At the Dietrich by Hildy Morgan
I have to tell you – Sunday afternoon’s panel discussion about domestic violence was incredibly fine! The panel Margie and Erica put together was superb and they had much to say about women and violence. Janet MacKay, who has headed Victims Resource Center for over a quarter Century was chock full of information about trying to extricate women from violent situations, about trying to help them survive. Laura Hasenzahl talked about young girls and boys on probation, needing understanding and guidance to get them through troubled teen-age years. And the men on the panel, our District Attorney, Jeff Mitchell and the Assistant District Attorney, Jerry Idec spoke with great passion about their desire to keep women safe, to help them in terrible, life-threatening situations. And Patrick Rushton, formerly a cop, now with Victims Resource, talked about the need to educate men so that they would stop using language that encourages abusers, makes them think it’s okay.
Thirty years ago, when I was getting my degree from College Misericordia my senior project was to interview about a dozen elderly women ( you know…the age I am now) about the lives of abuse they had led. To a person, these often frail, always frightened women (I pretended I was an Avon Lady in order to talk to them, so that if the husband came in no suspicion was aroused) had gone to their parents, or their friends, or their priest. To a woman they had been told to go home and be a “good wife” and not “give him reason to hit her.” (And what possibly, possibly, could be that reason????) One woman, then in her eighties, told me about the time her husband knocked her down a flight of stairs, dragged her back up and knocked her down again. A neighbor, hearing her scream, called the police. They came as she lay cowering at the foot of the stairs, bruised and bleeding. The husband told them she “needed to be taught a lesson.” The cops told her to try to be a better wife. They left. He knocked her down the stairs a couple more times until he felt in need of a drink.
Those women went to their Priests and were told to “submit” to their husbands. “If you’re a good wife, God will reward you,” they said. Parents told them “You’ve made your bed, now lie in it. And try not to provoke him. Be a good wife. This will go away.” Or not.
You see the recurring theme, here. If you’re a good girl, bad things won’t happen to you. Your husband is good. You are deeply annoying and he has to straighten you out. Good luck and God Bless.
We’re more enlightened than that today. Pennsylvania has good laws to help protect women. The men on that panel were absolutely dedicated to helping women in abusive situation. And they could use the law to help them.
But what no one on that panel could do, and what we MUST do, is look deep into our own hearts, especially as women, and stop judging the victim! As Pat Rushton said, no woman was ever raped because she was drunk. No woman was ever raped because of her attire. (And if you don’t believe that think about the fact that men rape babies, children and the very elderly.) They are raped because a rapist is in the room. And it’s not about sex, it’s about control. And rage. And a sense of such perverse entitlement that it takes your breath away. We, as women, must not think that judging the victim will protect us. That “good women” aren’t raped or domestically abused, because they are.
And yes, women go back to their abuser (if it’s so bad, how come they go back?) and we judge them for that. And I say, it’s complicated. There are so, so many reasons for that. Pure fear (I’ll kill you and your entire family if you don’t come back), feeling sorry for the abuser (I’ll never touch you that way again, I promise!!! I love you! I’ll kill myself if you don’t come home), no money, no place to stay, no friends (he isolated you from them years ago), no belief in yourself (he knocked out any sense of confidence a looong time before) no hope. It’s exhausting to be a battered wife. It’s exhausting to leave. Most women who are murdered by their husbands are murdered after they try to leave.
We must stop judging these women. They don’t deserve it. We need to tell them to call Victims Resource Center. You don’t have to give VRC your name. You can just talk. They will help you get to a shelter with your kids if that’s what you want. They will walk you through the court process. They will do whatever they can for you. They’ll just listen, if that’s all you want for now. There is help out there. Sure, nobody can know the outcome. But VRC will listen. They won’t tell you that it’s your fault, because, of course, it’s not.
Back at Misericordia, so many years ago, an eighty-five year old woman told me that she was so happy to marry “Bobby.” “He brought me flowers every week. And my folks loved him. He told me he’d always look out for me. He was the sweetest talker I’d ever known.” On their wedding night, he walked into the bedroom and punched her in the face. “That’s what’ll happen to you if you smart-mouth me,” he said. Then he went out drinking with his pals to “celebrate” his wedding. It was the start of a fifty year nightmare marriage. He was dead when I interviewed her. His death was her liberation. She didn’t mourn him, nor did his children.
We can, and must, do better today. We need to understand that a woman does not bring rape on herself or domestic abuse. We need to not judge her, we need to help where we can, we need to tell men who tell crummy sexist jokes that they’re not funny, we need to help make the violence stop. Really, really, really, we do.
See you at the Dietrich.