The short answer is: it can take a lifetime or, even more sadly, it can take for ever.
Last week’s controversy surrounding children’s author JK Rowling and her position in the transgender debate obscured an even bigger scandal.
The sheer length of time it can take for the truth to come out about past violence and abuse behind closed doors.
In Rowling’s case, a brief and abusive marriage to Jorge Arrantes lasted just 13 months, ending in 1993 and being formally dissolved in 2005.
So why did it take more than twenty five years for such a highly successful – and presumably powerful and well-connected – author to tell the world about the real reasons for her first marriage’s break up?
The answer is, as we well know from thousands of stories we hear in NCDV, because the decision to speak out is not only daunting but complicated.
In her case Rowling cites the common experience that “those things [that] happened to me…they’re traumatic to revisit and remember.”
But she goes on to reveal other reasons for her silence, “I also feel protective of my daughter from my first marriage. I didn’t want to claim sole ownership of a story that belongs to her, too.”
So much for the past: it was only with her daughter’s encouragement that she broke the story.
Survivors’ decisions to speak out today can be every bit as complicated and multi-layered as Rowling’s.
Financial hardship, losing the family home, risks to other family members’ physical safety or wellbeing, and as some tell us, the twists and turns in many ‘stormy’ relationships can all combine to create unbearable pressure to keep shtum.
Rowling herself reveals that she only managed to escape her abusive husband in Portugal with difficulty. He later admitted to slapping her ‘very hard’. She eventually had to take out a restraining order against him when he sought her out back in Scotland in 1994.
Yet the scars left by the violence said Rowling “don’t disappear, no matter how loved you are, and no matter how much money you have made.”
Which is why, all these years later, Rowling’s decision finally to reveal her past abuse is still a hugely brave and topical one which NCDV fully salutes.
Our standing advice to all victims today once a relationship as turned abusive is not to tolerate any abuse for one second.
“Get out and speak out” must be the right response. Disclosing the fact of violence to a third party is the first and most important act in a survivor’s self-preservation.
Yet we never underestimate the huge courage which thousands of domestic abuse survivors have had to summon in order to speak out and begin the process of freeing themselves of their terrible burden.
Twenty five years late in Rowling’s case is still not a moment too soon for the truth to emerge.
Mark Groves CEO