The Fight to End Terrorism
“Compare the raw numbers. In the same seven-year period [2000-2006] when 4,588 U.S. soldiers [in combat] and police officers [on duty] were killed by hostiles or by accident, more than 8,000 women – nearly twice as many – were shot, stabbed, strangled, or beaten to death by the intimate males in their lives."
“Compare the raw numbers. In the same seven-year period [2000-2006] when 4,588 U.S. soldiers [in combat] and police officers [on duty] were killed by hostiles or by accident, more than 8,000 women – nearly twice as many – were shot, stabbed, strangled, or beaten to death by the intimate males in their lives. In Canada, compared to the 101 Canadian soldiers and police officers killed, more than 500 women – nearly five times as many – met the same fate.”
This excerpt from The War on Women: Elly Armour, Jane Hursham, and Criminal Domestic Violence in Canadian Homes (2006), by Brian Vallée, gives us a stark image of the tragic toll of domestic violence in the US and Canada. We have a sense of the terrible waste of young lives in the Iraq and Afghan wars, but we don’t so easily see or track the numbers of women murdered in their own homes.
“In the United States, it's conservatively estimated that in addition to the 1,200 to 1,300 women killed each year by intimate partners, another 5.3 million, age 18 and older, are victims of non-lethal domestic abuse. Based on those numbers, the violence costs the country more than $5.8 billion annually – nearly $4.1 billion in direct medical and mental health care, and $1.8 billion in lost productivity and lost earnings due to homicide.”
These cold statistics are pushing me to change my vocabulary about “domestic violence.” I worry that we have become numb to the everydayness of the term. So I am beginning to talk about “domestic terror.”
Is the first image that comes to your mind the twin towers collapsing in a pile of dust and mangled steel? That’s when the media began using the term after 9/11. And I remember thinking at the time, 7 years ago, “wait a minute. What’s wrong with this image?” because what I saw was a house, very ordinary, and inside I saw a woman and her children living in fear--never knowing when the violence would begin or end. Then I pulled the image back and saw the neighborhood where this house was and I saw the 25 % of the houses where women and children were living in fear --- or carrying the memory of fear and the scars of violence.
Domestic terror. I have begun using this term to describe intimate partner violence because I think it more accurately describes the constant in this picture: the terror. Domestic violence is the term we have used for years as shorthand. But there are two problems with it: one is that it focuses on the violence which is not constant but rather is occasional. The other problem is that this means that it is hard for people who haven’t grown up with this or lived through it to really understand. Because they are not likely to actually see the violence.
So I want us to talk about domestic terror. A state of intense fear related to the household or family. This is what battered women are living with. This is what children are growing up with. This is what enables the abuser to coerce and control his partner and children.
It is happening in at least 1 in 5 families in our faith communities. And you may not see black eyes, broken legs, cuts and bruises very often. So you may convince yourself that this is someone else’s problem. But it isn’t. There are people sitting in worship every week who are living with domestic terror. There are others who have escaped. And there are those who use domestic terror to enforce their will with the people they say they love.
Living with terror invariably diminishes body and soul. It must be our work to shine a light of justice on terror, to insure safety for women and children, and to deny abusers the power of terror to control others. Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy activist in Myanmar and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 observed: “Fear is not the natural state of civilized people.” At home or in the streets, in the U.S or in Iraq.
Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune