut dry;
Abuse is like drowning in a fire and most times
Attempts at leaving fans the flame.
Sometimes, we stay for the kids or because the priest forbad us from doing otherwise.
Sometimes, our families shame us into trying harder, or the shelter hotline tells us there’s no space.
Every time, we know what is best for our survival.
And yet – we’re taught to caretake, to stay, to work things out, please,
instead of blaming the victim,
let us blame all these systems –
toxic masculinity, cyclical violence, and teaching women to take it.
If we’re going to take anything,
it’ll be our voices out of his fists,
We are survivors, bruises or not,
we will not go unheard
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. If you or anyone you know may be experiencing domestic violence, the National Domestic Violence Hotline number is 1-800-799-7233.