“I can’t find the words to explain how I feel – but I do know that I feel crazy in my relationship.”
So many women in our community spent years trying to to understand why they felt so responsible, alone, afraid, physically unwell, and yes – crazy – in their relationships.
Jane Gilmore explains in this riveting final interview how the media enables abuse – and consequently, causes victims to feel completely crazy and responsible for the abuse. Read the full transcript below and listen to the interview for more.
We Feel Crazy When We Can’t Explain What’s Happening to Us
Have you tossed and turned at night, completely unable to find the language to describe that uneasy awareness that something is just off?
Jane describes it here:
“[His abusiveness] builds up over time. It starts and then it stops and then he’s sweet and then he’s cold, and then he disappears and you know he’s lying. But all you’ve got is a gut feeling and you’re not sure what to do with it. Any woman who’s been in that relationship will instantly recognize it. Like when you wake up at three in the morning and you feel sick and your brain’s just spinning, spinning, spinning, and you’re trying to work out what’s really going on. ‘Am I crazy? Am I imagining this? I don’t know what to do and I’m too scared to tell anyone ’cause I’m just gonna feel like a fool.'”
Jane Gilmore, Consent Educator
Covert Abuse Feels Impossible to Describe
Overt abuse, the kind that the media has determined is “real” abuse – abuse that:
- Leaves bruises, blood, breaks bones
- Is clearly documentable and would immediately illicit a response from a police officer to side with you
- Damages property
- Scares children into siding with you
- Is clearly visible to other people, besides you
Is generally MUCH easier to describe than the abuse that women in our community face.
COVERT Abuse Includes:
- Intimate betrayal, including secret pornography use
- Sexual coercion
- Covert physical abuse, including physical harm that does not leave marks or is committed secretly
- Covert threats
- Stalking without any proof
- Spiritual/religious abuse
The Media Enables Abuse – This is How
“Most of the media is controlled by men, so they’re not going to be able to show [abuse] from a woman’s point of view, because firstly, they don’t understand it. And secondly, they don’t really want to. It’s not like there’s a huge crew of powerful white men in the media going, ‘Let’s make women really, really aware of the manipulations that men do to keep them under control.’ And this is not deliberate or conscious or planned out. A lot of it just happens subconsciously, but, ‘Let’s make women feel responsible. Let’s make them be the ones that are trying really hard.”
Jane Gilmore, Consent Educator
When the media, including:
- News media
- TV shows
- Social media
- Public forums
depict abuse as solely overt abuse, they are ignoring a huge demographic of women who are experiencing life-threatening covert abuse. As a society, we are conditioned to depend on the media (in all of its forms) to determine what “normal” is – and the media is doing a terrible job of defining and validating abuse for victims.
You ARE NOT CRAZY – You’re Being Abused
Just because the media, your family, friends, clergy, and others have de-validated your experience because the abuser has not punched you, broken down a door, or threatened to murder you – please take the abuse you’re experiencing seriously.
- Feel crazy
- Feel unable to determine reality
- Find yourself consistently preoccupied with trying to “fix” yourself in order to “gain” fidelity, respect, honesty, and/or equality in your relationship
- Feel a general kind of uneasiness,
you may be experiencing covert abuse – and unfortunately, as an organization that specializes in covert abuse, including intimate betrayal, we have learned that victims of covert abuse are in danger. Please seek safety. We are here to help.
Jane Gilmore is back on today’s episode talking about how the media portrays abuse. This episode kinda makes me a little bit sick because my dear friend Leah Moses, her son, Om, was murdered by his father, like I talked about last week, I did this interview before that happened, and there’s a section in this episode where I say, ‘Hey, everybody, look for headlines of where this happens, where they don’t clearly describe the perpetrator of murder as an abuser and put examples in the comments.’
When Leah’s son was murdered, for a brief time, she asked me to help her with media stuff. So I reached out to the media to try and correct the record, and they did not listen to me, and they did not believe me. Then one of them actually asked me to be on the news, and then decided that it was not going to be “ethical” because it couldn’t be proven with court documents that she was abused. And so then they told me that they didn’t want me anymore, and they ran an awful, awful, awful news story about how it was both of their faults. It was a “high-conflict divorce” sort of thing. And I thought, Wasn’t him murdering Om the proof? It was so frustrating. Anyway, so later in this episode, I say, ‘Won’t it be fun to gather up examples of this from all over?’, not realizing when I said that, that I would have personal experience with this.
“It just makes me sick”
It hurt Leah so much to not only have the court not believe her for 14 years, but then have the media get it wrong. And I thought, Oh, we can just correct the record with the media. And I tried, and there were a few news outlets who did do a good job (I’m hoping by the time this airs, which I don’t know when this will air, and I don’t know what’s happened in between this and when it airs because I schedule stuff really far out on this podcast so that everything’s organized. We can always post every Tuesday and we have a system, so I don’t exactly know what’s happened since I put this in the queue. But if you do, please go write it in the comments if something else occurred), but it just makes me sick. And it was so hard. So to hear my own self say, ‘Oh, won’t this be fun’ actually, it triggered myself this week because I’m editing this and queuing it up only a week after Om’s death.
“There are real victims behind these headlines”
So Jane and I wrapped it up today with talking about how difficult it is, and then I said it would be fun. I said to find all these terrible headlines and put ’em all in one spot. And now I know that I should’ve known. I should’ve known this before, but apparently I didn’t, that there are real victims behind those headlines who see those headlines and they hurt them very much, and it’s just an extension of the abuse. So no, I don’t think it’s fun, and I apologize for saying that. There wasn’t really any way to edit it out. And so I take accountability for saying it and and apologize in advance.
So now to our conversation.
A lot of women have seen Sleeping with the Enemy or Safe Haven, so they think this is what abuse looks like, right? He’s going to be screaming in her face, he’s going to be spitting, he is going to be punching walls, he’s going to be locking her in her bedroom, things like that. Why do you think we don’t see depictions of emotional and psychological abuse often in the media? And I also have kind of noticed that sometimes it’s more depicted by women like in Gone Girl.
“Let’s make women feel responsible”
Yeah, again, it’s firstly trying to make women responsible for the things that men do and to hide men’s violence, right? Remember that most of the media is controlled by men, so they’re not going to be able to show these things from a woman’s point of view, because firstly, they don’t understand it. And secondly, they don’t really want to. It’s not like there’s a huge crew of powerful white men in the media and any country in the world going, “Let’s make women really, really aware of the manipulations that men do to keep them under control.” And again, this is not deliberate or conscious or planned out. A lot of it just happens subconsciously, but “Let’s make women feel responsible. Let’s make them be the ones that are trying really hard.” So some of the things that we don’t talk about when we’re looking at media about abusive relationships is it’s really easy to make it physical.
“They don’t show the sort of things that are really corrosive, but not obvious”
Oh yeah, if he punches you in the face, then okay, that’s obvious. That’s violence. So they don’t show the sort of things that are really corrosive, but not obvious.
I remember talking to a woman once who told me that her husband could just look at her and she would be so overcome by fear and insecurity. And she said, “I couldn’t think straight because all he would do would just look at me”, because once a year or so, he would terrify her. He would do something so terrifying that she just wouldn’t know what to do. And then for the rest of that year, all he’d have to do to remind her of that, to put her back into that space of terror was just give her that look. And what do you do? Do you go to the police and say, “Well, he looked at me.” That’s ridiculous, right?
Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, and that’s what’s really difficult for women in abusive relationships in court cases, for example, when they’re trying to say, “Look at these messages he’s sending me. They’re so abusive.” And the court looks at them and they’re like, “What are you talking about?” To outsiders it seems like just normal, but it’s not.
“Had he killed her… they all would’ve said he was such a good guy”
Yeah. I’ll never forget that woman, and just that, “What could I do?”, because the rest of the time he seemed, certainly to outsiders, like a good guy. And had he killed her, and I honestly wouldn’t have surprised me if he had, eventually journalists would’ve gone to his friends afterwards and said, “What was he like?”, and they all would’ve said, “He was such a good guy.” And then the journalists would’ve reported it that way. But this was a man who was terrorizing his wife, almost never physically hurting her. Just making sure that she was always aware that he was the one in charge, that she had to obey him and placate him and be wary of him and be stepping around his feelings all the time and be looking after him. And he would just sit back and not have to do anything.
“It was so hard for her to explain to anyone what he was doing”
And then eventually, slowly, slowly, slowly, she might start to forget a little bit. So just like I said, once every year or two, he would remind her. And again, that reminder didn’t always have to be physical violence. It could just be standing over her intimidating her, making her feel small and helpless and powerless like she couldn’t do anything, like she couldn’t think straight, like she couldn’t have any choice at all, that she was just completely helpless. And he would make her feel that way just every now and again, then just gently remind her. And it was so hard for her to explain to anyone what he was doing or why she was so miserable or why she couldn’t leave because it wasn’t obvious. Also, I think in some ways (I’m not here to make a lot of excuses for the media), that kind of manipulation is hard to show in a 1 1/2-hour movie…
“All you’ve got is a gut feeling and you’re not sure what to do with it”
…because it builds up over time and it’s about how it starts and then it stops and then he’s sweet and then he’s cold, and then he disappears and then, he’s lying. But all you’ve got is a gut feeling and you’re not sure what to do with it. And that constant back and forth and back and forth and always exhausting, unsettling weirdness is hard to show in a movie.
But any woman who’s been in that relationship will instantly recognize it. And this is where I think women really have that power of being able to talk to each other because if I talk to a woman who’s in that and I say, “You know that thing when you wake up at three in the morning and you feel sick and your brain’s just spinning, spinning, spinning, and you’re trying to work out what’s really going on? Am I crazy that I’m imagining this? Is he right? I feel like this, but I don’t know what to do and I’m too scared to tell anyone because I’m just going to feel like a fool.” And any woman that’s been in that relationship will be like, “I know that one. Yes, I’ve done that so many times.” It’s so familiar because the patterns of abuse are so familiar. So when we start sharing it with each other, we can instantly recognize those stories.
The “Nebulous” Victim
I think there might be another issue with the media. I actually experience it quite frequently that abuse victims are apparently “not experts” about abuse, that male therapists or male social workers or someone male is an expert: She just thinks she’s an expert because she’s talked to all these women or whatever, and they’re just yakking. These women don’t really understand abuse and they’re actually endangering true abuse victims (who are apparently some nebulous category of victims out there who aren’t us who aren’t actual abuse victims). I’ve heard that quite a bit. Can you talk about how the media dismisses that abuse victims are the most expert on abuse?
Do women lie about abuse?
Yeah. And it’s based in that idea that women lie, that women can’t be trusted. And that just permeates so much of the, the culture: “Women lie about abuse. They lie to get custody of their kids. They lie to turn people against him. They lie for all kinds of reasons.” And actually, the people who are doing this work, who are there on the front lines say it almost never happens. It’s not that it never happens, it does very occasionally, but 99% of the time, if a woman tells you she’s being abused, she’s been hiding it for a long time. She’s been afraid to tell somebody for a long time, she’s been ashamed to tell somebody for a long time, and when she does finally come out with it, it’s a big deal. She’s doing it because she’s reached the point where she just can’t. Not anymore. But for a long time she’s been hiding it.
The belief that women lie about abuse? It’s killing us.
I think what’s happening when the media’s depicting that kind of thing is, oh, it’s really easy. Like women just make those claims all the time. And it’s really easy. It is not easy. You talk to any woman who’s been in an abusive relationship and she will tell you how hard it is to tell someone else what’s going on. It’s excruciatingly difficult. And then also, if you think about the options, if, if a woman tells you that, that a man is abusing her, you can believe her and be wrong, or you can not believe her and be wrong. And if believing her and being wrong just means that you say, I believe you. What do you need? Do you want to talk about it? What help do you need? Like, where’s the harm in that? But if you don’t believe her, if she’s finally told you the truth and you say, oh, I don’t believe you. ’cause He’s such a good guy, there’s a lot of harm in that. So that, that belief that that women would lie about it is like, we really saw that Amber Heard and Johnny Depp was where I saw that just explode.
Yeah. That was insane.
“What do you think she’s getting from this?”
That belief that she was lying. And I was looking at that just going, what do you think she’s getting from this? Look at what’s happening to this woman. She is being eviscerated by billions people online.
They kept saying like, she’s doing it for like attention or something. I was like, no, she does not wanna be doing this right now.
“Why should a woman have to hide from the world because a man’s been abusing her?”
Nobody wants billions of people coming after you online. If you’ve ever been on the, the receiving end of an online storm, it’s awful. Yeah, it’s true. You know, the people say, I’ll just turn your phone off. Sure. Okay. The thing thing that I would say about that is, there are five people in a room right next to you and they’re talking about you. Yeah. Walk away. Don’t stand there and try and hear what they’re saying. It’s not good. It’s not right. You know, it’s damaging. But it’s human, and as much as you can say, “Firstly, don’t participate in the world. Hide yourself from the world”, what’s going on with that? Why should women have to hide themselves from the world because a man’s been abusing them.
But secondly, that that idea that billions of people are saying things about you and after coming out of an abusive relationship, you have the confidence to say, “Well, it doesn’t matter what people say about me, I know who I am now.” We all know that’s what we should say. But I think it’s asking a lot of a woman who’s coming out of an abusive relationship to immediately have that kind of strength.
“The Perfect Victim Myth”
Well, and then just be abused by everybody, and apparently to be “believable”, it’s impossible. So there’s always going to be a reason for her not to be believed, right?
The “perfect victim” myth. And we’re going to keep moving the hoops. We’re going to be spinning them. We’re going to keep those hoops on fire. We’re going to have five of them and you’ve got to jump through all five of them.
And so, because Amber Heard’s human, she’s not perfect.
Every little thing, or even big thing, that she’s done that wasn’t great, maybe she shouldn’t have done (I’m not trying to blame her for anything), was apparently evidence that she wasn’t abused. I’m like, no, no, no, no, no, no. And we even had abuse experts, which really bothered me, come out and say, ‘Well, in this case, she’s the one that’s the abuser.’ Did you hear an abuse expert saying that?
Yeah. That case was so huge and was all over the world. And it always astounded me that the court case in the UK where the judge, not a jury, but a judge did find that he was abusive. Sexually abusive, emotionally abusive, physically abusive. That one just got dropped completely because, “Oh, it’s been proven in court.” No, it wasn’t. And also it was proven in court that he was abusive. But again…
The fact that Johnny Depp was PROVEN guilty in the UK – completely ignored!
That one was kept very, very quiet. And that one disappeared out of the media almost immediately. “Oh, he’s guilty.” “Oh, let’s not talk about that.” But then suddenly we’ve got all these people saying that she’s a liar and it’s her fault, and he’s just a poor victim, so that went global.
Again, I think it comes back to that idea of too many men can see themselves in it. Too many, not all men by any means, but too many men know that there have been times when they have not been good to the women in their lives and the way they have blamed her for it; when they have made her responsible for the bad choices they’ve made.
And it almost seemed to me, sometimes, like the people that were defending Johnny Depp were not defending him. They were defending themselves. “It’s not really his fault” meant, “It’s not really my fault.” “She’s a liar” was not necessarily talking about Amber Heard. They were talking about the women who said, “You did this bad thing”.
“Oh, you’re lying. You’re making it up. You’re just trying to get attention because apparently having the whole world hate you is the thing that most women want.”
Being abused by the court system is ALSO ABUSE
Well, and no one recognized, which was really bothering me, how an abuse victim was being abused by everyone; abused by the court. And so she’s experiencing these multiple levels of trauma and extreme trauma, and they’re just thinking, Oh, it’s just her court case, rather than, This is torture.
And it was deliberate. He chose that.
Yeah. To punish her.
Yeah. They didn’t go to court by accident. He chose that. That choice was part of the abuse.
And it’s really, really, really common for abusive men to use the court process and the police as part of their abuse.
“Societal misogyny is so thick that even victims have a hard time seeing through it”
Absolutely. Yeah. That was really disturbing. Like when I would say to other so-called abuse experts, “Excuse me…” and they’d be like, “No, it’s obvious that she’s the abuser in this case.” And it was very hard, obviously much harder for Amber Heard. Clearly.
We have a big TikTok following and a big Instagram following and we did a video in support of Amber. And I don’t know if we’ve ever gotten so much hate from victims, from listeners, people who are listening right now to the podcast who were like, “No, she’s the abuser!” And I thought, What? You are having a hard time because people won’t believe you and then you won’t believe her. You know, it was really interesting. It showed the societal misogyny is so thick that even victims themselves have a hard time seeing through it.
And I think with them, because they’re actors, because they feel so distant from us that we lost sight of the fact that these are people. Just because she’s successful and rich and beautiful, doesn’t mean she’s not a person. I was really disturbed by the way a lot of women responded to that as well, and that we expect it from men. God, what does that say about men that we’ve been led to expect that? But it took me by surprise how many women were so angry about her. And after a while, I think it was they couldn’t see themselves in her. As you say, victims of abuse, women who have been abused themselves, were saying, “No, no, no, she’s the abuser.”
“That kind of abuse can genuinely happen to anyone”
And I was trying to work out what it was. She looks like this couldn’t happen to her. She looks like she’s got power and choices, and she could have just walked away. And they forget that that kind of abuse can genuinely happen to anyone. Although abusers will often deliberately prey on vulnerable people, they will search for people that they can manipulate, wealth and beauty and youth don’t protect you from that. It doesn’t mean that you can walk away because those techniques of abuse and the manipulations that an abuser will use to make you feel small and weak and helpless and responsible can work on anyone.
Some abusers intentionally seek out very powerful women to abuse because they’ll take more responsibility. They’re very capable, they’re very able to manage things, right? I know of a woman who is an extremely smart, powerful, awesome pediatrician, and she was targeted by a man who was like, “Oh, she can support me financially, and because she’s so competent, she can basically manage my whole life and I groomed her to do that.” She didn’t realize that that was happening. She thought she was a helpful partner, right? Until she recognized what had been happening. So to think, Wait a minute, this is a really smart, capable put-together person. She couldn’t be an abuse victim. That’s just not the case.
“This couldn’t possibly be happening to me, therefore it must be my fault”
No. And sometimes those women in some ways can be even more vulnerable because that’s not how they think of themselves. They’re always going to think of themselves as having power and having choices and being able to do things…”so this couldn’t possibly be happening to me, therefore it must be my fault. I need to work harder, I need to do more, I need to manage this, I need to find a solution to this.” And so, again, they take on that responsibility. And sometimes those women can be, in some ways, easier to put in that position because they’re so used to being responsible for themselves and even taking on responsibility for other people.
I don’t want to say it’s worse for capable women, but when they go for help, when they’re like, “Hey, I’m being abused”, they might tell their clergy or a therapist or someone. And people are like, “Whatever. You’re very direct, you’re very…”
No! That can be happening to you. Because you are not “the type” of person who would be abused, just like the media portrays abusers as a certain type of man. They also portray abuse victims in a certain way. And that is not great.
I love Frozen for this reason, because Hans of the Southern Isles, is clearly an abuser, but he does not look like it in the beginning. And they sing that song about eating each other’s sandwiches. And also, Anna is smart, she’s strong, she’s capable…and she’s still a victim of his abuse. And in the end, then he actually looks evil.
Though in real life, it’s not a movie, so he’s still going to look like Hans of the Southern Isles to everybody else. He’s still going to look like that good guy.
“It’s really hard to admit to yourself that you’ve been manipulated, that you’ve been abused”
And if you’re used to thinking of yourself as successful and in charge and strong and capable, it is really hard to admit to yourself that you’ve been manipulated, that you’ve been abused. Particularly if there’s violence, How could I let this happen? How can I be that person? I can’t be that person because that idea of the ideal victim, I’m not that. So therefore this can’t be really happening. And the ideal victim, the perfect victim, again, it’s all the spinning hoops on fire in five different directions that you’ve gotta jump through. Nobody is the perfect victim. Nobody is the ideal victim. Nobody is the deserving victim. If somebody is abusing you, they are abusing you, and you don’t have to prove that you are right, that you didn’t deserve it. Nobody deserves to be abused and nobody is invulnerable to it, so it doesn’t say anything about you. It says something about the person who chooses to do that to you, which is where we come full circle to where we were at the beginning: abuse is always a choice. If he’s doing this to you, it’s because he’s choosing to.
I just have this thought because we’re talking about the media: For listeners today, if you’ve thought of a movie or a news article or a TV show or something that shows this example, would you mind going to our website, finding this episode and writing it in the comments? It would kind of be fun to gather up a bunch of examples from all over the world of movies or TV shows or news articles where you’ve seen the, “Oh, he was a good guy and he just went crazy somehow”, where we see these dynamics play out. I think it might be fun to, or not fun. I’m always saying this, Jane, I’ve got problems <laugh>. I love talking about abuse. It does not mean I think that abuse is great, obviously. It’s terrible and it’s hurting people. Fun is not the right word. I did not mean to say that. It would be interesting, I should say, to have on this post, maybe, a bank of comments that have your thoughts about what you observed from the media and how it has affected you.
Please share your thoughts in the comments
And I think it’ll also be interesting in those comments. And I will come in and look at them because I would really love to know. We do this with kids sometimes talking about, “Tell me TV shows or relationships or movies where you’ve seen a really, really good relationship, a really happy equal sharing, respectful consensual relationship shown in a TV or a movie. Talk about a really good one.”
I don’t know if any of your listeners have seen Gilmore Girls, but one of the ones that came up was Silky and Jackson as a relationship where you can squabble and you can disagree and you can have all these things, but actually it’s equal and fun and kind. But also the ones where the real dynamics of abuse are actually shown, because that’s really rare. I’d be really interested if somebody’s got an example of a TV show or a movie or even a book where that kind of dynamic how it really plays out is actually shown. I’d be really interested in seeing that too.
Ones that come to mind just really quickly on Netflix, there’s a Lost in Space, the new version with Toby Stevens. Their relationship seems to be quite healthy to me. I could be wrong. And then Australian classic Bluey <laugh>.
Oh yes, <laugh>.
I love Bluey. I’m like, “Oh my word. If all children would grow up on Bluey, I think we would be okay.”
Yeah. Look it, we’re really proud of Bluey down here. It’s the gift we gave the world.
“You’re not making this up – it really is that hard”
<Laugh>. Well, we appreciate it because my children watch it and every time I watch it, I just feel so good, I feel so happy. I feel like, “Oh man, the world is gonna be okay”, when I watch Bluey. So even if you don’t have children, listeners, if you are like, I really need a feel-good show, Bluey. It’s on Disney plus. Sorry, I am not being paid by them to advertise <laugh>. But I really, really like it.
Like you, I’ve spent more than a decade working with this kind of stuff, writing about it, researching it, talking to people who’ve been through it, my own experiences of it. And the thing I always try and remind people is that it is so hard. We say to people all the time, “Well, you should just leave him. He’s abusing you. You should just leave him.” And of course that’s true, but it’s never that easy. And that you are not alone. That it really genuinely is that hard. You’re not making this up, you’re not pretending you are. It really is that hard.
And that the reason that we do podcasts like this and all the other things that we do is because we know that. So help is there if you need it. It will get better when you’re able to find the strength to get away from it, and you can. But don’t ever let anyone tell you that it’s your fault or that this should be simple, or “Why don’t you just leave?” because it’s always harder than that. It’s not impossible, and it can be done, but don’t ever underestimate how difficult it is. There are people who know that and will understand that, and we’ll be able to support you in it.
It’s really hard. And getting to safety is just one small step at a time. And we’re here for you and I’m so grateful that Jane came on today and I hope people check out your website. Thank you so much for spending the time to talk with us.
Thank you so much for having me on and it was such a great conversation.