In these last several weeks, the horror that one out of four women will encounter domestic violence- sometimes referred to as “intimate partner” violence- in their life time has come to the national forefront. Indeed, women are more likely than men to be killed by their “intimate partner:” one in three women who is a victim of homicide is killed by an intimate partner. While sixty percent of domestic violence incidents occur in the home, this is not where domestic violence begins. It is the perhaps inevitable result of a culture of violence against women. It is the violence that violence creates.
This is a culture of violence in which women’s work continues to be grossly undervalued. One third of all women are living in or near poverty, what has been described as “the brink of poverty.” Two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women. The average white woman is paid 77 cents for every dollar her male counterpart man makes; for African American women it is 64 cents and Hispanic women 55 cents for every dollar made by white men. Women devote more than double the hours as men to “unpaid interactive children care.” Women over 65 “are twice as likely as men of the same age” to live in poverty—primarily because they are full or part-time caregivers. A 2013 “State of the World’s Mothers Report” ranked the United States 30th of the 30 best countries in the world to be a mother, based on indicators such as economic status, political opportunities and universal health care. And what this report makes most clear is that the status of children reflects the status of their mothers. This means that at least 28 million children are living in poverty in the United States.
As for physical violence, one in four college aged women experiences an attemptted or actual date rape. Forty-two percent of women who have been date raped consider suicide. In the Shriver Report, Sister Joan Chittister suggests that in the United States, “rapes in military and rapes on college campuses go unpunished because ‘boys will be boys,’ and winning wars and football games are more important than protecting the integrity of the women who are victims of rape.” These statistics represent nothing less than systemic and cultural violence against women and their children.[i] And, such violence is a sin.
Far too often our attention is driven to the individual, personal attacks against women; that is, the individual personal sin. The focus is on the individual sinner, as if to punish the perpetrator of domestic violence is to address the sin. In this regard, we domesticate the violence, and hence, domesticate the sin. In so doing, we fail to uproot the sin that sin produces—the interactive systemic, structural, and cultural sin which fosters violence against women. One again, women are caught in the trap of a private/public split. Violence against women is treated as a wrongdoing in the private space, and not a symptom of a public offense. Male violence against women is inextricably connected to patriarchal violence against women.
Sin is more than simply an act a committed by an individual or even a society for that matter. It is an orientation. It is an orientation that alienates us from god, from one another, and hence from our very god-given humanity. It alienates us from the people that god has created us to be– a people who respect the very sacredness of our own creation, by cherishing the sacredness of all creation. This is a people meant to reflect the image of a god that is creator of life, unqualified justice, and compassionate love. If we are to reflect such a divine image we must be unswerving in our commitment to build societies and communities where all people, regardless of the way in which their humanity is embodied, are valued and thus enjoy life enriching wages, life-protecting housing, life-nurturing health care, life enhancing education, and a life-respecting environment.
I am informed by the central symbol and divine revelation of my own faith tradition, Jesus. While his one-on-one compassionate, caring, and non-violent treatment of women is impressive and instructive in the way in which we are to regard one another; even more notable is the way in which he took on the very systems and structures of sin that perpetuated violence against women and created ethnic, religious and gender “outcasts” within his world. Jesus took on the social, political, and ecclesiastical patriarchies of his day. He recognized and met head-on the religious, social, and political forces that sustained a reality of sin. He called out not just the demons that possessed individuals, but the “demonarchies” that possessed the world. Jesus was crucified not because he was a paragon of personal piety, but because he was a threat to the “principalities and powers” of sin. The “parousia” about which Jesus spoke and embodied in his living was about a time and world filled with god’s peace—this is a peace of justice.
Injustice of any kind is violence. It defies the very peace of god. We live in a world and society that is oriented toward violence. Violence is sin. To stop the violence against women means ending the social, economic and cultural injustice inflicted upon women. It means calling out and disrupting systemic and cultural sin. The end of domestic violence begins with addressing the sins of our society that disrespect the bodies of women. As long as women continue to be disparaged, devalued, and dehumanized systemically, economically, and culturally, then they will continue to be victims of domestic violence. What happens in the private space is a reflection of what is happening in the public space. If women are to be treated humanely and non-violently in the private sphere, then they must be treated humanely and non-violently in the public sphere. If “men are going to get it,” then we must interrupt the patriarchal world of men.
And so, in this span of time where the attention of the nation has been drawn to domestic violence (and the attention span is no doubt a short one), we must not allow this issue to be domesticated. As we address the demons of violence within individuals, let us call out the demonarchies of violence within our society. Just as the male perpetrators of domestic violence should not be exonerated, neither should the patriarchal society that fosters such violence. Domestic violence is indeed the sin that sin created. Let us not domesticate the sin.
Kelly Brown Douglas is Professor and Director of the Religion Program at Goucher College where she has held the Elizabeth Conolly Todd Distinguished Professorship. She was recently awarded The Goucher College Caroline Doebler Bruckerl Award for outstanding faculty achievement. Kelly is a leading voice in the development of a womanist theology, Essence magazine counts Douglas “among this country’s most distinguished religious thinkers, teachers, ministers, and counselors.” She has published numerous essays and articles in national publications, and her books include The Black Christ, Sexuality and the Black Church, What’s Faith Got to Do With It?: Black Bodies/Christian Soul. Black Bodies and the Black Church: A Blues Slant is her most recently released book (Palgrave Macmillan, Fall 2012). Kelly is also a priest in the Episcopal Church and has served as Associate Priest at Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in Washington D.C. for over 20 years.