Justice usually evades those of us who are abused. Even if our abusers face the full force of the law, ‘justice’ and ‘law’ are not the same thing.
If you have managed to escape from an abusive relationship – no matter who the abuser was – and if you have managed to carve out any sort of a life for yourself, then you are one of the fortunate few. If you have managed to challenge your abuser/s, you are in an even smaller minority. If you are now in a position where your healing has allowed you to decide you want justice, then I think the first thing you need to do is decide what justice looks like for you.
Justice, as you know, is very distinct from law. The law is written – my eleven-year-old daughter pointed out a few months ago – by angry, old, white men. Not only that, but it is written for angry, old, white men. If you want a man who sexually assaulted you convicted, then chances are you will be sorely disappointed. The odds are stacked against you.
Many women with whom I have spoken, and who have been through the justice system, mention their regret at engaging with the law. They have expressed disappointment at how they were treated – not (always) by individuals in the system, but by the system itself. So before you, as a victim of sexual assault, decide you want to pursue someone through the law, you might want to take some time to decide for yourself what justice looks like to you. Because the only person who has to be happy with your decision is you.
Justice, for you is about you. It’s about what you decide you want and need for yourself in order for you to be able to live the best life possible. I know when I decided to take action against my brothers (I have four brothers, but the younger two never assaulted me) for sexually abusing me – up to and including raping me digitally, orally, vaginally, anally and with objects – I did so for a fistful of reasons.
Among them were the desire to ensure that they never abused anyone else (abusers tend to keep abusing unless they are stopped). I did so because I wanted them to see the destruction and the devastation and the damage that they had inflicted on me and, by extension, on my children. And I wanted them to express their remorse for that damage.
This specific goals were too lofty, and too unattainable for me to have any chance of achieving them. I realised that I can’t make someone else be sorry; and I can’t protect entire populations from my brothers; the best I can do is gather together what’s left of my life and cobble it into the best life for myself and my children that I possibly can. There is a saying that the best revenge is living well – but I contend that, sometimes, the best revenge is merely living.
Justice, for me, is gathering what I was left with after years of abuse, and using it to the best of my ability for my good and for the good of as many people as possible. I decided years ago that my life’s purpose was to be the most useful person that I could possibly be. I use my experiences of abuse to help other people make sense of theirs. I use my experiences of abuse to let other people know they are not alone. I use my experiences of abuse to inform my academic research which will, I hope, help even more people understand and deal with the complex trauma they suffer as a result of abuse.
That’s why my book begins with a quote from Hubert Humphrey that reads:
“Oh, my friend, it’s not what they take away from you that counts.
It’s what you do with what you have left.”
Justice, for me, is doing the best with what I have left and using .