How do we even talk to abusers?

Hi everyone, it’s me, Yoo-Jin!  This week I’d like to reflect on my TED Talk, Ray Rice, and abusers/ perpetrators of relationship violence. First of all, I couldn’t have done this talk without the help of our coordinator, Megan, who brought her incredible insight and wit to help structure my talk. As I was preparing for my TEDx Talk, which was about reframing the way we think and talk about relationship violence (and as a result acted or didn’t act when faced with it), I found that with the media outcry of Ray Rice’s video of him punching his then fiancee, Janay Palmer, my talk became relevant in a way that I hadn’t anticipated. As I went through my talk this past Saturday, I talked to the audience about three steps we can take to prevent and recognize relationship violence:

  1. Think 
  2. Speak
  3. Act

I addressed the ways we often think of relationship violence in our society- in the most extreme cases, often involving celebrities and catastrophes (physical abuse, death, viral videos). This also affects the way we talk about relationship violence, zooming in, how we talk about both perpetrators (as people who are distant from us) and victims (as people we blame, to distance from us because we wouldn’t make the same choices they did). Through my discussion, I went through the hidden, pervasive, and invisible forms of violence that happen everyday, and I will tell you, I saw some uncomfortable audience members in the crowd. Yes, violence is a difficult and possibly uncomfortable conversation for anyone.

However, this issue was brought home to me in a different way. I found myself struggling with this issue specifically, now with a person on the other end: an abuser. How do I handle this? How do I talk to someone who does exhibit concerning behaviors? How do I talk to this person, who I’ve known and loved for years? As I searched through resources, I found an incredible lack of tools and realized how both sides of this issue are important. Of course, victims and survivors of abuse are important and deserve support and resources but how do we even begin to talk to abusers? Abusers who could be our friends, our classmates, our coworkers? Just like victims can be anyone…so can abusers. Abusers are not demons who are always entirely bad, psychotic people- their behaviors are unacceptable, but does that make them less valuable as a human being? This odd dissonance and guilt is associated with so many different factors- it’s interesting how this dynamic can flip: determining who gets the empathy and who gets the blame? It is clear to me, that the person who must take responsibility for their actions is the person who abuses other people, because at the end of the day, violence is never okay and is never acceptable. I did want to acknowledge this challenge that I faced and will continue to face in engaging in productive and appropriately empathetic dialogues with the abusers who might need help or seek change.

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