Monday, March 11, 2013

Shining A Light Into The Dark Corners Of Domestic Violence

Folks who know me are aware that I worked as a lawyer for many years, including a stint as an assistant prosecutor in a local county office many years ago.  What I saw during my years of legal work still haunts me today, as I still find myself waking up nights worried about abused children or various other individual cases that were not entirely tied up in the neat little resolved package that I might have wanted in a perfect world.

I think that is true for everyone who has worked in the criminal justice field in one way or another:  most people I have known who were decent and dedicated prosecutors or police officers and such worry -- even years and years down the road -- about the cases that remained not fully resolved for the better.  But sometimes, it cannot be helped:  you do the best you can with what you are given, facts, evidence, circumstances and so on, and then you have to move forward once a verdict is reached or a case is closed.

What you are often left with, though, is that unsatisfactory, nagging fear that you have still left a child or an adult in a situation that is going to continue to be abusive in some way.  Even if it is less so than it might have been without intervention, that is still a very, very difficult outcome to accept even when the law dictates that this is the way that things must be.

In the above video, Patrick Stewart eloquently and incredibly movingly talks about his own childhood in a home permeated with domestic violence.

So often, families facing this sort of fear feel as though they must hide in the shadows, keeping the secrets of the beatings and the terror and all of this away from the light of public scrutiny.  There is still shame attached to being a victim of domestic violence and, worse, far too often a fear of escalation or death.

So often, this continued silence is because of overwhelming fear -- of judgment from those outside of the home itself, or a fear that the violence will escalate, even to murder, because that is exactly what is threatened and far too often carried out by the abuser.  It is a terrifying way to live your life, every day, day in and day out, so drenched in fear that you cannot breathe or even conceive of a way out.

Imagine growing up in that sort of home as a tiny child.  Now imagine becoming involved with an abuser as you get older -- it would seem to you, in so many ways and for far too many people to count, that this is just the way the world is for everyone or, worse, that you somehow deserve to be treated as "less than."  It is a painful, painful thing to watch, and requires an enormous amount of will and courage and even luck to break free from this wretched start to life for far too many children.

As Patrick Stewart says so well here, "Everyone suffers.  No one escapes the trauma of those experiences."

Helping families cope with these issues, trying to pry a woman or child or anyone, really, out of that cycle of violence once it has begun, can be a life's work.  Anyone who has had to deal with domestic violence in their own family knows the horror of the phrasing "but he says he is sorry, and I love him, and he won't do it again, I swear it," only to find that it happens over and over again, year after year after miserable year.

We need to talk about this more in this country.  It needs to come further into the light.  And we need to all stand up and say that this is not acceptable, that it will no longer be tolerated as a hushed nastiness in the corner so long as we don't have to think about it.

An abused child grows up with a warped perception of what reality is, because their own little reality is so harsh and cruel and wrong.  If you don't understand that this can impact all of us, then you are not paying attention to the back stories of murderers, child sexual abusers, spousal beaters, unexplained broken bones and bruises and who knows what else that go on in your own neighborhood every day.

And you ought to be:  that abused child might grow up some day to become the abusive spouse of one of your own children or one of your neighbor's children that you love as if they were your own.

This problem is all of ours to solve.  It isn't just "someone else" who pays the penalty when a family deals with abuse -- all of us pay that penalty for a long, long time to come, as this sort of cycle of violence so often does not stop at a single generation but will, instead, painfully continue for generation after generation.  I saw this in my own legal practice, time and time again, and we all pay the costs for generations of people looking the other way.

Stand up.  Speak out.  Reach out to someone in need and offer help and hope.

Dare to imagine a world that is better, and then help it to become a reality.

More from Patrick Stewart here:

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