I can’t remember my mother ever telling me that a boy hitting me was because he liked me, but it was a fact of my childhood. It was the conflict of many shows, it’s the truth of many books. Boys are just mean because they don’t know how to tell you they like you.

So anyway, in middle school a boy threw a brick at me.

I don’t know why, I just know we never get on. A brick was thrown at my head for no real reason. He got in trouble, my family was mad… I made a nemesis until high school. It was an eventful day.

Earlier in middle school, a boy touched me at a school disco. He grabbed my bum during a Pussycat Dolls song so I threw my juice at him. I didn’t tell on him. He didn’t tell on me. We parted as unlikely allies in a game of “this never happened”.

Even earlier in first school, a boy would chase me during a game of Kiss Chase I was definitely not playing. I can’t remember his face or name, just that I wanted nothing to do with him or his kisses. I did tell a teacher then. She just laughed and said he must fancy me.

I don’t believe for a second any of these boys liked me. If they did, I certainly didn’t like them. Bricks, groping and chases are not the way to my heart. Not then and not now.

But now the difference is that if a boy hits me and I let him, I am a battered woman. I am an abuse victim. I am an idiot for letting him. At what point do we go through this transition? It’s hard to say.

I’ve heard domestic abuse compared to frogs and hot water. If you put a frog in hot water, it will hop out. It knows it will die there. Sudden and violent abuse is like that. That is rarely how it happens though. There is conditioning, there is control, there is manipulation on the part of the abuser. So a frog knows to escape the hot water. But if you were to put the frog in water it liked; if you were to heat the water gently and steadily. It is too late for the frog. It doesn’t realise until the water is too hot and there is no way out for it.

We do not blame the frog here. And for it to happen like this, there needs to be a culture for it to happen. That culture begins the first time we tell a little girl that boy pulling your hair and pushing you down is because he likes you. Merritt Smith made headlines this week with her response to the hospital staff who told her four year-old daughter, who was at hospital to receive stitches after a boy at school hit, that the boy “must like her”. As Smith said on her now-viral Facebook status:

In that moment, hurt and in a new place, worried about perhaps getting a shot or stitches you were a person we needed to help us and your words of comfort conveyed a message that someone who likes you might hurt you. It highlights two problems in teaching young girls this behaviour is normal: that boys will be boys, and people who love you will hurt you, and that’s okay. Boys will not always be boys. They grow in to men who think this behaviour is okay. Boys should be held accountable for their actions, especially when it means a child is in need of stitches. And love is not abuse.
There is a stigma attached to the victims of abuse that is not attached to the abuser. People should be held accountable when their actions hurt people. The man at the desk probably didn’t mean anything by it. And that’s the problem. It is so normalised that we don’t see how toxic that mentality is and how damaging it can be for our children.

If you are interested in the cycle of abuse and want to learn more, you should read Lundy Bancroft’s Why Does He Do That? It explores the fallacies and psyches of abusive men, with interviews with survivors and women who have escaped them. It is as enlightening as it is harrowing.

If you are in a situation where you are being abused and you need advice or someone to talk to, there is help for you. You can contact the help lines below, free from landlines and most mobile phones.

Men’s Advice Line | 0808 8010 327

National Domestic Violence Helpline | 0808 2000 247

Stephanie Gallon

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