Can we stop sugarcoating domestic abuse in fiction?
Why didn’t she just leave?
They should’ve seen the warning signs.
They always seemed so perfect together.
It’s not my business, so I don’t want to get involved.
He isn’t perfect, but how bad can it really be?
It’s no secret that as a society, we look at domestic abuse from an often haughty, distorted lens that tends to be contradictory. On one hand, we promote the message that domestic abuse is wrong and that we would do anything to stop it. On the other hand, though, so many of us sit back and toss around condescending, judgmental ideas like the ones above.
In truth, it isn’t completely our fault. If we haven’t been through domestic abuse, it’s hard to wrap our heads around the fact that it takes on other forms than what our very skewed movies and pop culture show us about it. We have a very defined idea of what domestic abuse is—and isn’t—thanks to the books, movies, and articles that try to tell us all about it.
But here’s the thing—abuse takes on many forms. It isn’t something that can be stereotyped or classified. Abuse looks different in every situation, for every person. And oftentimes, it is much uglier, more manipulative, and scarier than we ever can begin to understand from a few movies or television show portrayals.
As a society, we tout that we understand the struggles of abuse. We share hotlines, we offer meek attempts at consoling men and women who are in abusive situations, and we offer expert advice on getting out. These are things that can, in truth, be helpful. There are many organizations who are doing amazing work to help victims of domestic abuse. Still, for many of us, our goodwill attempts in public often equate to a faux rallying of the troops that we’d rather just leave for someone else to deal with. Because many of us would rather close our eyes to the uncomfortable truths about the abuse that goes on around us than actually deal with it or really understand it.
I am not a survivor of domestic abuse myself, and I don’t claim to be an expert on it. I, too, understand that this limits my understanding of the true horrors of surviving it. Furthermore, I realize that this isn’t a problem that is simple to solve. So many factors hinder our real-life ability to effectively reach out, to make changes, and to offer a true, genuine lifeline.
However, I think because it is such a difficult problem to overcome, we need to converse about it more. Furthermore, we need to have deep, real, and raw conversations about abuse, not sugarcoated chats that cover up the true ugliness of the problem. Our society’s thinly veiled attempts to skirt abuse under the rug in order to focus on prettier concepts is, in truth, a hurdle to effectively helping victims.
We say we understand the dangers of abuse—but we get uncomfortable when someone talks about it. For many of us, domestic abuse is something that happens to other people. We pride ourselves on spreading “awareness” about it, but we don’t actually want to see it, to deal with it, to handle it.
When I wrote A Tortured Soul, I knew it would ruffle some feathers because the abuse portrayed in the book is uncensored. So many times, I think the media muffles and mutes the harsh realities of abuse, which is dangerous. Don’t get me wrong—any abuse is horrific. It is something we need to seek to stop in our society. Still, I think the danger in a muted portrayal of the abuse so many women and men are undergoing is that as a society, we think it’s not that big of a deal. We run the risk of closing our eyes to abuse happening around us. We fool ourselves into thinking “she can just deal with it on her own” or “he should just stand up for himself” when so often, that isn’t the case.
I wanted to paint a dark, grim reality of abuse in my thriller because I think we need to stop shying away from the dark realities of abuse in the real world. Is it unpleasant to look at domestic abuse in its rawest form? Yes. But do we need to recognize the struggles of victims in our society? Absolutely.
It is by recognizing the true horrors of domestic abuse that we as individuals can stop silencing the truths around us. It is by seeking to understand the harsh realities so many are living with that we can seek to set things right in the best way we can. We can start to demand justice. We can stop pretending to spread support and start actually doing it. We can start finding the courage to look at the ugly truths around us to better support those who are living through them.
We can stop hiding behind a face of anti-abuse messages and seek to find a deeper sense of problem-solving as a society.
The most poignant scene in A Tortured Soul for me, as the writer, comes near the end, when the sheriff notes his own fault in the major conflict of the book. He takes ownership for the fact that he had been too weak to see the true horrors of Crystal’s abuse. He had turned a blind eye and decided it was for her to deal with on her own.
It was a scene that made me question my own understandings of the struggles of abuse victims. It was a scene that held up a mirror and made me ask the question: have I been blinded to the real horrors of domestic abuse?
Domestic abuse isn’t something we all live through, thankfully. Still, it is when we can begin to actually internalize what domestic abuse looks like that not only our empathy can be enhanced, but our will to do something to stop it.
L.A. Detwiler, USA Today Bestselling author
USA TODAY Bestselling Thriller author with Avon Books (HarperCollins), The Widow Next Door