We all like to think that we know people, that we make good choices, that we are ethical in our behaviour. And strangely, although never stated it is the tension between how we would wish to see ourselves, and the reality of whom we actually are, which is at the center of Believe Her.
Lemonata’s short, yet calmly forceful six part podcast follows the story of criminalised survivor Nikki Adamanndo. A loving mother who was convicted of shooting her husband, apparently in his sleep. Nikki’s story feels like it should be fairly cut and dried. Her husband inflicted extreme violence on her. Heating up a metal spoon and pressing it to her genitalia is just one horrific act in a long list of bruises, strangulation marks, and rapes, many of which were recorded and uploaded on to Porn Hub. The list of witnesses is also long, there is the midwife and forensic nurse practitioner who documented Nikki’s injuries, the therapist who watched the revenge porn, the police who also did the same, the parents of other kids who saw the bruises, who remained concerned about Nikki’s welfare for years. There can be very little doubt that Nikki was the victim of a sustained and escalating violence and killed her husband when he threatened the ultimate form of control by killing her, taunting that her children would be left alone. It feels very clearly like self defence, rather than murder.
However, that was not the way the police, lawyers, judge and jury saw the situation. Burns on her genitals became razor rash, previous sexual assaults by other men Nikki crossed paths with were evidence of a pattern of lying, bringing her children up vegetarian and wanting in-laws to ring before they came round becomes acts of control, revenge porn was the outcome of liking it kinky, and well, if it was as bad as she said it was why didn’t she leave? All the while her husband, trained in violence and control as an expert martial artists, can literally do no wrong, all of his behaviour is explained away as innocent, misinterpreted or an outright lie. Every trope about battered women in the misogyny play book came into play in Nikki’s trial, splitting the perception of her in the community in which she had married and raised her children.
This is when Believe Her comes to it’s central conclusion, the only way a victim of domestic abuse can get justice, is if she is dead. Which goes hand-in-clamy-hand with the idea that women can only be truely believed to be the victims of sexual assault if they have lived a toatlly unbelmished, virtually monastic lives. Society is just unable to accept anything else. However, while the podcast puts forward compelling evidence for this statement it does not delve further into why this is the case. Possibly because the reasons for this are so complex and nuanced.
Those who doubt Nikki, or even blame her, are interviewed and we hear from them, as we so often hear now that they just did not believe that a man like her husband, kind, charming and nice could behave in such a way. It is at this point that we get to what is the ego consciet that is at the center of the whirlpool of mysogyny we currently experience around domestic abuse and rape. That we as individuals, can know the deepest secrets of others hearts, the insecurities and jealousies, that only play out in the most private and intimate of relationships – the few places where all our real selves are on show.
It does not appear to matter how many family annihilators wipe out of existance the people they are meant to love the most, shocked colleagues or neighbours still talk about what a nice, quiet man he was. We still do not believe that if we as individuals have judged a person to be safe – that maybe we are not seeing everything – so majesticly omnipresent we consider ourselves to be.
We need the smallest amount of information to make this judgement, with Chris Grover it was being a gymnastics coach, being seen by parents behaving well at his job on a weekly basis meant many could not believe that behind closed doors, in secret, he was also an abuser. Just as for some being seen on a cinema screen provides exactly the same protection. It appears, that because the general public cannot fathom the idea that they may not know someone they see on a regular basis fully, that abused women have to suffer our inability to admit that we might not know everything, or always be the best judge of those we have fleeting or parasocial relationships with, that most of the time we only see small fractions of the people around us. Our lack of humility when it comes to our own opinions means men are innocent by dint of being familure, and women are only innocent, when dead.