For some of us, our beloved parent, trusted life-partner or dearly loved child begins making choices that cause concern; slowly trust is eroded and the relationship changes as a result long before the problem is generally known. Other times folks put on a "good face" and the sudden fall from respected community leader finds even their nearest and dearest wholly unprepared. Either way the new reality of legal troubles, financial ruin and public disgrace comes as a shock to family and friends. If is a sufficiently public event we may have a camera and microphone shoved in our face when we are still reeling from the shock and the questions that trail into the years ahead, "How did this happen?" "What could I have done to prevent this?" And maybe eventually, as we share the journey of other families dealing with criminal behavior and/or incarceration, we begin to say, "Thank God it was not worse".
Domestic violence is often worse for many reasons, but two stand out:
(1) Try as we might, it is hard not to blame the victims, at least adults, but even children are asked, "Why didn't you tell any one?" "Why did you not get help?" But such questions are the answer: domestic violence victims are often not believed, not comforted, not protected and are thereby violated again, resulting in their capacity to trust taking much serious and intentional rebuilding, often over years. (I understand that some of this happens because the person hearing the news is in the denial/shock part of grief plus we feel guilt that we did not protect our loved one -- but those very human but essentially selfish responses too often override basic human kindness.)
(2) At one moment in time we are a family, maybe bickering or even fighting, but a family around a table with history present in the perspective and hopefully wisdom of our older family members, and hope for the future as weddings and babies and even funerals bring shared joys and griefs, and even shared disappointments form gossamer webs of family ties. But the moment that domestic abuse and violence comes barreling out the closet either because it erupts in such a public way that it can no longer be denied or ignored, or because formal charges are filed, suddenly the family has fractures along stress lines. We ask each other: Do you believe it? Is it possible we missed this? Whose fault is it? How can we protect the children, older adults, our image, our children's future? Too rarely does someone just sit with the injured person or with stunned parents and the children who have lived and witnessed all that led to this moment. The very people that we are most likely to expect to give us encouragement, love and support are divided, warring, taking too much blame, denying responsibility and generally too overwhelmed to find a place to be mutually supportive. And those who try to do that are often treated with great cruelty by other family member stuck in the blame and shame game.
For the Justice League of America quality super-heroes, often themselves recovering from domestic abuse, who work in shelters, run hot lines, conduct classes in finance, employment skills and self-care, play with and tutor traumatized children, find homes for traumatized pets and generally form a very fragile and under-supported safety net, we thank you. We honor your service. We are grateful for the resource you are to us, to our families and to our community for people seeking to find that most undervalued of blessings: a safe home for ourselves and our children.