The season of joy is here: church bells are ringing, choirs are singing, gifts are being given. There are trees, lights, tinsels, mince pies, mulled wine and more. In the frenzy of festivities, it is easy to overlook the often ‘invisible’ plight of the woman in an abusive relationship.
She’d most likely overlook it herself, perhaps being unaware that she is really being abused; perhaps thinking that she could get it ‘right’ this time, and, for once, Christmas would truly be happy for her and her kids when the doors are shut after the guests have all gone home….And many a guest would choose to believe the dress rehearsal of bliss that they see over the suspicious signs of fear and a change in character in their loved one who is being abused . . . even if she drops a hint, or dares to confide that things are not as pretty as they seem…
Therein lies one of the most difficult challenges of combatting domestic abuse. The silence.
The problem is, by the time it gets physical – if it gets obviously physical – a lot of damage has been done. No one starts an abusive cycle by hitting their partner…that’s usually an escalation of it, which if not interrupted could lead to loss of life. Indeed the first major physical act of violence could cost the victim her life.
In a recent documentary, Love You to Death – One Year of Domestic Violence, the BBC reported that 164 women were murdered in Britain in 2013. Of these, 86 were killed by their male partner or ex-partner. It is thought that the number is much higher, probably up to 144, but some cases are still pending and the perpetrators are yet to be convicted.
Telling the story the way it did, focusing on 7 victims and reading out loud the names of all 86, the documentary did a good job of putting names and faces to otherwise bland statistics. It shows how victims can cut across all ages, all cultures, all religions, all races, all social backgrounds… It shows the impact on their children, parents, other family members, friends and neighbours. It is well worth watching: Love You to Death
Some may wonder, how did it get to the point of murder? What signs might I watch out for – either for myself or for my loved ones? Follow this link for some insight: What is Coercive Control?
It is easy to ask – after it’s all exploded – ‘why didn’t she say something?’ Or ‘why did she stay?’ And many more along those lines, blaming the victim … once again. It is also easy to say that the new law criminalising Coercive Control will protect everyone from experiencing abuse in intimate relationships. Will it? Really? I mean, it’s good to have it, if only to recognize that such a thing as coercive control actually exists. But, there were already laws against harassment, intimidation, stalking, actual and grievous bodily harm and certainly against murder.
These laws are being broken regularly in many homes, and will be broken even more over this Christmas period.
Except if we each decide to make it our personal business, our civic duty, to get involved when those in our community, our families, our spheres of influence are experiencing – or perpetrating – domestic abuse. By knowing that abuse is taking place and turning a blind eye and a deaf ear in the name of not taking sides, you have taken sides already – with the abuser, against the victim.
For the Christians out there who make a great show of being loving, caring and kind by cajoling victims to submit, pray and carry their cross, I wonder what Jesus, whose birth we are celebrating this season, I wonder what He would make of it. Seriously, WWJD?