Enough! Reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act
Never, never be afraid to do what's right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society's punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.
― Martin Luther King Jr.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and as we approach the presidential election I am disheartened to see that the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has taken a back seat to Big Bird, binders, and Big Oil. While these issues may be important, women continue to die at the hands of their husbands and boyfriends. Since VAWA’s inception in 1994, domestic violence rates have decreased by 50%. While significant, this reduction is still not enough. Why? Because 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year, and we know many more cases go unreported. 1 and 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. And sadly, every day three more women are murdered by their husband or intimate partner in the United States.
So why is this violence acceptable in our country? Why is this violence acceptable in a society that put a rover on Mars and a man on the moon? Why do we as a society continue to accept such barbaric attitudes and violence against women? How many more women need to die before Congress gets off their ass and signs the Violence Against Women Act? How many more mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends will be punched, kicked or strangled before we get off our ass and tell Congress, “Enough! Reauthorize VAWA now!”?
In my county alone, five women have been murdered by an intimate partner since May:
- Sherry, 50, murdered by her husband. Weapon unknown
- Nancy, 23, murdered by her boyfriend with a firearm
- Marisol murdered by her husband with a firearm leaving two teenage children
- Agata murdered by her husband with a firearm leaving a six year old son
- Kathleen murdered by her ex-husband with a firearm leaving behind two daughters and a son
In addition to Sherry, Nancy, Marisol, Agata and Kathleen, 44 more domestic violence homicides have occurred in North Carolina this year.
So I am sharing this blog post again in memory of Sherry, Nancy, Marisol, Agata, Kathleen and all the other women who are no longer with us and in support of the women who have survived and those who are still suffering.
Why I Will Not Remain Silent
Today a friend remarked that he didn't understand how I could continue writing about my story without going crazy. How could I keep reliving my abuse?
So I question, "Why AM I still writing? Should I stop?"
I have blogged for five months sharing my journey of survival and healing after domestic violence. In sharing my journey I have connected with beautiful, strong women from across the United States as well as from the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, India and other countries. I have discovered friends, coworkers and neighbors who are also domestic violence survivors. This web of interconnections has helped me heal and become stronger and more confident.
However, I must confess there are occasions when I question my reasons for blogging and wonder if I should continue. Why am I doing this? To feel validated? To gain attention or sympathy? Am I blogging for the right reasons? Am I making an impact? Maybe people are tired of hearing me drone on and on about surviving and healing. "Yeah, whatever, Donna. Get over it!"
Maybe I should.
And then I read of yet another woman who escaped an abusive relationship and was on her way to a better life for herself and her son only to be gunned down by her husband as she walked her son to school. So I cannot get over it. I cannot get over the continuous murder and abuse of women by those who are supposed to love and care for them. I cannot get over the attitudes and beliefs in our culture that perpetuate this violence. As long as women continue to be murdered at the hands of their husbands and boyfriends I will not remain silent. And as long as women feel too ashamed and embarrassed to speak up and ask for help, I will stand up and speak out for them.
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, "Domestic violence can happen to anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender. It can happen to couples who are married, living together or who are dating. Domestic violence affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels."
Guess what? Domestic violence is occurring next door in your suburban, affluent, gated community. Domestic violence is occurring to your coworker whether you work at Wal-Mart, IBM, McDonald's or Bank of America. You just don't know which coworker, because she hides her bruises on her arms and wrists by wearing long sleeves. Domestic violence is happening to your child's teacher. She's too ashamed to tell anyone, so she holds back her tears and courageously puts a smile on her face. Domestic violence is happening to your friend. She is too scared and embarrassed to confide in you. She's afraid you won't believe her.
Don't you get it? I'm embarrassed to say I didn't until it happened to me. Whether we would like to believe it or not, domestic violence is happening next door every day of every week. Abuse is waging its war against your best friend, your neighbor, your co-worker, your hairdresser, or your child's teacher. Maybe you'd like to think it is not happening in YOUR neighborhood or in YOUR circle of friends. Sadly, it is. You aren't aware, because your friends and neighbors are embarrassed and ashamed, and you want to believe it's not possible and turn away without noticing the signs.
According to psychotherpist, Susan Weitzman, Ph.D in her book "Not to People Like Us": Hidden Abuse in Upscale Marriages, the women she interviewed "stated their silence was due to the fear that others would doubt their stories because 'marital abuse doesn't happen...to people like us...with education...in this neighborhood." There is a common thread of fear of being disbelieved, embarrassment and shame, and rejection by friends and relatives.
This fear doesn't only occur within upscale marriages. This same shame and embarrassment can be found in middle-class marriages as well. I possessed this fear, shame, guilt and embarrassment. Domestic violence isn't supposed to occur to women like me, college educated as an engineer, business savvy, and working in a man's world. I thought I was confident enough, feisty enough, intelligent enough that I would never place myself in the position of being abused. But I wasn't. And if it can happen to this feisty, college-educated woman, abuse can happen to anyone.
Domestic violence affects the rich, the affluent, the middle class, and the poor. Domestic violence happens to the lawyer, the executive, the teacher, the nurse, and the maid. Domestic violence is perpetrated against the woman on welfare and the woman in the corner office. Domestic violence is a virus. There are no exceptions, and there is no vaccine.
This secret and shameful abuse will persist behind closed doors until our society realizes that domestic violence affects everyone. The controlling, intimidation, and withholding of money will continue against your coworker. The yelling, name-calling, and put-downs will continue against your friend. The pushing, shoving, kicking, and punching will continue to be endured by your neighbor until we as a society stop turning our heads and finally realize that violence, whether it's experienced by the single low-income mother of five or the married attorney with the six-figure salary, is unacceptable.
As long as our culture, our lawmakers, husbands, fathers, brothers, and most important, we, ourselves--treat women as second-class citizens, domestic violence will continue to be endured. Gloria Steinem has said, "Don't think about making women fit the world - think about making the world fit women."
The time is now to face the facts that domestic violence is not something that happens to "other" people. The time is now to stop turning our heads and looking the other way.
And the time is now, as victims, survivors, friends, and women, to stand up. Share your story. Support your friend. Stop being embarrassed. Stop being ashamed. Ask your neighbor if she's okay. Let your voice be heard.
Shout it out with the full force of your womanly lungs, "ENOUGH!" And only then will this world be fit for women and domestic violence be eliminated for all.