At 2 o’clock in the morning, my neighbors heard a knock at their back door. A woman fled her west suburban home in the middle of a cold, snowy night. Clad only in her nightgown, she was running to save her life. She found my neighbors only by good fortune, because their back-porch light shone a way in the darkness, yet was hidden from the street. You see, her brutal husband got in his car to find her.
This was my middle-class neighborhood. And this is your neighborhood too. Because statistics tell us one of every five women has been abused by someone they trust and love. That is the reality, though it doesn’t seem real because we don’t see it. Abusers cleverly hide the bruises. And the women and children they abuse become so humiliated, they learn to hide it, too.
Terrible things can happen to any of us. No one wakes up in the morning thinking, “A tornado or flooding may take my home from me. Or I will be the victim of a terrorist attack.” But those things do happen. They can happen to any of us – rich, poor, young, old.
Well, the same is true for domestic violence. It can – and it does – happen to all kinds of people. Women don’t enter into a relationship thinking, “This is going to end badly.” But when it does, it is no more their fault than if they’re hit by a tornado.
Some women may be predisposed to unknowingly choose an abusive partner because of their life circumstances. But even if they are, why does that matter? All these women entered into these relationships feeling loved. Any many of them have entered with support of family and friends, along with financial stability and their own free will.
But as devastating as a natural disaster can be, it comes with some hope for the future. The government rushes in with support to help rebuild a house. Victims have the sympathy and good wishes of family and friends and neighbors.
That’s not how it is for victims of domestic abuse. Often, the abuse they’ve suffered has left them just as devastated as a tornado or a flood victim. But in many ways worse off.
They have been isolated by these abusive men. Friends and neighbors don’t rally around, either because they don’t see what’s happened or because they are afraid to address the situation. Abused women often are not seen because of their own incredible sense of humiliation and newfound loss of self and self-esteem. And there is a fear placed in them by the threats from their partners if they expose them. Abusers are good at isolating their victims, cutting these women off from any source of support or help. Isolation saps their emotional strength and creates a feeling of hopelessness.
In addition, our society still places these victims in a shockingly unique category of culpability. How would you react if someone said one out of every five children was beaten? Or one in every five cats and dogs was kicked around by its owner? We would be outrages because children and pets are helpless creatures. We would ask how could someone be so cruel. Yet the first response we often hear when presented with abuse of a woman is, “Why did she stay?”. Why don’t we ask, “Why is this man so violent?”. We don’t question the victims of other types of crimes about their accountability.
WE NEED TO DO BETTER.
Back to my middle-class neighborhood. My neighbors are lovely and kind but not trained in receiving women and children who are literally being terrorized in their own homes. But there is a place in our community where a woman can find safety at 2 a.m. It’s a place where the door is opened by a counselor who does not have to say anything when she looks at that woman, because in her eyes she says, “I know what you are going through. You are safe here.” That place is Mutual Ground. It is not just a shelter but a solution. Mutual Ground helps individuals and families heal from the effects of abuse. And advocacy, too. Recently, Mutual Ground provided training for salon professionals in recognizing and aiding clients who may be abused. Mutual Ground is in our middle schools, educating our children about healthy and respectful relationships. And they encourage our children to contact them to talk.
This is doing better. But it is not yet good enough.
If a woman finds no other way to be free of abuse than to leave and end her marriage, she must sever the ties that bind her to her abusive husband. Rise From The Ashes, another nonprofit organization, will help with legal counsel and aid.
In addition, you can help support these two organization and have a great day out with your girlfriends by attending a charity luncheon and fashion show on November 2, 2019, in St. Charles. All proceeds go to these two organizations.
By Cynthia Kieckhefer