Posted by: eliseanne | November 17, 2009

Domestic Abuse Isn’t Funny

I have a black eye. It is not from my husband, or any one else’s fist/foot/whatever, it is from a frisbee disc [thank you, sister’s housemate]. The story can be verified by sister and husband who watched it happen and got me an ice pack and made lots of sympathetic noises and gestures.

Being a woman with a black eye in public is interesting.

I got many, “Oh, I better have a talk with your husband…” joking comments, followed by questions of “No, for real, what really happened?”. Admittedly, I even made a few jokes myself, which I now regret.

Only one or two people asked me a serious question about my black eye (“oh no, what happened to your eye?”). Maybe it is because people think they know me, or think they know my husband, that they don’t give me a concerned look or pull me aside to talk about my home life. Or maybe it’s because I dont display other stereotypical signs of abuse or of being a victim, that they think everything is just fine.

Now, I do have a healthy marriage, and my husband is not abusive.  But let’s say, hypothetically, he was abusive, and he punched me in the eye in anger.

How would I then respond to someone saying, “Uh-oh, I better have a talk with that husband of yours…hahahaha. So what happened, you fall down the stairs? Riiiight…Ok, seriously, how’d you get a black eye?”

Pretty sure I wouldn’t reach out for help from that person.

There are a lot of “characteristcs” or traits of abusive people, as well as people who are being or have been abused, that people rely on. It is good to track and teach those, so that friends, family, mentors, coworkers, etc can have red flags to start asking questions, offering safey and support, etc to someone who is abused, or asking questions and offering help and alternatives to someone who is abusive. But we can’t rely on those alone.

I would wager that the majority of people who abuse others don’t decide one day to be abusive. Similarly, people who are unfaithful to their partners don’t tend to decide one day to be a cheater. Instead these are complex processes, with tons of factors (past abuse, home life, personality, coping/resiliency skills, self esteem, etc etc etc etc etc etc). It starts with one, small, justified step toward being abusive (or similarly, toward having an affair), and the person probably wouldn’t even call that abuse or infidelity. And then baby step 1 leads to baby step 2, and the path continues.

What I mean by all that is (back to the hypothetical situation), just because I dont look like the “typical” victim of abuse, or just because you don’t think my husband looks like the “typical” abusive partner, doesn’t mean you should take things like a black eye lightly and make domestic abuse jokes.  People are really good at hiding secrets, and if I was being abused, I would need you to be safe, approachable, and serious. I would need to know that you would believe me – not excuse my husband because of who you see him as.

So, while I am glad that no one jumped to conclusions and called the police or an abuse hotline on my husband, I think that for the sake of the hidden victims of abuse we need to not respond in assumptions and jokes to things like black eyes on women.

People in my graduate classes, I like you, but you don’t know my husband, and you only kind of know me. Don’t joke like that. People I work with, you do know me, and you kind of know my husband. But don’t joke like that. And to myself – I know me, my husband, and the situation of how I got a black eye. But don’t joke like that. Don’t silence the victims who need a safe person to talk to, who need to see that we don’t treat abuse as a joke, but as a serious issue that must be addressed.

So the next time you or I see someone, especially a woman, with a black eye or unusual bruising, let’s quietly say, “Are you ok? I noticed that bruise. What happened?”



  1. Thanks for reflecting and then sharing with us. You’re right. Our harmless jokes aren’t funny. I was 19, sitting in the ER after an argument with a boyfriend escalated. I told the ER doc about the fight with my boyfriend and the throbbing pain in my swollen arm. I will never forget the doctor’s response: “What did you do to make him so angry?” I felt like I had been hit again.

    May we shake ourselves awake to the both the pain and hope in this world.

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