Re-victimization and the Blame Game

NewsOne deputy editor and contributor, Terrell Starr, recently reached out to me to participate in an article covering "black women experiencing shame when discussing domestic violence". Ironically, I was in the middle of working on a blog piece titled, “Black America and the Ten Ton Elephant” and I ended up having the conversation about domestic violence in the black community more than once that week. It was like black women and violence was the topic of the month, so I agreed to participate without any hesitation. I did a phone interview with him and shared my story and also told him about my advocacy work and project for National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

A few weeks later, NewsOne released the article titled, “Domestic Violence Survivor Helps Abused Women Regain Their Voice” and put the article on their Facebook page. In the article they shared a video of Glamour’s PSA, “Tell Somebody” campaign as well as a clip from the Katie Couric show. In the past each story was received well by viewers and I received an outpour of well wishes, therefore I expected the same treatment. Unfortunately this time around I was involuntarily thrown into rounds and rounds of the “blame game”.

The article has received a bunch of comments, some are supportive and others are just mean and hurtful. I was called an “enabler”, “desperate”, "S-T-U-P-I-D!!", and a few others left some uneducated and ill-informed remarks about victims of violence. I felt like I was being attacked and instead of having compassion and sympathy, I was being critiqued and analyzed. One guy mentioned that my father was absent; you can see him here, supporting my advocacy. It was clear to me that those who responded negatively either did not read the article in its entirety or they really just do not understand that abusers are solely responsible for their actions. I find it unfortunate that we know so little about dating violence and a whole lot about judgment and blame.

At first I decided to take the high road and not respond to any of the comments, but that doesn’t match my mission. I decided to take this opportunity as an educational experience for us all. After carefully reading each negative comment, I responded with a fact about domestic violence and information about appropriate responses to victims of intimate partner violence. There were too many mean and hurtful things for me to pick and choose through, but I managed to respond to without letting their unwarranted judgment and ignorance get the best of me. I posted the screenshots of the comments on my Facebook Page in a photo album titled, “Victim Blaming”.

Days later “trolls” are still responding with negative comments; one person even made a joke about my mother’s injuries. The joke was terrible and my mother didn’t laugh when I shared it with her. I have shared my story with so many people, service providers, and teenagers, admitted batterers, the courts, and even gave an impact statement at the sentencing of the person who committed the crimes against me and my mother. Not once had I received a negative comment. I use my story to shine the light on teen dating violence awareness, I was 17 years old and I never thought that I would end up in a violent relationship. I really believed that relationship abuse only happens the way it is portrayed in movies; only married stay at home moms could be victims of intimate partner violence.

At the end of the article, Terrell wrote, “Cobb hopes that her project and personal story of survival will help abused women realize that speaking out is a form of self-empowerment.” This past Monday I did not feel so empowered. Close friends and family members came to my defense and I saw others sharing their experience with domestic violence as well, but the insults were already made. The bottom line is this, I cannot and I absolutely refuse to take responsibility for someone else’s actions. Committing intimate partner violence against a person is a choice that is made; the abuser is responsible for their actions.

The easiest thing to do is nitpick at the victim and try to find a fault in them, God forbid we hold the abuser accountable. What is it about their self-esteem and psyche that drives them to abuse? My hope is that we can stop analyzing who makes up the “1 in 4” statistic and take a proactive approach to dating violence. I urge people to educate themselves about relationship abuse, find helpful ways to respond to a loved one in a violent relationship and enforce healthy relationships.