A friend’s teenage daughter is currently trying to get safely out of an abusive, non-romantic relationship, and this has gotten me thinking.
We tell our kids what not to put up with from romantic partners; from parents; from older relatives.
We don’t so much tell them that these are also not okay things for friends to do.
When things turned scary with our now-ex housemate, we blew it off because he was our friend and we had to stick by him. What he put us through and what we put up with from him were things that any sane person would have called out as abusive and intolerable in context of a romantic or familial relationship.
When the same housemate later stalked me, people discounted what was happening because we had never been romantically involved, and because his interest wasn’t explicitly romantic or sexual. I was point-blank asked—by multiple people—whether we had ever been sexually involved, as if that would somehow explain or excuse or contextualize behavior that was otherwise unfathomable.
When my friend’s daughter was being actively abused, she didn’t think to break away, because while obviously the things being done to her wouldn’t be okay in a romantic relationship, maybe it was different if you were just friends—and this is a smart, savvy, socially aware kid. Now her mom is worried that authority figures won’t take the abuse—and her daughter’s need for safety—seriously because it didn’t happen in context of a romantic relationship.
So, here are some things I wish someone had told me, and that I’d known to tell a lot of other people over the years:
Manipulation and verbal, emotional, and physical violence that are not acceptable in a romantic relationship are also unacceptable in a non-romantic friendship.
That violation of physical boundaries isn’t sexual or explosively violent doesn’t make it acceptable.
That abuse is not taking place in context of a romantic or sexual relationship does not mean it’s not abuse.
That an abuser is not their victim’s romantic partner does not make their abuse more acceptable or less dangerous.
People have the right to feel safe outside of the specific contexts and scopes of their romantic relationships.
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