Sam Holstein

The Worst Thing You Could Say to a Victim of Abuse

It’s something people say all the time.

“I would never let someone abuse me.”

This is a terrible thing to say in front of someone who’s a victim of abuse.

This phrase is something I hear a lot out of the mouths of people who have never been victims of abuse. At first blush, it seems unobjectionable. Indeed, no one says the opposite — “Sure, I mean, if a guy hit me I’d stay.”

But it’s a terrible, terrible thing to say. It’s victim-blaming, it’s arrogant, and it’s ignorant.

When you say “I would never let someone abuse me,” that implies:

To prove this, allow me to walk you through a hypothetical scenario.


Imagine you are in a loving, romantic relationship with your partner. You have been with them for two or three years. You live together. Perhaps you recently got married. You’re sure that they’re the one. You’ve settled down with them. They’re your life now, and you’re thrilled.

And one day, during a fight, they shove you.

You blink, dazed. Did my lovely partner just do that? You raise your voice and tell them never to try that sort of shit again, or you’re out the door. They promise not to.

They keep that promise for eight months. And then it happens again.

It’s eight months later, so it’s not like you’re going to move out over this. You fight again, he promises again. The next time it happens is three months later.

And really, they only pushed you. It’s not like your partner beat you or broke your nose or anything. You’re not going to ruin your entire life over a push.

And so, being pushed during severe arguments becomes a part of your life. You learn not to stand so near to them when arguing.

But then, one day, during a particularly unpleasant argument when you forgot not to stand so close, they push you into a wall. And the cycle repeats itself; the rare behavior becomes not-so-rare. Then it becomes common.

By then, you’re talking about your relationship problems. You’re looking at anger management counseling. The word ‘abuse’ has floated through your mind. But again, it’s not like they’re telling you not to hang out with your friends or threatening you with a knife. They’re not an abusive person. They’ve got a temper problem, that’s all.

And besides, you’re not the sort of person who would end up in an abusive relationship. Sure, your relationship isn’t doing so hot right now, but you’ve been together for years (perhaps married). You’re not going to crap out on the one you love because they’re going through a tough time.

So that’s what you tell people. You tell people you’re fighting a lot lately. You tell them you’re going through a rough time. You tell them that your partner’s struggling with stuff lately. You tell them you’ll get through it.

You don’t tell them the truth, because, in your heart, you know what the truth is. But you don’t want to leave your partner, and that’s what everyone will make you do. Everyone will see your partner as an abuser and it’s not like that.

And then one day, they attack you. It becomes clear to you that it is like that.

But you’re stuck now. You’ve got a lease with your partner. You co-own all the furniture in your house. They’re helping support you while you go to grad school. Your parents have turned your old bedroom into an art studio. You don’t keep in touch with your old friends anymore. You have nowhere to go. They’re helping pay for your car, so if you left, you wouldn’t even have a way to get anywhere.

Most importantly, underneath it all, you still love them. You don’t want to leave. You want them in your life, the version of them who didn’t hurt you. When you look at them, you still see the person you fell in love with. You can’t bring yourself to see them as the enemy.

That’s what leaving would mean. It would mean seeing the person you love as an abuser, the enemy. The person you love is not the enemy.

You told everyone you’re having some trouble, but that it’s okay. Everyone said you should leave, but you ignored them. Now, if you tell them the truth, you’re the one who’s coming crawling back. The thought is humiliating. You remember the arrogant way they said ‘you should leave him,’ as if they had all the answers. You don’t want to give them the satisfaction.

If you tell anyone the truth, they will label the one you love an abuser and take you away from them.

You always said you’re not the sort of person who would let themselves get abused. Now, if you tell them the truth, they’re going to see you as the kind of person who does let themselves get abused. They are going to see you as weak. They are going to see you as a victim.

You are not a victim. You do not need an intervention and you are not traumatized and you don’t need to leave. All you’ve got to do is be a little more careful around the house. So you keep your shit in check, and you deal with your problems yourself.

Either something so frightening happens that you realize you have to leave, now, or you never get that chance in the first place.


Don’t assume that you would never find yourself in an abusive situation.

Don’t assume your friends wouldn’t, either.

Victims of abusive relationships are everywhere. One in four women are the victims of severe violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes. These victims are all in different parts of this story. Maybe right now, all their partner does is scream at them. Maybe their partner hit them once, last year, but they think it’s all in the past now. Maybe their partner is beating them every night, and the abuse has become so bad that they have no idea how to get out.

When victims of abuse hear the phrase “I would never let myself get abused,” they hear everything it implies. That phrase is a perfect way to broadcast that you are not a resource, that you are not a safe place for victims, and that they can not come to you for help.

Next time you want to say something like this, consider the victims that may be in the room with you. Consider that anyone might be a victim, from your best friend to that new girl your friend brought with them.

Maybe these victim’s partners are abusing them now. Maybe there’s a part of them that wants to ask for help but doesn’t know how. Maybe they don’t know who to ask.

Domestic abuse is like STD’s, or getting cancer from smoking. You can’t assume it won’t happen to you. The way to prevent domestic abuse is to educate yourself about the danger signs, and know to get out before it gets worse.

And when you’re talking about domestic abuse, remember that victims are all around you.