An abusive relationship is a moving train

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways that revolutionaries address misogynist sexual and intimate abuse[1]. In the ten years that I’ve been involved in revolutionary activism I’ve seen so many instances of abuse perpetrated by men against women, particularly abuse within sexual relationships. Sometimes this abuse is subtle and hard to identify: a pattern of emotional and psychological manipulation and control. Sometimes it’s not subtle at all: I know women who have been severely beaten by their socialist or anarchist partners. I know socialist and anarchist men who have raped women.

All of these situations have been different, but I think the common thread is that every time a woman has been brave enough to come out as a survivor of abuse, to expose a man who abused her, there have been some fucked up responses from people around her. People who are revolutionary activists dedicated to building a society based on justice sometimes don’t see how the injustice of misogynist abuse fits into their political struggle, because maybe they don’t think that intimate relationships, and the abuse that can happen within them, are a political issue.

One thing that always strikes me is the emphasis people put on having a ‘neutral’ view of the situation. For example they might argue that there are two sides of the story, and that both the abuser and the survivor’s side of the story should be given equal weight. Or they might try to set up a police style investigation, where the person who was abused is expected to reveal all the awful details of everything she went through so that the rest of her community can judge whether what happened to her was really abuse. Often people will refer to the ‘allegations’ of abuse, and insist on referring to the perpetrator as an ‘alleged’ abuser.

I think this is a strange response, because anarchists (and other revolutionary leftists) don’t really take a ‘neutral’ approach to any other political issue. For example I haven’t heard any of my comrades refer to George W. Bush as an ‘alleged’ war criminal, or demand that we wait until he is given a fair trial before we pass any judgment on his imperialist invasions. I haven’t heard any of my comrades withhold solidarity with striking workers because they haven’t yet heard the boss’s side of the story. When Rebel Press published The day the raids came: Stories of survival and resistance to the state terror raids, no one thought to criticize us for not telling Annette King and Aaron Pascoe’s stories alongside the stories of the people the New Zealand state terrorized as part of Operation Eight.

Leftwing Revolutionaries don’t usually take a neutral position on political issues. This is because we recognize that you can’t be neutral on a moving train. Standing aside while somebody is being oppressed is allowing oppression to continue. If you don’t stand solid with the oppressed you are taking the side of the oppressor. This applies to imperialist Western states bombing majority world peoples, it applies to capitalists getting rich off the labour of workers, it applies to the state using force to repress activists, and it also applies to men, even revolutionary men, who abuse women.

Because an abusive relationship is a moving train.


[1] I’m talking specifically about men abusing women, because that’s the pattern I’ve seen recur. That’s not to suggest that intimate and sexual abuse is only ever perpetrated by men against women.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “An abusive relationship is a moving train

  1. David

    This is an important problem. But it’s not an easy one to deal with.
    You say that giving both side of the story equal weight, trying to investigate what happened, or referring to ‘allegations’ is a strange position to take, but what’s the alternative?
    Yes, if someone says they’ve been abused it should be taken seriously, and often its not. But what then?
    Some cases of abuse may be clear cut, others are not. Some times personal relationships spiral out of control and there is abusive behavior on both sides.
    Some times one partners will put up with a low level of abuse, only to respond with something worse when they can’t take it anymore.
    And different people have very different standards about what is abuse and what is not, or what they will tolerate from their partners.

  2. generally in revolutionary circles condemnation or judgment (ie. should this person continue to be a member of our community?) IS left until after ‘both sides of the story’ are told.

    however the security of the victim comes first and foremost meaning if one does come forward about abuse they should have their requests for personal security and comfort seen as the first and foremost important factor. accusations of are abuse are not taken at all as seriously as they should be, i guess unless you’ve come ‘through the other side’ you cant really understand the gravity to which these situations should be afforded.

    that’s not to say the person who has committed the abuse will be condemned as beyond discussion or beyond giving a chance to speak, or beyond taking up useful interventions and be shunned.

    i was horrified to read in mellow yellow blog that apparently there had been some sort of situation occur where the victim couldn’t attend a community event because the abuser and his new girlfriend wanted to go. this actually makes me feel sick, and the attitude of ‘oh well we need to hear both sides of the story before excluding him’ creates these kinds of situations, and further, endangers more women in the community as the minimisation of the effect of the abuse on the victim by the community may cause other women to think ‘oh, hes at this event, he’s that bad’ or for women facing the same challenges ‘oh, my situation must not be that bad since she spoke out and hes still allowed to mix with her and our friends’.

  3. i suppose what it boils down to is,

    if someone calls the bomb squad saying theres a bomb threat, we evacuate, rather than saying ‘wait are you SURE? you just havn’t gotten to know the building well enough, the ticking is just its way of expressing itself.’

  4. mark

    Awesome article! An Abusive Relationship is a Moving Train

    I like Zanni’s ‘bomb squad’ metaphor, because abuse, like a bomb, can do a lot of damage. It is vital that responses to abuse are driven by those who have been abused.

    David you are right when you say:

    “This is an important problem. But it’s not an easy one to deal with.”

    However, saying it’s hard or what’s the alternative often leads to, it is too hard and there is no alternative.

    It is not easy to ‘deal with,’ partly, because we are not encouraged to talk about about intimate abuse, let alone taught how to support those who have been abused or support those who are abusive in ending their abuse or making amends for it (if that is possible, as sometimes it might not be).

    In the same vein as the above article, some activists don’t seem to have any trouble coming up with alternatives to state (in)justice in other areas such as employment justice, why should it be so hard for intimate abuse? Because, it is all of a sudden, about us and not ‘them’? Because, it is not talked about?

    I find some activists have a tendency to try and address every instance of conflict they are confronted with, even if they don’t have a well formed understanding of or any experience with the conflict they are trying to address. Maybe this is because we are on a moving train? Trains are good places to read and talk with people. There are many good books, support agencies, professionals and amazing feminists that know how to do at least something to address abusive relationships. Meaningful interaction with the above my help form some kind of understanding of ways to cope with intimate abuse.

  5. mark

    And thanks Nausea ,for,your blog and this article.

  6. Pingback: The radical left needs to be a safe space for women | not afraid of ruins

  7. jane doe

    i am a female anarchist in a deeply emotionally abusive relationship with an anarchist male, and i have not a fuck clue how to proceed. “just leave him” is much harder than it sounds. i don’t want to “just leave him.” my anarchist friends witness it all the time, and not a one has spoken up to me or spoken up for me. me and him have been banished from certain community houses and events because people do not like his behaviour. these people are my former friends. i do not get support from them when he treats me this way – only we both are no longer invited over. not even in private do i receive support. i feel so alone and so drowned sometimes. it happens in plain sight, and no one sees. i watch people shut down and pretend not to notice. and i am not sure how to untangle myself…

    i feel so disillusioned about this whole anarchist thing. i have considered myself an anarchist for 20+ years. people seem more and more rotton to the core. like anarchy is a facade, a fake, a game, a mask. why dont people take care of each other? if i was my own friend, i would help me out. if i was my own friend, i would ask if i was okay, and i would just listen and offer emotional support…

    anyway, support your friends, is all i can advise. they may need all the help and support that could ever be given through a face of ‘everything is fine’. everything is not fine. if you see it, if you see someone hurting, please offer support. if you see someone suffering, please be a friend. don’t turn your back because they are in pain. (you dont have to scream at the agressor either) sometimes, a person just needs some gentle support – an ally, someone to listen, someone to affirm that i am not the horrible worthless person that deserves to die that my partner sometimes makes me feel like. please offer a hug. please lend your ear without judging too severe. sometimes people just need to be listened to. i just wish i had someone to talk to who would listen (not email every damn infoshop in the world to tell everyone that my partner is an abuser). i just want a friend.

    lately, i think anarchist true friends are hard to come by.

    it is all very sad

  8. Reblogged this on diaryofanoccupier and commented:
    This seems to apply to a lot of behaviours within social movements…

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