There is a movie coming out this weekend that is causing quite the hullabaloo. There are hundreds of articles and blogs being written about this movie, and people are vocal in their support or condemnation of it. This post is not about that movie specifically, but about the ONE good thing I can see coming out of all of these discussions. We are finally talking, openly, about the darkness within our culture.
We are talking about domestic violence and the culture of violence and rape within our society more freely than we have in the past. We are discussing how pornography is contributing to the victimization of women. Perhaps now, NOW is the time to bring light to what has been hidden for so long, time for a shift within the very fiber of our society. A society that, despite years of fighting for equality, decades of trying to even the playing field, still objectifies women. A society that turns away from the ugliness of domestic violence. A society that has an undercurrent of approval of rape and sexual abuse, especially of young females. A society that blames victims.
I have not been a victim of domestic violence, but I have experienced trauma because of domestic violence.
When I was in high school, a family member and her daughter came to stay with us for a while. Her story is not mine to tell, but her story is wound within mine, because it framed my thoughts, my feelings, my fears, and even my faith because of the impact it had on me. It impacted the relationships that I have had with men, and still frames some of the parameters I put on my own marriage.
We’ll call her Sally. Sally and her youngest child stayed with us, her other two children went to another relative’s house to stay. Sally came to us after a stay in the hospital, because her husband threw her through a plate-glass window. Sally came to stay with us after she realized her life, and the lives of her children, were at risk. Sally came to stay after her husband held a gun to her head. Sally came to stay with us after years of keeping this secret hidden, years of living in darkness and the shadows of abuse.
Sally was escaping from an abusive husband several states away. My parents took her in, made space for her and her daughter, even though we were busting at the seams with 9 of us already in our home. Sally shared a room with me in the time she stayed. Another family member took in her other children, though I am not sure if it was for safety reasons or just to alleviate the cramped quarters of our house.
There were many hushed conversations behind closed doors. Though I was in high school, and sharing a room with Sally, I wasn’t privy to much of the decisions and information, but there are some very distinct memories I have. Even after she left, even now, years later, my family has never really talked about that time, that space, in our lives. It was “grown-up” stuff, and though everyone in my family now qualifies as a grown-up, we still have never discussed it, though I’m not sure if this has been a conscious decision, or if we have just avoided it, as we try to avoid many serious, deep discussions.
We were told not to tell people that Sally was staying with us, or where her other children were staying. We were put on guard, to always be aware of who was around us, and to watch for Sally’s husband. He was dangerous, he may show up to find her. If he called the house, we were to lie and say we didn’t know where she was.
At the beginning, the unease and fear was palpable in the home. I remember fearing him showing up unannounced. I remember a knot in my stomach when the phone would ring. I remember being scared of the uncertainty of each moment, not fully understanding what was happening within our home. I remember nightmares, nightmares that lingered long after Sally left our home.
I don’t know what my parents did to prepare for having Sally stay with us. I don’t know if my dad kept a weapon in a more accessible place while she was with us, just in case her husband showed up on our doorstep. I have no doubt they did think about the “what ifs…?” because I know my parents to be prepared and organized people (you have to be with 8 kids). I’m guessing they spent time in prayer over the situation, for safety for all involved, for what they were allowing our family to become intertwined with. (Granted, this was a family member, so we were already intertwined. But they could have easily said no, turned her away, found another way to help. But they didn’t. They opened up our home to her, allowed her space and time for healing, sheltered her and loved her best they knew how.) I do know that I respected them, both then and still now, for being willing to offer her refuge, for the decision to love and care for her, even with the risks involved.
I also remember rage. My rage. The anger I had towards this man, this perpetrator of violence, it still smolders within me. I hated him with a passion I didn’t realize I possessed. Not only did he wound Sally physically, but mentally. I remember conversations with her, and afterwards, I would wonder to myself how she could have stayed, how she could have endured the torture he put her through. Part of me admired her for finally getting out, and part of me wondered how she stayed so long. Some of my rage came from the fact he was disturbing my life, my safe little world. As a selfish teenager, I know I harbored resentment towards him for making MY life a bit messier, not coming close to fully absorbing the messiness with Sally’s fractured world.
My rage escalated when the priest Sally was being counseled by encouraged her to return to her husband. Yes, you read that right. He told her she needed to go back to her husband. Oh, he thought that the husband should receive some counseling and do some work on his anger, but…but….the marriage vows were for life. That covenant that was made needed to be kept. And Sally should return to the abusive man she married, and work though their issues, because that promise she made was important.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME??
That was one of those moments that shifted my faith, my belief in the religion of my youth. Any person who would put (an already-broken-by-her-husband) vow above the LIFE of a woman (and her children) was a fool. Through that one statement, I lost complete faith in the wisdom of clergy, in their words, in their teachings.
Now, this was over 20 years ago, and I would like to think that that same advice would not be given to Sally. I would like to think that there is more education, more compassion, more understanding.
But based on the state of the world around us, my guess is that not much has changed.
We still speak very little on this subject. It is still hidden in hushed tones, behind closed doors. Few recognize the signs of abuse, fewer even still are trained in advocacy for domestic abuse survivors or ways in which to care for them and their children. Shelters for survivors struggle for funding. Antiquated laws still need to be changed. There is still so much silence on the issue.
We are broken as a society. We are broken when we don’t see the value, the worth, of another human being, when we don’t do every thing in our power to protect those who are being victimized, whether they are young, old, female, male, black or white. We are broken when our entertainment is watching violence perpetrated against another. We are broken when our wants and desires trump the basic needs of another. We are broken and need healing.
Perhaps out of the discussions, the blog posts, the articles, the communication, we can start to find our way out of the darkness. Perhaps now, with awareness, we will realize our responsibility, and the depth of our neglect and ignorance. Perhaps now we can all begin to heal, to bring light to the shadows.
Perhaps now is the time for action.
Rather than spending your money on a movie and date night out, would you consider donating that money to a charity that helps survivors of domestic violence? For more information, check out the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/50dollarsnotfiftyshades