A blog by Deborah Shepherd, Executive Director
Dear Friends of FVP—
This year we launched our new website and a Family Violence Project Facebook page, an email blast called Constant Contact, and now, with the introduction of our blog, it feels like we are finally entering the 21st century, technologically speaking.
But when I listen to the radio, turn on the TV, or read the papers (yes, I still like to hold a newspaper in my hands, 21st century technology or not), I really do wonder what century we are in: Really? It’s 2012 and women can’t be trusted to make their own family planning decisions? Really, it’s 2012 and women who speak their minds and stand up for their principles are still labeled “sluts” and worse? Really, it’s 2012 and victims of domestic abuse are still being blamed for that abuse? Really, it’s 2012 and men who are arrested for domestic violence offenses still get a slap on the wrist and are released from jail within hours of their arrest, even if they’ve kicked, punched and even strangled their partners? Really, it’s 2012 and people are still asking “Why doesn’t she leave?” instead of “What gives him the right to treat her that way?” Really, it’s 2012 and our communities are STILL experiencing domestic violence (you’d think after all these millennia, we’d have figured this out).
This morning, one of the women who came to us for assistance said to me, “Everyone here has been so helpful to me. I’ve been trying to leave an abusive relationship for three years and, coming here, I was finally able to leave. And now my children will be able to grow up in a house where someone isn’t yelling at their mother or calling her names, or smacking her all the time. You really should have a sign on your door saying ‘Family Violence Project: Empowering Women since 1700.’”
Well, sometimes it feels like that long…As I said, the problem’s been around for millennia….
I didn’t know the woman’s name; I just ran into her outside the Family Violence Project office as she was leaving and I was coming in from a meeting. When I reported her remark to our helpline advocate, who had been working with her all morning, the advocate said “Oh, yes, a lot of us have been working with her for weeks to help her safety plan, so she could finally leave. She and the kids are going into shelter this afternoon.”
When I heard her name, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I had been on an afterhours helpline shift weeks before, when she made her first phone call to FVP. At the time, she wasn’t ready to make any moves, she just needed to tell someone her story. And all I could do was listen, and offer what I hoped were some helpful options. The abuse she was enduring had gone on for years, and she sounded so beaten down (both literally and figuratively), and it was complicated (as are all our lives, but especially the lives of victims of abuse who often have been cut off from any support of friends and family). We did some preliminary safety planning: It was pretty rudimentary, and when she thanked me for helping her and we hung up, I really didn’t feel like I had been helpful at all. Her situation sounded just awful, and I didn’t know if she would ever be able to get out of there.
Most staff members (and many volunteers, thank goodness) take rotating shifts on our helpline. We answer the phone, try to be helpful to our callers, and, unless we are advocates who take regular, daytime shifts on the helpline, don’t usually know how things play out. Today was different, though, thanks to a chance meeting in our parking lot. I went into my office, closed my door, and cried with relief.
And maybe that’s why, despite the horrific abuse that continues to be perpetrated out there, I’m still optimistic. For one thing, we are inspired every day by survivors of domestic abuse, people who often come to us with nothing but the clothes on their backs, their hope and their courage: the hope that they can make a better life for themselves and their children, and the courage to take that very first step, whatever that step is. Sometimes the step is to leave an abusive situation, but often, it’s not. Sometimes the step is the sudden realization that they do not deserve to be abused and the determination to live their lives, not the lives dictated by an abuser. Sometimes the step is to pick up the phone and tell their story for the very first time—truly a giant step!
If you would like to know what you can do to help end abuse in your community, please go to our website, www.familyviolenceproject.org . It will take a community to end domestic violence—and just by reading this blog, you’ve started to do your part. Stay tuned for future blogs and, of course, we always welcome your feedback.