Mary first appeared in my writing workshop for domestic violence victims, held at a women’s shelter, carrying a yellow legal pad, sharpened pencils, and decades of shame.
“I need to tell my story,” she said. “But I’m afraid to speak.” She paused, sat down at the table with the other women and said, “No, that’s not it. I’m afraid to hear what I have to say.”
Mary had recently divorced her husband, the father of her ten-year old son, after years of physical and emotional abuse. When she spoke, her voice, a whisper, sounded much younger than her forty-three years—timid, quavering, self-conscious, almost contrite. As if she needed to apologize for her presence. She and her son had recently moved into an apartment, address secret, restraining order public, and while the rundown apartment was furnished with shabby, donated furniture, and she slept on a couch and her son on a mattress on the floor, it was paradise.
“I can lock the door,” she said, “and he no longer has the key.”
Over the course of eight weeks, Mary wrote her story, slowly gaining confidence that hers was necessary and worthy of telling, and not only the story of a victim but of a hero-survivor-thriver. Her opening scene: she is lying on the floor of her bathroom in her married home because her husband has punched her and kicked her; he looms over her, ordering her to stop crying, to stop speaking; her son is on the other side of the bathroom door, hiding in a closet. Her closing scene: she and her son are sitting at the kitchen table; he is working on math homework and she is writing this story; and the only sound is that of their pencils on the page and the peaceful silence of safe refuge.
Violence against women and children. Here are just the very basic, horrific facts:
- One in four women will experience violence by a partner at some point in her life, which equals five million women a year in the US.
- Eighty-five percent of domestic abuse victims are women.
- On average, three women a day are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in the US.
- Two out of three children are exposed to trauma and violence, which equals ten million children a year in the US.
You read these statistics and, like most of us, likely feel powerless to help in any concrete way. But you can. Right now. One easy keystroke on your computer. Join forces with Futures Without Violence, https://www.futureswithoutviolence.org/, an organization dedicated to ending violence against women and children, and earmark your donation to this frontline warrior. Their mission is simple but profound. Four Words: Education, Safety, Justice, and Hope.
Their mission is simple but profound. Four Words: Education, Safety, Justice, and Hope.
For more than thirty years, Futures Without Violence (FWV) has been developing programs, policies, and campaigns that “empower individuals and organizations working to end violence against women and children around the world.” In 1994, the Founder and President of FWV, Esta Soler, was essential to the development and passage of the Violence Against Women Act, the first comprehensive federal legislation directly dealing with this epidemic. FWV’s mission, a revolutionary one, aims to “reach new audiences and transform social norms…train professionals such as doctors, nurses, judges, and athletic coaches on improving responses to violence and abuse,” and to work with “advocates, policymakers, and others to build sustainable community leadership and educate people everywhere about the importance of respect and healthy relationships.” Radical change.
Futures Without Violence has a wide-ranging, transformative vision incorporating replicable programming for women, children and teens; men; colleges and universities; and health care, judicial, and anti-human trafficking advocates. But FWV also develops initiatives specific to particular communities.
Strengthen Families, Prevent Violence has been developed for Native American communities in collaboration with Native groups such as the Native Streams Institute, the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation, and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. This initiative fosters direct strategies for healing and resiliency, particularly for children who have been victims of violence. And thinking of recent news headlines, FWV is also committed to workplace safety and equity for women, as we see time and again that women are not yet free from sexual harassment and assault in professional settings.
On the global stage, Futures Without Violence is a leading proponent of The International Violence Against Women Act which calls for the United States to commit to ensuring that gender equality is a component of our foreign policy and that every woman, no matter her age, ethnicity, or nationality, has a right to a self-determined life free from violence. Advocacy and change at home and abroad: one in three women around the world has suffered abuse—physical violence, forced marriage, or coerced sex; women activists, on the frontlines of countries like Pakistan, El Salvador, and Russia, risk their lives and are often killed for their activism as they don’t have the same protections as we have in the US. Often, change starts not with legislation in these countries but with changing inherited ideas about what women are worth. One community development project in Zambia aims to empower young girls, teaching them, first, that they are important and inherently worthy of basic human rights such as access to schooling, health care, safety, and self-determination.
By donating to Futures Without Violence, you can be a changemaker. Your financial contribution will help women and children at home and abroad: your next-door neighbors and your fellow citizens of the world.
By Kerry Beth Neville