The Primal Connection with Domestic Violence by Karen Hernandez

karen hernandezAs we near the end of Domestic Violence Awareness month, I bring attention that as of today, about eighty-four women have died in October in the United States at the hands of their partners.


And three or four more will die today.

I was reading the other day about “honor crimes.” Removed from the regions where these acts occur, we here in “the West” judge these crimes, where fathers, husbands, and brothers act on their misogynistic tendencies and kill their daughters, wives, or their sisters for “shaming the family.”

I wonder – how is this act so different from what we call, domestic violence? The impetus for the killing might be different, but the fact remains, it is violence against a familial member, violence in its most intimate form, almost always against women, and violence that stems from control and power, as well as “justification” of ownership and righteousness.

As I continue to write and lecture about domestic violence, I am consistently reminded of how I got here. Growing up in an abusive home, as well as finding myself in a three year abusive relationship with a United Methodist Pastor, I am passionate about bringing awareness to this issue, as well as educating to eradicate the myths that surround domestic violence.

In February of this year, I found myself in a four week intensive domestic violence advocacy training with La Casa de Las Madres in San Francisco where I live. Since then, I have been teaching a Domestic Violence 101 course to interested organizations and groups with La Casa, as well as finding myself working independently with clergy nationwide on how they can recognize and teach about domestic violence in their churches, temples and mosques. I also just did a presentation on domestic violence and sacred texts at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City less than two weeks ago.

However, there’s more to this.

There’s more to what drives me, makes me angry, makes me aware, makes me question, makes me squirm, and makes me passionate.

My daughter.

Recently, my amazing, brave, grounded, twenty-five year old daughter has revealed more and more about, and is seeking help with regard to, an abusive relationship that she found herself in while in college. The terrible truth is that while she was suffering in silence between the ages of 19 and 22, I was also sitting in silence. Recently, she revealed to me that she didn’t want to tell me about her situation, because she recognized I was in an abusive relationship, so, she opted for silence instead.

This silence could have cost my daughter her life.

My life.

Our lives.

Silence is what allows three women to be murdered every day.

Silence is what allows girls and young women, ages 15 to 23, to have more harm done to them by an abusive boyfriend than for any other reason – more than sports injuries, car accidents, or random acts of violence.

Girls and women are in danger and we remain silent.

This is devastating.

As I have embarked on my domestic violence work, I am consistently reminded that I am not alone. As a mother, regardless of my child’s age, I have a primal instinct to keep my daughter safe, and ensure that she is well, even as an adult.

In this primal instinct, I have realized I also have primal guilt. This guilt stems from a place deeper than both what myself and my daughter went through – it is a guilt that is deep rooted, inherent, and so raw, that when I allow it to liven inside of me, it is entrenching and all too encompassing. Because the reality is, my daughter and I are not alone in this experience.

Our fathers, brothers, cousins, uncles, friends, and coworkers, are harming, hurting and killing our mothers, sisters, friends, daughters, cousins, grandmothers, colleagues, and aunties.

Domestic violence is inherently connected. As I do my work in religious extremism around the world, I am noting a relationship – violence begins in the home, in its most intimate form, and then it spreads, into our communities and throughout our nations. Then, it fans out to the far corners of our very small planet, and we see the results in places such as Syria, Iraq, and the Central African Republic.

This can be a startling epiphany, but, what it says is that the place where we are to feel most safe, loved and cared for, is where we witness and experience the fundamental human condition of intimate violence in its most grotesque form.

What does this say about our relationship with not only each other, but with God? I have no doubt that God is not pleased with this inherent connection we have with domestic violence and our overall primal relationship with violence. How could God condone such a thing, when we literally sit silent as over one thousand women die annually from violent partners in our nation? You see, the thing is, God does not condone this. God does not allow this. Humans do.

We allow brokenness to thrive.

We allow woundedness to harm.

We allow death to happen.

I am a part of this allowance. As are you who are reading this. We all are.

We must understand that our inability to stop harm to our sisters who are in abusive relationships, ultimately means that things will never change. How can we expect wars on the other side of the planet to subside, if we can’t stop intimate partner violence with those we love, care about and are closest to? We need to examine, rustle with, and work on our most intimate relationships, before we can fix our worldly relationships.

Last, we need to ask the right question.

Instead of asking, Why doesn’t she just leave?

We need to get to the crux of the issue and ask, Why is he hurting her?

I may have not been there for my daughter when she most needed me and that is something I will always struggle with. However, I am here now. I will never be silent again, for my daughter, for myself, and for the countless women who are in harmful relationships as I write this. More, and most important, my daughter will never be silent again either.

Won’t you join us in ending the silence? Because in that action, you will not only begin to eradicate the primal connection within domestic violence, but, you will ultimately save lives. Lives that matter.

You will.


Karen Hernandez is a Theologian with a focus in Christian-Muslim Understanding, as well as religious fundamentalism and extremism. Karen is the only theologian who is a Latina and a United Methodist, doing this type of theological work in the USA. She has published with several media outlets including Feminism and Religion, the Women’s United Nations Report Network, The Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue/Studies, and she is the only Christian to publish an ongoing Op-Ed Column with OnIslam out of Cairo, Egypt. Karen lives in San Francisco, where she is currently designing an Interfaith Dialogue Workshop for Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago. She is an Ambassador with Parliament of the World’s Religions, and she also does Domestic Violence Faith Advocacy work across the US.

Categories: abuse, Activism, Domestic Violence, Women's Voices

Tags: , , , ,

7 replies

  1. If every woman who has been physically or sexually abused spoke at the same time, the world would be filled with stories.Thanks for speaking out. And yes, if we all spoke out, we would feel a tremendous sadness and anger, knowing how widespread violence against women really is.


  2. It wasn’t until I had my daughter 7 months ago that I fully understood and felt the true grasp of the primal connection. I find myself getting upset by news stories about violence and abuse and immediately seeking her out to hold her and kiss her. I grew up with an abusive step-father and later from the ages of 19-23 was in an abusive relationship with myself. There is no way to describe the amount of hold it takes over you and it is a battle for your life. I applaud you for speaking out. It’s a story that needs to be heard by all. Keep spreading awareness and hope and all my love to you and your daughter. <3


  3. Thank you for sharing your insight. This is the message that I needed to hear today.


  4. Thank you Karen for sharing your story. You are so right – it is everywhere, just in different forms. When I first came to America from India, I was appalled by the rate of domestic violence in the US. I remember thinking to myself – But American women don’t take any BS, so how can this happen? The sad truth again is that patriarchy too exists everywhere, just in different forms.


  5. Important to challenge the victim in ourselves and other women. The victim is a very easy place to be but deadly. May we all push ourselves and each other to stand tall and protect first our goddess selves and then our sisters and children. Thanks for the post.



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