I am glad to be serving the state of Maryland on the Family Violence Council [embed]http://goccp.maryland.gov/victims/family-violence-council/membership/[/embed]
On February 10, 2014, I attended my first Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence (MNADV) Annual Memorial Service in honor of those who lost their lives as a result of domestic violence in the previous year. It was inevitable that death would be on my mind. Given what I know about death from my own personal bereavements, and those of the people I have interacted with, the most pain usually isn’t from the fact that a loved one died. Death is after all expected, and we all know that everyone is bound to die at some point in time. A greater pain usually comes from how the death occurred.
I had my first experience with the pain that comes from the manner of death when my mother died. We were told that she had walked out of her wrecked car herself, but died on the way to a hospital. My father was inconsolable. “I didn’t even get the chance to try! I could at least have tried!” he kept saying. When I got the chance to talk to him, I asked him what he meant. “Lillian,” he said, “I try for so many people. People come to me with challenges, and I help them reverse the situation they find themselves in. If I can’t help them personally, I find someone who can. I try for people. I wanted to have tried to save my wife. I wanted to have taken her to the best hospitals, gotten her the best care – it would not have bothered me if I spent everything I have. I would have tried. If she died then, it would not have been because I did nothing. But now she is gone, and I did nothing!” I don’t know if it was the depth of what he said, or the pain with which he spoke, but I have never forgotten that conversation.
As I stood by the podium with forty-nine other Marylanders, each representing the fifty Marylanders who lost their lives to domestic violence between July 2012 and June 2013, my father’s pained face flashed before my eyes. I was overcome with emotions as I began to think, “Who tried” for these fifty people? Did they know their lives were in danger? How long did they endure abuse? Did we tell someone that it wasn’t that bad? Did we shame someone into staying instead of leaving? Did someone somewhere say, “At least we know you won’t get killed.” Did we just let fifty people die without trying to give them a chance to live the rest of their lives?
Domestic violence kills. Whereas it may be possible to predict who will kill based on past behavior, it is not always possible to accurately predict who will not kill. If it were, one of the fifty people being remembered would not have been a toddler killed by her own father. Fathers typically do not kill their toddlers. Fifty people – two men killed by the Police; seven men and one woman committed actual or attempted murder-suicide; two minor children; 11 male victims and 27 female victims – lost to domestic violence. What did we do?
Domestic violence is not something we are totally helpless about. At The Rest Of A Life (TROAL,) we are putting everyone on C.A.L.L. to end domestic violence in their communities. We can “Challenge an abusive behavior.” It is not enough not to laugh at the demeaning comments an abuser makes. You don’t humiliate your “loved” ones like that because you know it can have damaging psychological effects. Don’t look the other way; let the abuser know their behavior is inappropriate. We can “Advocate for changes in enabling factors.” When abusers are not held accountable, their motivation to modify their behavior reduces. By law some abusive behaviors are misdemeanors, and some are felonies. What is the law in your community? Do we have legal, social and cultural factors that empower abusers, and intimidate victims? What needs to change to make practicing or tolerating abuse unacceptable? We can “Listen attentively to the abuser and to the victim.” If we listen carefully to an abuser, we can tell they have issues with power and control when they declare emphatically what their partner can or cannot do. It helps when we challenge an abuser based on what they said, and not what the victim said. In the latter case, they can end up blaming the victim again, whereas in the former, they have only themselves to blame. If we listen attentively to a victim, we can hear what may not be said. If their story does not sound alarming enough, it may be because they were too embarrassed to disclose their full experience. Don’t wait until they are dead to “hear” what they were trying to say. We can “Lend support to victims” by meeting them where they are. A victim may or may not be ready to leave an abuser. There are usually more factors at stake that the obvious. Whatever their decision, they need support.
Next year, the MNADV will hold another annual memorial service. If we have to remember even one person, let it not be because we did nothing. At least, try.