Why would an assault survivor reach out to an abuser?

Jian Ghomeshi’s defence showed that a complainant contacted Ghomeshi after he allegedly assaulted her. An expert explains why this may not be unusual behaviour.

A core piece of defence lawyer Marie Henein’s cross-examination Tuesday boiled down to one question: If the witness was so traumatized by Jian Ghomeshi, why would she send him two emails more than a year after the alleged assault? This question — of why a survivor of assault might reach out to her abuser — has come up in the case of Emma Sulkowicz, the Columbia University student who carried her mattress around campus to protest her rapist’s continued presence at the school. Andrea Constand maintained some contact with Bill Cosby after he drugged and allegedly assaulted her at his home in 2004.

Chatelaine asked Keetha Mercer, manager of violence prevention at the Canadian Women’s Foundation to explain:

There are many reasons why a survivor would contact her abuser. These may include wanting to get closure or addressing what happened. Many survivors struggle to break off contact with their abuser because the nature of abuse includes undermining their self-esteem and confidence. They may feel controlled by their abuser, which is a hard feeling to shake even after they have left. In some instances, those in an abusive relationship go through periods of calm, nurturing and love between the incidents of violence. An abuser may swear that ‘it will never happen again.’

It is important to challenge the narrative of what it means to be a survivor. There is no universal reaction to abuse and no ‘right’ way to heal. If a survivor decides that contacting her abuser is something she wants to do, then it is important to support her in that. Abuse is about power and control, and a survivor might want to confront their abuser to regain power and control over their life.

The main point is that a woman experiencing abuse can confront it and heal in different ways.”

There’s value in live-tweeting Jian Ghomeshi’s trial
5 ways to support sexual violence survivors during the Ghomeshi trial
The Ghomeshi trial: Day 2 recap

Get Chatelaine in your inbox!

Our very best stories, recipes, style and shopping tips, horoscopes and special offers. Delivered a couple of times a week.