As we come to the end of October and fall begins to take hold of those of us here in the United States I want to take the time to reflect on Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Personally I don’t think one month is enough time to focus on this devastating international problem. Domestic Violence is not relegated only to our fifty states. It touches the life of one in four women worldwide. Let’s stop a moment and think about that.
For those who work, look around your office, factory, store, or restaurant. Look at your female co-workers. One in four of those women had her life touched by some form of domestic violence. One in four women has been ridiculed, insulted, demeaned, humiliated, hit, choked, beaten, raped, sexually assaulted, stalked, terrorized, or damaged in some way by an intimate partner. Can you tell which ones have been harmed?
Those of you in school, look at your professors, fellow students, cafeteria workers, custodians, resident aides, teaching assistants. One in four women fits the category of domestic violence victim or survivor.
Look at your family. Have you heard a nasty comment that degraded your mother, sister, grandmother, aunt, cousin, or daughter? Do you suspect someone in your own family is being abused? What do you do?
It’s so difficult to accept something like abuse happening to someone we know or love. It’s easier to shrug it off and convince yourself you have misunderstood something. For generations domestic violence was viewed as a private family problem that no one outside of the home, including law enforcement, should interfere with. We know now that that blind eye attitude can lead to post traumatic stress disorder, physical and mental damage, and even death.
Fortunately it is no longer a dirty family secret. Finally women can find help. But first they must acknowledge they are being abused, and then they must overcome fear to reach out for assistance. Even then many women will return time and again to their abuser, either convinced by false promises that things will be different or in desperation because they cannot support themselves or their children.
I spent ten years in an abusive marriage. My mother knew it although she turned a blind eye. My father knew it, but he did not reach out to help me. Many friends and relatives knew it, but they stepped back, uncertain how they should deal with it or if they should deal with it.
I know what it is like to be that abused wife and mother. I know what it is like to lie about bruises and cuts, about clothing that hid marks, about the bizarre schedule I had to follow, about how I could not go to birthday parties or other events without my husband. I lied, not to protect my husband; I lied to protect myself and my children. I lied and hid because if I spoke up I was subjected to even harsher punishments and threats.
I had nowhere to go and no one to help me. I needed help. I was debilitated and lost. It was only when the physical abuse began to extend to my children that I drew on my inner strength and left. I took what I could; I left many possessions behind that are irreplaceable. But I saved my children and myself.
That long ago day, thirty-four long years, was the first day of a new life. Although my now ex-husband continued to harass me, stalk me, terrorize me, and threaten me, I was free. I still carry scars, both physical and mental, from those days of imprisonment.
I am a survivor and more. I am a thriver. I say that with pride and with a degree of sadness. Because I had dreams when I first married and those dreams were destroyed. It took me many years to once again have the courage to allow another man into my life. In those years I learned to be independent, to work hard, to get an education, and to become a good single parent. It was not the life I had imagined when I married in 1971. It was the life I embraced in 1981.
I am one in four. I am one who was degraded, humiliated, hit, punched, beaten, sexually assaulted, and almost broken. I was not killed. I took the pieces and began to put them together to form a new me; a wiser if sadder me.
For those who are abused, there is life after abuse. There is a world where you can live free and proud. No, you will not be the same. But you will be YOURSELF.
For those who abuse, you don’t hurt someone you say you love. Love is not a closed fist. Love is an open heart. The next time you raise your hand or your voice, consider your actions. Consider your children who will hear and see what you say and do.
For those who know someone who is abused, do not press her to leave or to change. Offer her your shoulder to cry on, information on services available, and continue to build up her self-confidence. Yours may be the only voice of hope she hears.