I was relieved because she didn't deserve to be charged, and the grand jury agreed. I was filled with sadness because the haunted, bruised face in the photograph is the face of a woman who has taken a life. And had I been in her position, I may have done the exact same thing.
I couldn't help having a feeling of sickly triumph that for once, just once, the victim survived, and the abuser lay dead. My head tells me this is morbid, and wrong, but my heart rejoices. She survived. She lives.
My heart goes out to her. I hope she is able to heal herself, the way she has healed so many others. I hope she will give herself the respect and care she gives to her patients. I hope she knows she deserves that respect and care. I hope she knows she didn't deserve the abuse she suffered for twenty years. No one ever, ever does.
How many of us have ever been in absolute terror of our lives? Too many, I have to tell you. I know, because I have spoken with some of them. Women and men, in straight and gay relationships. From all walks of life. Lawyers, homemakers, artists, business people, teachers, students, ministers, social workers. And some poor souls whose abusers were police officers.
While I lived in Philadelphia, I worked as a volunteer as a hot-line counselor for victims of abuse. Specifically, domestic and substance abuse. Over the course of five years, I spoke with hundreds of women while working a 24-hour hot-line. I was part of a truly amazing group of dedicated women. We went through some pretty heavy training before we were left on our own to try to do what we could to help women help themselves. Sometimes by just being an ear for frustration, sometimes by finding short term solutions to immediately dangerous situations.
The cycle starts almost invisibly. For a while things are glorious. Then tension begins, and builds, and then there is a harsh word, an insult. Then there is a gracious apology, tears, remorse. You forgive and forget, mostly. Until the next time it happens. This time, after the tears and apologies, you think, that was pretty bad, but it's over. I'm so glad it's over, you think. Maybe I shouldn't have...maybe I should have...and you begin to doubt yourself.
Then it happens again. And again. Then one day, in place of an insult, a threat. Then the next time, perhaps with the threat, something breaks. A vase, or a favorite knick knack. The next time, a slap in the face. Each time, you see, is rehearsal for the next. How far can it go? Eventually, the things that get broken are limbs. Finally, the person who dies is the victim.
So I would answer the phone on my shift and listen. Sometimes I would have to press a little. The statement “I fell down the stairs” when probed would eventually become “I was pushed”. Sometimes, there was no time to do anything but work out quickly a safe place the woman could go to wait with her children by a phone until a safe house worker could pick them up. Sometimes they would wait in hospitals, or churches, even convenience stores. I shake as I remember these women's voices and stories. Because I know that only luck divides us.
Whenever my 6 hour shift was over, I would close my D-Ring binder, checked through my stack of call sheets to make sure all the information was there, took a deep breath or so, and felt like the luckiest woman on earth. I had a wonderful relationship. I had a roof over my head. There were no stalkers, no madmen beating down the door, no reason for me to be constantly aware of where the exits were in the house. I didn't need a safety bag waiting in a quiet cupboard by the door, or in the trunk of my car.
Every year, the volunteers would gather for a supper, and we would listen to women speak who had come out on the other side of abusive relationships. Our tears were of sorrow and gratitude and furious anger. There were tears of forgiveness. There were tears upon reaching the point where they could look in the mirror at themselves and be proud of what they saw. Strong, independent, resourceful, fragile, flawed, wondrous, phenomenal women.
Some additional resources for anyone out there who may need a hand. (including how to clear your browser). And please, if any one has more links, add them.
Jane Doe Inc.
Massachusetts Domestic Violence and Legal Resources
Gay Men's Domestic Violence Project
American Bar Association Domestic Violence Safety Tips
Brockton Police Department