By Theresa McArleton
I intently watched coverage of the allegations made against Ohio State University Assistant Football Coach Zach Smith, and the subsequent disciplinary action for the much beloved and often loathed head coach Urban Meyer. Of the quotes that stood out the most to me were those made by Meyer, where he likened the issues and accusations regarding domestic violence to a “personal matter.”
Domestic violence accusations are a “personal matter,” says a man whose responsibility extends far beyond him. Let me say this as loudly as possible for those in Ohio and beyond—domestic violence is not a personal matter, but the longer our society continues to view it as one, the longer people in positions of power and influence over young men will cover up their actions, and abuse will continue.
I am both a victim and survivor of domestic violence. These are words I have never written on paper. Words I’ve barely let escape from my lips in the last 10 years since I walked away from my abuser. Words I continue to be ashamed of.
I am ashamed of the abuse that I suffered at the hands of my partner. In my mind, I wasn’t “supposed to be” a victim of domestic violence.
What does that even mean? I guess it means different things for different people. For me, it means that I grew up in the most loving home. My father, though imperfect, happens to be one of the gentlest, most romantic, earnest, nurturing, and guiding forces I’ve ever known. My mother is strong, independent, and perfect in my eyes. I had means to leave and yet I stayed with my abuser because I believed the abuse was my fault.
Then again, are you abused if he never hit you? I’ve questioned my abuse often over the years. I’ve wanted to believe that I am not a statistic of this widespread societal problem.
A few months ago, I read a piece a brave woman wrote about the very real and damaging abuse she suffered at the hands of her ex-husband and I remember thinking to myself, “That’s all he did?” Fuck. “That’s all he did?” Did I honestly think that? The truth is I did. And then I knew. I knew that she had suffered from abuse and I knew then that I had to stop questioning whether I was abused or not.
Studies show that 1 in 4 women have experienced abuse by a spouse or boyfriend. Domestic violence victims are women we meet every single day. Women just like me. Women who are or will become mothers.
I am both a victim and survivor of domestic abuse. I am a mother of sons.
My throat is closing in on me as I type this and my eyes can barely see. I’m not crying because of the abuse, though. I am crying because of the shame. The hot, burning, seething shame that my abuser bestowed upon me.
I am a victim of domestic violence.
I am a survivor. I am a mother.
So when I read the quotes from Meyer and others coming out of OSU, I wonder if they will ever be able to see it, get it, understand it.
Do they know the best position to be in when he pins you against a stairwell so you can breathe just a little bit?
Do they know about that arch in the back, the way you can contort your body so that it hurts just a little less?
Do they know what it is like to think that if we would just breathe a little quieter, be a little less seen and say just the right thing, everything will be okay?
Do they know what it’s like to already feel the hot shame and guilt of those marks on your wrist, on your neck, under your armpit?
I believe that Courtney Smith knows it, I know it, and I know it is not a “personal matter.”
Urban Meyer thinks that calling the issues “personal” excuses him and thousands like him from being responsible. My gut knows better and my gut knows that abusers are often the nicest people in the room. They use their niceness as a tactic. My abuser did.
When I finally told a few of our mutual friends about the abuse, I could see it in some of their eyes. They didn’t believe me or felt it was too messy or complicated for them to be involved with. One friend (past tense) even told me that “he didn’t want to know any of that stuff because it was between him and me.” It was so much safer not knowing, safer for him and safer for Urban Meyer. It somehow makes the abuse my fault, Courtney Smith’s fault, the victim’s fault. It keeps the cogs in the wheel of this cycle turning.
For the boys on all the football teams and for the boys and girls at college campuses and in our homes, we must change the rhetoric to stop the wheel from turning.
It was not my fault. It is not your fault. If you think you are abused, you are. You are. And it is never your fault. Nor is it ever a “personal” issue.
Domestic violence is not personal. It is societal. It is misogynistic. It is unacceptable and it is real. It is your issue. It is my issue. It is a human issue.
About the Author
Theresa McArleton is a terrified new writer and social justice and political science advocate who plays in parks for work and with her kids.