A Paralleled System: Ending the Cycle of Abuse - Rolling Stone
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A Paralleled System: Ending the Cycle of Abuse

We deserve to take our power back, and we deserve to have organizations that value our safety. 

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Let’s talk about a paralleled system that perpetuates the cycle of abuse. Let’s talk about the privilege of how abusers navigate our criminal justice system.

On Monday, June 13, 2022, my abuser plead guilty to revenge porn. It took two years for the state of Texas to arrest him and another four years to charge him. In the six years total, my calls to the District Attorney went unanswered and I continued to get violent, anonymous threats online.

The punishment handed down to my abuser was community service, a fine and an apology letter to me. It is a punishment that includes continued contact with my abuser, the person who physically abused me — choked me, gave me concussion after concussion — who it took me years to build the confidence to call the police on and eventually leave. When my fears were met with nonchalance, I made a decision, packed a suitcase, took my dogs and left everything that I owned in that apartment.

Abuse doesn’t just live at home. Abusers exist in all facets of society. According to findings from The Hotline, one in three women and one in four men will experience physical violence, stalking or sexual assault from a physical partner. Studies have found that victims who experienced non-fatal strangulation were over 700% more likely to become a victim of homicide by their partner.

Many of us go through this alone, blaming ourselves for being broken — but we are not broken. So many of us believe that we do not deserve to come home to ourselves after journeys like this. They often say that a break is better than a fracture. Fractures never heal right.

Abusers do not deserve our silence. Abusers do not deserve our protection. Abusers do not deserve grace. We deserve a world where our systems protect us. So why do we protect these same people in our workspaces?

Leaders have a role to play in supporting employees facing the cyclical nature of abuse. Teaching abusers that abuse is tolerated amplifies the safety they feel to be abusers in other dynamics. The privilege of abusers extends beyond intimate partner violence. We see this dynamic played out over and over again in our workplaces. According to the CDC, in 2019, 20, 870 workers experienced non-fatal violence in the workplace.

Trauma and violence do not always take a physical form, though. Violence does not exist in a vacuum — our experiences of trauma run parallel from our home life to our work life. Workplace trauma is trauma.

I was recently asked during a training: “Don’t you feel like calling racism/homophobia at work ‘trauma’ is inflammatory? Isn’t it just being uncomfortable?” No, it’s not inflammatory. My sock sliding down in my shoe is uncomfortable, but it doesn’t impact how I show up in life.

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Experiencing racism at work is not uncomfortable, it is traumatic. Being ostracized isn’t uncomfortable, it is traumatic. Exclusion often impacts us as trauma.

When you experience trauma, you live in this place of being ready to fight or ready to run. You cannot perform your best when suspended in mid-air, unable to place your feet firmly on the ground. When I talk about safety at work, I am talking about people’s ability to exist out loud without fear of being demonized for their identity and without being emotionally manipulated to exist differently.

If you want to protect survivors, learn to hold people accountable for causing harm and inflicting trauma in your own business. Forget the buzzwords and jargon. Forget the warm, fuzzy feelings. Start getting real about the safety of your organizations. Write policies that set boundaries. Enforce those policies when people break those boundaries. It shouldn’t matter if they’re the CFO, a top performer or your cousin.

Powerful people who use their power to cause harm often use their power to ensure it is swept under the rug. Domestic violence has increased with remote work trends. Train your managers to recognize behaviors, patterns and signs of violence at home and in the workplace.

Want to be a better ally?

• Believe our stories.

• Hold people accountable (even when it’s someone you love, respect, etc).

• Check in on people, even those who appear to be happy.

We deserve to take our power back, and we deserve to have organizations that value our safety. We don’t want an apology letter; we need justice. We need change. We need to create systems that protect us, a world in which justice isn’t a warm fuzzy bandaid.


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