Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mayberry Had It All Wrong.

Domestic abuse. It's the small town gossip that no one seems to want to talk about. As a product of a small town, with a mom and female relatives from various other small towns, I knew many women who had been abused as children, teens, and adults. Some of the aforementioned female relatives even suffered through abuse, violence, and rape (not by men in my family, thank God).

If a small-town woman hasn't been abused, she certainly knows women in her community who have been. Domestic and sexual violence happens much more than you'd like to think in Heartland America, and unfortunately, is talked about even less.

These are the good Christian women, their daughters and their granddaughters, who held down the homestead during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Iraq War. They've survived through economic depressions, inflation, and the Cold War. These women are not vapid, weak, or complacent - these are the strong, resourceful, and empowered country women who raised me - a rookie city slicker - who was inspired by their wisdom, tenacity, and positivity. But it wasn't until I was much older that I understood that they have this outer shell that they put up to hide something much, much deeper.

Maybe it was the community in which I lived, a run-down former coal mining town that fell apart after the southern Indiana coal boom in the 50s and 60s. Most of the townsfolk live below the federally-established poverty line, didn't graduate high school, never considered college - very blue collar yet struggling. Maybe it was the fact that only men held elected positions in the county, which is still pretty much the case. Or perhaps the overpowering, general attitude of machismo that can be blamed. Many abuse cases can be traced back to these elements, but they are certainly not limited to the things that I noticed as an observant kid. So I did my own thing, loved and appreciated my mother, graduated from high school at the top of my class, and prepared to go off to a huge state university to ultimately go to law school.

Before I took off, one of my family members sat me down for a serious talk about what to expect in college. She simply said to me, "don't get raped."
That's the pre-college advice I was given, as I prepared to saunter off to become a student? But indeed, it was. I was told not to get raped. College is supposed to be a wonderful time for young men and women to blossom into the compassionate, intelligent Americans that they are meant to be and to explore the big, bright world, but I was simply told not to get raped. That female relative spoke from her own college freshman experience, as a naive country girl going to a small Christian university, who was brutally raped and beaten and left on the side of a back country road to die.

When most country folk like myself move to big cities, they're worried about being mugged, gunned down, held up, and so on.

Not me. I embraced city life, because to me, country life didn't embody the openness, freedom, and hospitality that most people associate with it.

No. To me, small towns and country life meant that women were still oppressed, forced to put on their happy faces, and pretend like nothing terrible was happening in middle-class America.
Now I realize that it's those women I worry most about.

Obviously, I understand that this doesn't happen everywhere, but it does happen and needs to be addressed now more than ever. Women are strong, beautiful creatures that put others before themselves, make sacrifices for their families, and put up a tragic fa├žade like nothing is wrong.

The women in my life embody the famous verse below:

"Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)"

But what love doesn't do is yell, hit, or strangle. If there is a woman in your life who is abused, please, step up and help her find her voice. It's hard as a kid to sit back and watch bruises form on friends' moms' arms and face, but now I wish that the 10-year old me would have had the courage to do something then.

For Missouri residents, a great organization to contact is the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence. There is a great map on their page that shows the specific regional hotlines to call if you or a woman you know is being abused.

If you are not a Missouri resident, you can contact the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, or a simple Google search for "[your state] hotline for domestic violence." For the love of God, please do not remain silent if you or someone you know is suffering!