Tag Archives: physical violence

The opposite of Mercy

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Trigger Warning: Physical and Sexual abuse, Child abuse, Torture, Victim Blaming

Cruelty is the opposite of Mercy; to have the power to hurt someone and choose to do so. It is not the same as being mean to someone. Here’s why…

Many times after I was sexually abused, the perpetrator blamed me for it.  It seemed to be a way to make them feel better about hurting me – a type of victim blaming for simply being vulnerable around them, for being who I was in their vicinity.  I was also blamed a lot for tempting men when nothing was happening, and all of that before I was even 8 years old.  To blame a child for the actions of adults is cruelty.

As an adult I found a different kind of cruelty that happened when I was genuinely interested in being sexual with both Cis and Trans men.  The men would often appear nervous at my enthusiasm, like they were assuming women and feminine people aren’t supposed to like sex, and so it they had to be tricked or forced into it.  How could men conquer me when I was willing and ready for them?  But many men don’t know what to do with that.  And after the nerves would come the nasty comments – I must be a dirty slut who will screw anyone, or I must be a sex worker only looking to make some quick money.  Some men cannot seem to be sexual without coercion, force and blame.  An assertive, sex-positive woman or feminine person terrifies them. And blimey, men have often made me pay a high price for their fear.

Cruelty is knowing you’re hurting someone vulnerable, who depends on you for their lives or livelihood.  This isn’t only where the victims are children, but the elderly, those with disabilities and sometimes even employees of the perpetrator.  Cruelty is humiliating someone until they believe the perpetrator’s words and actions are justified – that the victim deserves the pain, so fighting back isn’t even an option for them.

Cruelty is the act of torture.  Unlike the common depictions of torture in fiction, it is rarely about getting information.  Victims of torture will say anything to make the perpetrator stop inflicting pain, so any information gained can’t be trusted anyway.  Torture is not only done to prisoners of war either: it can be perpetrated by ordinary people in very strong positions of power.  Torture is done to break the wills of the victim so the perpetrator doesn’t have to do anything further to carry on the terror.

Cruelty is threatening to hurt someone or something even more vulnerable, and sometimes carrying out those threats, so the victim will fall in line.  Sometimes a perpetrator will eve encourage the victim to care about a pet, younger sibling, or even a doll, and then threaten to hurt that thing. I remember a few times where my little brother was asleep in the same room when my dad and his friend hurt me.  The only thing circling my head was, “I mustn’t wake the baby.”  It was all a form of leverage. 

Society can set up vulnerable people, making it harder to get help when they need it, and that in itself is a type of cruelty.  Men are supposed to be “too strong” to be sexually or physically assaulted, so if it happens then they are perceived as “weak”.  Women aren’t supposed to be able to physically or sexually assault others, so their victims are rarely believed.  Black women in particular are supposed to always be ‘resilient’ so they can shrug off the pain others inflict on them, and if they cannot then they’re silenced – the list goes on.  Victim blaming and victim denial are acts of cruelty because it hurts and shames people who have already survived a traumatic event.  Heaping pain upon more pain for the perpetrator’s pleasure and society’s reassurance is cruel in the extreme.

When Abusers Die

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Trigger Warning: Details of incest, childhood and adult sexual abuse and physical violence.

I ran away from my violent, abusive family 28 years ago.  Last night I discovered that two of my worst abusers died – my mum and my eldest brother.  I awoke from a nightmare about one of them, and then I did a ill-advised thing: I looked up my old surname on the internet.  My old name was pretty unique, and I’d never met anyone with it unless we were related.  Looking up my old name is something I have only ever did when I was drunk or petrified, but I still wish I’d never done it.

I always thought I’d feel a sense of relief when one of my abusive family members died.  But I felt a howl of pain build up inside me instead. A few of my Alters went into a state of panic and dread. I started crying and couldn’t stop for hours.

My mum sexually abused me once.  I’m trying hard to not say, “just the once,” because one time is too many.  What she did far more was physical and emotional violence.  I still have terrible flashbacks to a beating she administered to me on Christmas Eve in the middle of Ridley Road Market, as all the other shoppers looked on.  She also set up weird ritual stuff that makes me want to vomit just thinking about it.  I grew up terrified of her, and that I’d become just like her.  Many people don’t want to acknowledge that a woman can sexually abuse someone. They don’t have a penis, right?  Women don’t need a penis when they have fingers, hairbrush handles or bottles.  The shame felt by survivors of abuse, where the perpetrator was a woman, is incredibly hurtful. We shouldn’t have to silence ourselves because so few will believe us.

Where my mum was pure rage, my eldest brother was totally charming.  He was the rebel of my old family – a soldier, a painter, an open drinker, and non-religious in a community where church was only thing you did on a Sunday.  He would give me booze and pills in secret.  He would talk to me like we were equals, instead of 15 years apart.  He also sexually abused me right up until I ran away.  

There’s a page in my zine about surviving abuse, where I write of a time I once woke up in a pool of my own blood.  That was his doing.  The thing that stayed with me the most though, was of how neatly he’d adjusted my nightie, folding it under my armpits in a concertina, so none of my blood got on it. I realise how my Alters and my own brain employed amnesia to protect my fifteen-year-old self from the worst of that incident, but I still feel so messed up about that.

For most Black people, family is the most important thing in the world.  For survivors who are Black, we face meagre support from medical and social services who don’t even think these things can happen to us.  We also face ostracism from other Black people who see us as ‘deficient’ for not having a family or at least a good relationship with them.  As survivors, we are often seen as broken and potential abusers instead of victims of terrible crimes that were done to us as children.

Support adult survivors of child abuse. Because right now it feels like nobody does.