“Why does my abuser get the benefit of the doubt?”
This is a question I have heard more than once. Each time it causes me to stop in my tracks. It is the experience of many victims of assault that their abuser is given tremendous patience, understanding and even grace by those who hear of it. All the while the victim is questioned, second guessed, corrected and reproved.
To speak up is often to be disbelieved, questioned, or even vilified.
Why is this? Why is the response towards abuse so often tilted the wrong direction.
I believe in part it is because deep down most of us believe we are decently moral people and sadly it is this very belief that can lead to the abandonment, isolation and silencing of victims.
Let me explain.
Most of us believe deep down we are decent and moral. We might not have fooled ourselves into believing we are a Ghandi or Mother Theresa, but we do tend to believe that given the opportunity we would do right for someone in need.
Enter the possibility that we know a victim of assault or abuse.
The mere possibility that someone we know or even love is a victim of abuse threatens the existence of our sense of human decency. Very few of us would be comfortable knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that someone we know was a victim, and do nothing about it. After all, we are decent and moral, surely we wouldn’t stand by while this were happening. And so we hide.
Because as long as I’m not sure something happened, then I am free to carry on with my own life. As long as I categorize what happened as “a he said/she said” situation, or “we don’t really know what happened” or “I wasn’t there, I can’t be sure” then I am safe. My life is not interrupted and I have convinced myself that my moral decency is intact.
Essentially all of us as bystanders have a vested interest in a disclosure not being true. As merely a bystander it is better for my life if abuse and assault has not happened.
Because to believe, to accept, to side with a victim means I am now morally obligated to do something about it. I come to a crossroads where I can no longer sit back. After all, in my moral decency I would never knowingly sit back while someone I know was abused. Right?
Yet how many of us bury what we believe to be true under the guise of “I just don’t know” in order to avoid taking action. In my flesh I am fully capable of suppressing what is true in order to protect my own life and my own sense of goodness.
All of us are biased. As bystanders it would be better for us if assault didn’t happen to those we love, therefore we often come from an imbalanced place of discernment.
It is incredibly inconvenient for someone we know to be abused. It is incredibly inconvenient to stand by a victim. It interrupts your life. You will take peripheral damage for standing so close to them. Many things in your life will never be the same again.
Yet although inconvenient, and although our flesh tells us there is nothing to be gained by siding with victims, few things shape your life for the better more than advocating for the oppressed.
You will learn to cry. You will learn to empathize. You will learn that you can never say or do enough but also that your presence is immeasurable. You will learn patience and long-suffering.
And all of these things will grow you closer to the one who did them for you: Jesus Christ.
May we not miss out on the blessing of standing with the oppressed.