National political types got all worked up a few days ago when, according to Politico, House Speaker John Boehner said, “We’re fully committed to doing everything we can to protect women in our society, and I expect that the House will act in a timely fashion in some way.”
Boehner was talking about his side of Congress taking up the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) – a law that’s been in place from 1994 until last year. Forgive me if I am not worked up about Boehner leaving the door open to more personal disasters, while he debates what to do in his head.
To me, Boehner’s words sound like he was talking about something that didn’t involve women…their assaults, their pain, and often, their deaths.
He also said, “No decision has been made…whether we take up the Senate bill or move our own version of the bill.”
Wow. That’s some powerful and promising language right there. The key words being, “No decision….”
Why didn’t Boehner just say what he likely meant? You know, some variation on “Get lost, ladies.” Maybe he could have stated: “The fact that a dozen or two women will die at the hands of a man in this country…between the time I say this and the time we sort through, chat about and close on this bill concerns me only peripherally. Men beat women, that’s a fact. But I’m a Republican male, and bruised and battered women just don’t get my attention, or excite most of my colleagues to bold action – or any action. We’d rather play partisan games with this one.”
Boehner might have gone on to say, “I mean, come on: women here have it better than they do in much of the rest of the world. They ought to be glad they live in such a sensitive, caring country, where females can do just about everything they want to do.”
Except, that is, expect most men to give a damn about domestic violence done to women they don’t know. Sorry guys, but that’s my assessment.
John Boehner is in a unique position to do something critical to address this crucial issue, and he says he will do nothing right now.
Where are the men across America – of either party or independent-minded guys – rallying to keep women and girls: a wife, daughter, mother, sister, child, friend or co-worker…safer from the violence perpetrated by abusers? For that matter, did we see Republican women in the House stand on the stairs of the Capitol and insist to John Boehner and friends that the VAWA be written up, negotiated with the Senate, and then passed. Didn’t happen.
And it won’t happen while the House takes a recess instead of taking up the bill.
In the U.S., according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence website, “One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year.”
I don’t need to see any more numbers, do you? Still, numbers somehow lose meaning when they get too big. People can’t relate. Let me tell you a few things I encountered in my years as a journalist, in TV and as a newspaper columnist. Maybe readers can relate in a different way.
On occasion, homicide cops would show me the pictures of female victims of domestic violence. Cigarette burns were often the least lethal injuries. Faces were sometimes unrecognizable. Skin and organs slashed. Is that enough? I could go on but won’t.
Men who claimed to love did these things.
These horrible wounds happen quite frequently. Many detectives keep the photos in their metal desk drawers to remind them of this agony out there, but in truth, they don’t need to look more than once. Neither did I. I’ve never forgotten those photos.
One time, when working on a story in Tennessee, I asked a domestic violence shelter to work with me on finding and speaking to a woman just after she’d been wounded in an incident of domestic violence. A brave woman, about 25 years old, agreed. So, you see, there are women who know they will be struck – or struck again.
In this woman’s case, her boyfriend had gone to court several times, but the penalties were puny and pointless. The man had told her he’d kill her if she kept calling the police.
One afternoon, my phone rang. “She’s been hit,” the woman from the shelter said. “A few hours ago. She’s back from the ER. Here’s her address.”
When my photojournalist and I arrived 15 minutes later, “Linda” opened the door. Her left eye looked like a heavyweight boxer’s after a terrible loss in the ring. Wait, no it didn’t – it looked a lot worse. The eye was a slit, and the bruise was bigger than a baseball.
Linda sat patiently before the video camera – with periodic tears – and told us what happened. She spoke out to help others do the same. We saw that she was packing her bags to leave the state, with virtually nothing but her life. Linda’s courage was stunning to me and still is.
That’s domestic violence. So often, it can be predicted and still not avoided.
Once, I did a Friday night ride-along with a male officer on the domestic crime prevention unit. It is the most dangerous things cops do on a routine basis. Sure, it’s routine. Violence against women is….routine. Not for the women, though. And: let’s not forget about the children. They get hurt in so many ways. Physically, emotionally. Permanently.
Time and again, home is where the hurt is.
The officer driving, with me in the passenger seat, started recounting the details of domestic violence calls to which he had responded during the previous month. An hour and half later, he was still talking.
We had a few domestic calls that night, too. I’ll spare you the details.
Enjoy the recess, Mr. Speaker. Maybe I’ll send you the names and pictures of the women who died from domestic violence…while you were out of the office.
Friday, 15 February 2013