October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month. By the end of this month, approximately 93 women will have died at the hands of their partners and about 150 children will have died at the hands of their parents. And that is just here, in the United States.
As a Domestic Violence Advocate, these numbers are still stunning to me. Along with advocacy, I have written about it, lectured about it, preached about it, and at one point in my life, I was in an abusive relationship. I still cannot ask enough why these statistics are valid. In fact, I wonder… Why are they even statistics at all? Aren’t women and children who are killed out of rage, misogyny, misplaced anger and fear, more than just statistics? How can our system be so geared toward allowing harm to come to women and children, when, as a nation, we tout being so progressive? If this were true, we wouldn’t lose 93 women and 150 children every single month.
I am so perplexed by this. Why is this a norm? Why does no one blink an eye at these deaths? Oh yes, we mourn, we see posts in social media, or stories in the news and most think, How horrible. Why didn’t she just leave? Instead of asking, as I have written many times before, Why is he hurting her?
And what of those 150 children who have no voice and cannot speak out against their parents or can’t even articulate what is occurring to them? What of them? Social Workers have their hands full, police do their job when called, teachers and coaches report – yet, 150 little souls leave us, by violent means, by the parents who are supposed to love and protect them, every month. 150. That’s 5 classrooms in one school. Gone. I can’t even begin, nor do I want to, think about what their lives are like – how scared they are, and their wonderment of why their parents harm them in such a way. I’ve read of parents strangling their children, putting them in the oven, locking them in a closet with no food, or, just simply beating them, until they are gone. How is this acceptable? And more, why? Why is this?
Most of us know that parents hurt children because that is what they learned. The violent tendencies get passed down from generation to generation. And the men who hurt their partners? Most of that is also learned behavior. Their fathers beat their mothers, or them, or, both. Their rage and anger is so misplaced that they don’t see, nor understand, how detrimental their actions are. Or, they just don’t care.
And, let me just debunk one of the major myths around DV – domestic violence is not a race nor an ethnic problem. As a member of a prominently white, very affluent church in Massachusetts for over a decade, I was always taken aback by the bathroom tab with removable sheets that asked, “Are you in an abusive relationship?” It was always empty, or near empty, and replaced often. This church served not only my church family, but a pre-school, and the larger community. The point is, domestic violence knows no race, no religion, no socio-economic class, or certain gender. It affects everyone.
As for faith – this is something I continually work on. I have now worked with clergy across the nation to help them learn how to identify domestic violence in their churches, mosques and temples. Yet, there must be more. There should be monthly acknowledgements that DV exists – even in the faithful lives of their houses of worship. No one is immune. This acknowledgement should come in the form of workshops, sermons, written reflections, and awareness. There should be honesty around this topic. It should be an open, continual conversation. Because I can guarantee, in a worship community of 100 or more, there are at least 10 women who are being abused, and at least 10 children that are being abused as well. These are facts. Not fabrications. These facts leave no room for anything but action and a continued onslaught of education around domestic violence. It is every clergy member’s responsibility to follow through with DV awareness on a year round basis. No exceptions.
Another important factor around domestic violence – the kids who witness abuse. I don’t feel the need to write too much about this here, but, I will leave this link here so you can hear how kids are affected by domestic violence. Please be warned, this recorded call is horrific, but, it illustrates the need for awareness, and more, change.
So, what to do? If you suspect someone is in an abusive relationship, proceed with caution. Many women can’t talk about it, or, are too fearful to talk about it. Never encourage a woman to leave an abusive relationship without the help of an advocacy organization. What most don’t realize is that after a woman has left an abusive relationship, is when she is most in danger of being killed. The partner has nothing left to lose after she’s left, hence why so many women die at this stage. You can be a listening ear, but, unless you have had some sort of advocacy training, you should direct your friend or family member to a DV advocacy organization or individual with training. There, they can help women get legal help, make a safety plan, and possibly get emergency housing. The most important thing to remember, as frustrating as it is, women won’t leave an abusive relationship until they are ready. Not when you’re ready. Children, finances, housing, employment, safety – there’s a lot to go in to the decision to leave.
As for children, those of us who work with children in some sort of capacity are mandated to report any signs of abuse or neglect. Children are vulnerable. As adults it is our duty to ensure that all children are fed, clothed, housed, and free from harm from anyone they come into contact with. The signs are usually there. Children from abusive homes often exhibit signs of rage, exhaustion, they might be hungry all the time, they could be withdrawn, or have obvious markings on their arms or legs, and they may consistently criticize themselves, or others, often. One of the many issues with child abuse is that many, not all, children who die at the hands of their parents, are under the age of 5. They haven’t started school yet, so, having a public eye on these children is not so easy.
If you know a woman who is in an abusive relationship, give her the number to the closest domestic violence advocacy organization, or she can call the National Hotline and get redirected. If you suspect a child is being abused, contact your state’s Child Protective Services, or, the National Child Abuse Hotline.
I know this isn’t easy and I have had many ask me, “What if I am wrong and they aren’t being abused?” My answer to that is, “If they are, your call to CPS, or you giving a woman a number to call for advice, could save their life. If you do or say nothing, that could mean the end of their life. What’s worse? Possibly helping to save a life? Or, being wrong? You tell me.”
Simply put … Do something.
Karen Leslie Hernandez is a theologian and interfaith activist. 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 US. She has published with several media outlets including the Women’s United Nations Report Network, The Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue/Studies, The Interfaith Observer, and she is the only Christian to publish an ongoing Op-Ed Column with OnIslam out of Cairo, Egypt. She loves to teach and last year designed and taught an Interfaith Dialogue workshop with Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago. Karen currently lives in San Francisco, is consulting with the United Religions Initiative, is an Ambassador with Parliament of the World’s Religions, and she also does Domestic Violence Faith Advocacy work across the US.