18 March 2015

Be gentle with their grief

For obvious reasons, this year there is a huge amount of attention being focussed on domestic violence and those that have experienced it.

And domestic violence is actually a very palatable phrase that encompasses the less palatable words like rape, beatings, torture, burns, bullying, neglect, child abuse, insults, assaults, kicks, sadism, barbarity, stabbings and fear .

It is a sad truth that putting the word 'domestic' in front of the word violence trivialises it in many people's minds.  We toss around words like percentages and statistics and gleefully engage in victim blaming asking "why didn't she leave?" or "that would never have happened to me because I would have done it differently."

We buy badges, sign pledges. We are collectively and rightly appalled by what we read in the papers or online.

We are made uncomfortable by campaigns like this by The Guardian newspaper where the statistics of one per week dead at the hands of their partners are replaced by the actual faces of women who have actually died.

Photo source: The Guardian (www.theguardian.com)
We applaud Rosie Batty for telling her story over and over and over again and putting her face and her 'celebrity' behind apps and initiatives that will hopefully empower people and start to reduce the staggering numbers of people living with domestic violence.  At the same time, there are those that that quite openly blame her for the death of her son.

We say very little when Tara Moss speaks out about being raped because she's obviously done all right for herself what with being a model and an author and having her own family.  Oh, and being pretty.  Was it really rape if she knew him?

We think that Arman Abrahimzadeh should have 'manned up' and stopped his father from killing his mother in 2010. If he and his sisters had really been affected by the domestic violence they grew up with surely they would have done something to stop him.

And the list goes on.

These people courageously package their experiences, their soul shattering grief, their eternal losses, their endless pain into small chunks of palatable reality for us, the skeptical public, to try and get us to understand and to act.

And we are so careless with that gift.  We mock it, we undermine it, we belittle it by thinking that it can't have been that bad if they are prepared to revisit it, if they smile again, if they go on and find love, build a new life, start afresh.

We use language which puts the emphasis on the abused.  Not the abuser.  We do not write letters via the national press saying "Why did you burn your daughter? Why did you rape your partner? It's your fault your son died."

No. We only go public to ask the abused, and often the dead, why did they not do things differently.

And yet incredibly, there is an increasing number of people are brave enough to package up their experience and say  "I do not want this to happen to another person".

And for ever person that doesn't appear on TV or in the papers, there are countless others taking their experiences to support groups, to families, to churches, to soccer games, to friends, to colleagues and saying "I see you. I have been there."

But still we judge. And every time we assume that we understand their circumstances, that we would do it differently without ever having been there, we are actively contributing to the problem.

We need to be gentle and respectful of the grief in those shared stories. Those voices speaking of a reality they we can not fully comprehend without experience.  They speak up so that others may have the courage to leave and again for others, the bystanders, to act.

In the end it is simple.  If we do not honour those stories -if we do not learn from them and actively seek to change our own language, our own prejudices, our own silence, and the language, the prejudices and the judgement of those around us - then we are complicit.

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