On Friday evening, Mark and I went to the supermarket. We did all our shopping, and after we got everything loaded up onto the conveyer belt at the checkout, I sat down on a seat near where Mark was being checked out.
I fractured my rib a week ago, so I while I was sitting down, I was also sort of holding my side, and probably had a slightly pained look on my face. Another supermarket employee walked by and opened up the checkout adjacent to the one Mark and I were at. She looked at me and asked if I was OK. I explained that I was just having a rest because I have fractured one of my ribs. She asked me how and I explained that it was from jumping onto a bed and smacking my elbow into my ribcage (Yes, you may laugh. Who breaks a rib on a BED?? Hahah).
She said “Oh, what did he do that to you for?” and gestured towards Mark. Assuming she meant why did he bring me to the supermarket, I explained that someone had to supervise the shopping trip, as it’s me who keeps inventory of our groceries. As I was explaining this, she and the lady serving Mark started giggling together and she said “it’s all right, you can admit it” and the penny dropped. She was making a joke.
A joke about domestic violence. A joke insinuating that my partner gave me the broken rib. While he was standing RIGHT THERE.
I was speechless. I honestly didn’t know what to say. Admittedly, it’s a pretty outrageous story, and kind of sounds like the sort of story a victim of domestic violence might invent to cover up what really happened. But if you suspect that a victim of domestic violence is covering up his or her abuse, there are ways to approach the victim in a supportive and loving manner.
Domestic violence is NEVER funny. It’s just not. It’s a very real, traumatic thing and trivialising it like that diminishes the impact it has on billions of lives across the world, every single day. Suggesting that my partner is physically abusive to me disrespects our relationship, disrespects him, and by expansion, disrespects every man who would never raise a hand to his partner. Making jokes about domestic violence unfairly demonises the wrong people, and silences victims who would otherwise raise their voices to ask for help.
I wish I’d had my wits about me enough to say something at the time, but I was literally so gobsmacked (and kind of in a lot of pain from walking around the supermarket) to formulate thoughts, let alone make words come out of my mouth.
I have never been a victim of domestic violence. I know how lucky I am. But imagine if I had been? Imagine if Mark WAS physically assaulting me in our home, and I was working up the courage to get ouf of there? Would I have lost my nerve to ask for help after a joke like that? Would he have taken me home and beaten me harder for nearly letting our secret out? Imagine if Mark was my new partner after I’d already survived an abusive relationship? Would a joke like that have undermined my trust in him?
Domestic violence victims and survivors already suffer with things like a stretched to breaking point legal system, a lack of space in crisis shelters, the “why did you let it go on so long?” judgements and the fear and shame of admitting that your spouse is assaulting you, without having to cope with off-colour jokes on top of everything else.
We need to take domestic violence seriously. It’s NEVER appropriate to joke about it, ever.