Why can experiences of domestic violence and relationship abuse be so difficult to talk about?


Domestic violence and relationship abuse involve a betrayal of trust and mar an individual's conception of love. A woman can experience feelings of self-loathing, inadequacy, and worthlessness both during the harmful relationship and following its termination. Abusive men possess an arsenal of psychological tactics to diminish a woman’s self-worth and engender self-doubt in her, which in turn, renders her easier to manipulate and control. Many women recognize they are in a harmful romantic relationship but still believe they can change their partner. An abusive partner may feign affection and disingenuously exhibit signs of transformation in order to play into a woman's hopes. However, once he disarms his female partner and convinces her that he's changed, he will revert back to his abusive character. In turn, a woman may blame herself for not reforming her partner and sink into a morass of shame and despair. The sensitive nature of romantic trauma makes it painfully difficult to talk about, and there is a reluctance to admit one has loved a coldhearted and contemptible man.


On the sociocultural level, there is a stigma surrounding domestic violence and relationship abuse. Women who do talk about their experiences can meet opposition and judgment within a range of institutions and personal relationships. In many instances, a woman would rather remain silent about her abuse than risk being invalidated or spurned by state officials, medical professionals, loved ones, etc. Even when a woman is not explicitly blamed for the problems of her abusive relationship, she is sometimes judged discreetly for entering and staying in the relationship. The scrutiny of others can exacerbate existing feelings of worthlessness and shame that stem from the trauma itself. Institutions and individuals whom the victim seeks for support and relief may intentionally or unintentionally diminish or invalidate her experiences, which can lead to an increased reluctance to disclose the pain she has endured.


Why can fiction be an effective tool for discussing and understanding domestic violence and relationship abuse?


Fiction correlates with increased empathy. The reader becomes an empathetic observer as she engages with a fictional work. Within the context of domestic violence and relationship abuse, a victim has been subject to the unremitting scrutiny of her abusive partner, which can produce a negative self-image. This scrutiny can spill over into other interactions and relationships in a victim’s life, whether that be with a therapist, medical professional, law enforcement agent, legal official, or a close family member/friend. An abused woman can often feel like an object of examination, which in turn disempowers and potentially dehumanizes her.


Fiction that deals with domestic violence and relationship abuse allows a woman to become an empathetic observer who encounters experiences similar to her own within a text. The empathetic and more objective perspective she acquires through reading about the plights of another can then be applied to herself and her own trials and challenges.


How was the initial list of texts selected?


The initial reading list aims to be culturally diverse while covering works published across multiple historical and literary periods. The first four texts vary in how and the degree to which they depict domestic violence and relationship abuse. These first four works contain myriad forms of romantic abuse and violence: excessive surveillance, emotional manipulation, coercion, blackmail, infidelity, battery, and sexual assault. The preliminary reading list seeks to engage victims with themes and patterns of romantic violence and patriarchal control in validating and empowering ways.


What is the primary objective of this project?


The primary objective of this project is to help victims reimagine rather than relive their traumatic experiences. This site should not be considered a substitute for more conventional forms of therapy and counseling; rather, it seeks to afford a space where a community of victims and survivors can take shape through interactions with fiction. As previously stated, domestic violence and relationship abuse can be extremely difficult to discuss with others, and fictional texts may act as a filter through which traumatic ordeals can be addressed and illuminated.


Through the empathy-promoting activity of reading, this project strives to build a community of support that exposes and resists systemic patriarchal abuse and oppression while navigating the hazards of toxic masculinity. In regard to the individual, it seeks to prepare victims for conventional forms of therapy that may seem inaccessible or uncomfortable at the moment. Fiction can function as a bridge to meaningful connections and lead victims to resources that can help and support them in managing their romantic trauma and forging paths to empowerment.