This true story from a safe house in rural Appalachia demonstrates what many women fear, and some face, when a horror movie turns real.
The husband comes home drunk and has a gun. Frustrated with the world he wields his power over the people he can more easily control, his wife and family. In a display of mountain machismo he shoots the phone off the wall, then threatens to kill his family and commit suicide. Time to think fast. The woman calms her husband as best she can, then asks to beg some cigarettes at the neighbor's. Without purse or coats she and her three kids dash into the cold January night before he changes his mind. The neighbor drives the get-away car. At the shelter she continues crying and shaking hysterically. In her panic she has even wet on herself. Slowly the care and warmth at the shelter — the cup of herbal tea, the hot bath, the clean clothes — soothe her, and by 2 a.m. she and her family can settle in for the night, six hours after the ordeal began. The next morning she'll start from scratch knitting her life back together.
In the U.S. a woman is physically abused every nine seconds. Women are more frequently victims of domestic violence than victims of burglary, mugging or other physical crimes combined.
The statistics on violence against women indicate no assurance for a woman's safety even among kith and kin. Two-thirds of the attacks on women are perpetrated by someone the victim knows, frequently a husband or boyfriend. Forty-two percent of murdered women are killed by an intimate male partner. Nationally, 50 percent of all homeless women and children became homeless because of domestic violence.
Why so much violence against women? Why the frequency of assaults? Sister Mary Kay Drouin, an Adrian Dominican with over 25 years of experience in spouse abuse ministry believes society simply allows violence against women to continue.
“Men must realize that family violence is a serious problem and not joke about it. An assault is a crime, whether against a stranger or your spouse,” said Sister Drouin.
Domestic violence reaches across all socio-economic classes, gripping victims in different ways. Well-educated middle-class victims with marketable skills can remain in an abusive situation longer than necessary because verbal abuse reduces their self-esteem. They also fear losing custody of the children. But, abuse escalates, it never lessens. Many victims seek help only after the perpetrator touches the children.
Additionally, poverty in itself limits a victim's options. Lacking adequate education, starting a family at an early age and being abused as a child narrows the possibilities for a victim in poverty. In rural areas add the additional constraints of few available jobs and no public transportation.
“We can no longer blame the victim,” said Sister Mary Kay. “The question is not why does she stay, but why does he abuse and why do we as a society permit it.”
The U.S. Catholic bishops in their 1994 pastoral message, “Confronting a Culture of Violence,” suggest the Church must do more: “We can incorporate ways to handle family conflict in our religious education and sacramental preparation programs. We can work for public policies that confront violence, build community and promote responsibility.”
“When children kill children we adults have failed miserably. They ultimately learned violence because we modeled it,” said Sister Mary Kay, who views domestic abuse and physical violence as learned behavior.
The National Domestic Violence hot line number is 1-800/799-7233.
(Fr. Rausch is a Glenmary priest who lives, writes and organizes in Appalachia. This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)