Domestic Abuse: The One That Got Away

For many people, it can be hard to understand why a woman would repeatedly return to a partner that is both emotionally and physically abusive. On average, it takes women about five attempts to leave their abuser. Enter a recent PSA released by Interval House on Valentine’s Day.

From the start of the PSA the viewer is introduced to three men who are asked about “The One that Got Away.” At first, these men appear sweet, attentive, and charming. They use warm, affectionate language to describe their former girlfriends. One man misses his former partner’s “smile and friendship” while another describes his former partner as “just so adorable.” They appear broken-hearted over the loss of their respective former partners and even more passionate about love.

To the viewer, the men’s telling of their stories implies their respective relationships ended because their girlfriends broke it off. One man says that they fought “as everyone does” and another states that his former partner was “dramatic” and difficult to talk to. In short, these men came across as being “the perfect boyfriend.” Their language and charm elicits sympathy from the viewer. The start of their stories don’t speak about the emotional, possessive, and controlling abuse they inflicted on their partners.

The PSA shifts to an uncomfortable, chilling note as these men continue to tell their stories. Their verbal and body language become subtly more obsessive and almost violent. One man says that he would “call, and call, and call, and call,” each "call" punctuated by a repeated tap on his steering wheel. Another man claims that “she’s [his] girl” and that “she’s not gonna be with anyone else.” Yet another man states that, “it’s not over until it’s over.”

Interval House’s PSA focuses more on emotionally abusive relationships – ones that are controlling and possessive. It shifts the focus away from the victim to the abuser. Instead of emphasizing the reasons women should leave an abusive relationship, it emphasizes the reasons why women stay.

Imagine putting yourself into this story. Imagine hearing these men’s versions of “the one that got away” in the tone at the beginning of the PSA. You would assume that their relationships dissolved naturally, perhaps something due to lives going in different directions. The tone these men used at the beginning of the PSA implies that these men are sweet, attentive, and charming, and their hearts were broken through no fault of their own. It makes the viewer and listener sympathize with the "sweet" man that a woman left him broken-hearted when he only cared for and loved her.

Abusive partners are not abusive 24/7. In the beginning of relationships, people often do not show their true colours. Many individuals come off as charming and gentle, and they display sweet moments that show their partners that they care. Women in abusive relationships tend to hold on to the sweet, attentive, and charming sides of their abusive partners. To a degree, they believe that somehow they will be able to fix these men, and the sweet, attentive, and charming sides of their abusive partner will remain. To these women, their abusive partners are not all bad. Therefore, although these women realize that they’re being treated poorly, they remain with their abusive partners.

It is also important to keep in mind that while Interval House’s PSA concentrated on emotionally abusive relationships, the same principles apply to physically abusive ones. This PSA sheds a light on how abusive relationships can be very easy to walk into, especially when the abuser blends in as the average John or person. In an interview with Huffington Post, Rachel Ramkaran, Interval House’s communications associate stated that:

“Usually a relationship starts out really lovely and charming and then a woman hangs on to the memory of that once it does become an abusive situation, and she thinks that she can help her partner get back to the person that they were before. When, in fact, usually that’s not the person that they really were ― it tends to be a ruse and once the relationship gets close enough the exercise of control happens.” 

Thus, sometimes it is hard to identify an abusive relationship, and always even harder to leave one.