3 min

An abuser’s tale

I stopped hitting my girlfriend, but what then?

OUT OF CONTROL. Sam Sarra went for help. Credit: Jan Becker

In my last year of high school, I started spending time with a girl. She had long black curls. I used to tease her that she walked like a truck driver.

For a while it was everything two girls could want from a high school romance. I’d sit in the stands at her softball games and give her a good luck kiss before she’d hit a homerun.

All through high school, I’d been depressed and seeing a shrink. I was often suicidal and was hospitalized four times. I could have good periods, but eventually my depression started to loom over my relationship. My need for her became all I had. I didn’t want to go home anymore and we’d often fight about it until she’d sneak me into her room while her dad was downstairs.

When she’d want to see other friends, I didn’t let her. I was desperate. She’d come find me in the kitchen with the bread knife cutting my skin as she stared in shock.

One day we were in her bedroom and panic struck. I tore pictures off her walls and threw clothes everywhere. I started calling her names, all the things I knew would hurt her.

I could see tears in her eyes. She had mostly ignored me while I had trashed her room and in a disbelieving voice, she said, “What are you going to do now? Hit me?”

By the time the last word had left her mouth, my hand was slapping her cheek. Similar scenarios unfolded a few times after that. I’d punch her on the arms, on the legs, sometimes biting her, too. I’d blame it on my depression or stuff that was happening at home, and she’d forgive me.

One night we were in boxers and tank tops and we started cuddling. I saw she was covered in bruises I had given her. I swore I wouldn’t hit her again, and I didn’t.

Sometimes my girlfriend would come with me to see my psychiatrist. My shrink emphasized that assault was illegal and told her that if I hit her again, she should call the cops.

Even though the physical abuse had stopped, the emotional abuse and manipulation continued. I would flirt with her friend to hurt her feelings, or read her diary.

I finally decided to go to the Toronto Women’s Bookstore and bought Naming The Violence: Speaking Out About Lesbian Battering (edited by Kerry Lobel, Seal Press, 1986, $18.25). Because the book was written with testimonials from survivors and advocated for victims, it almost demonized the role of the abuser, and left me feeling like a horrible person.

In an attempt to work the issue out in my mind, I told people what was happening. One of my straight friends responded with, “What do you mean you hit? You’re just girls. Besides, isn’t she bigger than you?” and shrugged it off like it wasn’t a big deal.

When I called the self-help resource centre, the voice on the other end of the line was confused.

“No, I don’t think we have the number of an anger-management group for lesbians.”

“What about one for women then?” I asked. She offered to give me the number of an anger-management group open to women, but I didn’t want to be in a room full of heterosexual men who beat their wives.

Despite my attempts to stop being abusive, my relationship was still far from healthy and we broke up.

My shrink was helpful in teaching me different ways of coping, but I was still looking for a more specialized treatment.

I went to see a counsellor at a program for queer youth. She told me the violence was my way of expressing something new, and that instead of thinking it was bad thing, I should explore what it means. I was shocked that someone in her position could give advice that could be considered approving of my behaviour. It’s almost impossible to fix a problem when everyone around you is telling you it doesn’t exist. So I had found myself in the position where I was the one taking the issue in hand.

I decided to make a short documentary, in the hopes that it would be shown at queer film festivals, potentially inspiring victims to leave their partners, or abusers to seek help. As well, I created a poster, and wrote and performed a monologue at a conference.

During my research, I found many resources for victims, such as the anti-violence program at the 519 Church Street Community Centre (416-392-6878, ext 117), The Coalition Against Same-Sex Partner Abuse (416-925-XTRA, ext 2204) and support groups at the Parkdale Community Health Centre (416-537-2455).

Admittedly, services for victims are the more immediate concern, but programs for abusers are also necessary. If men and women who are abusive have no one teaching them alternatives, how can we expect them to change?

I try to be accountable. I was abusive towards my ex-girlfriend and I’ve taken responsibility for it. Nothing she did deserved my abuse and there was no excuse.

We broke up about a year ago. Not a day has gone by that I don’t remember what happened. I miss her, but I don’t miss the person I was when I was with her.

Sam Sarra’s documentary short, Harsh Words, was screened at the Inside Out Lesbian And Gay Film And Video Festival and will be screened at the London Lesbian Film Festival.