I was out of state at a conference when I got a text from my father in Canada that his prayers were with us following April's shooting in Federal Way.
I didn’t know Dennis Clark or Justine Baez, but I know too many people who have been in domestic violence scenarios. I have worked with too many youth who have endured dating violence, and intimidation by friends who ignored boundaries.
I know men in upscale Federal Way neighborhoods whom I used to count as friends who have abused their wives by pushing them, throwing things at them, purposefully breaking personal belongings, calling them ugly and demeaning names, financially exploiting them, and more.
I have a dear friend who is currently fighting the justice system, which should be protecting her family. Death threats to her and her daughter involving a gun were sent by her daughter’s ex via text. Even with felony harassment charges filed by the prosecuting attorney on the young man, the judge denied a protection order and the principal of the school refuses to separate the students, who share classes and free time.
Domestic violence transcends socio-economic status, neighborhood, race, age, sexual orientation, and more.
Unfortunately, language is part of a victim-blaming culture in which we reside. We say things like: “Why do these women stay with these men?” and “What attracts them to this type of man?”
We also need to be asking: “Why did he beat her?” “Why do so many men verbally, physically, and sexually abuse children and women?” “How can our society and institutions in it contribute even more to producing more men who are not violent?”
In the above scenario involving my friend and her daughter, the school argues that her then-boyfriend locking her in a closet at school wasn’t a big deal, since she walked into the closet willingly. Notice the implication that this was her fault.
But is it wrong to walk into a closet? No. Is it wrong and intimidating to lock someone in the closet while they are pleading to get out? Yes. In this scenario, the boy needs to be held accountable for his actions, not the girl.
We need to recognize the problem and call it what it is before we can transform it. We need to move beyond talking only about women and what they are doing, saying, and wearing and assuming that causes violence in their relationships. We need to move the national, regional and local conversation toward helping more boys and men have more role models who are not violent, who treat all genders with respect, and who know how to communicate in non-violent ways.
I’m reminded of a story that illustrates the adaptability we have to really horrible situations. According to this story, if you put a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will jump out. But if you put a frog in a pot of cold water and slowly raise the temperature, it will stay in and acclimate up until the time it dies from overheating.
Becoming an abuser or a victim of abuse can follow a similar cycle.
Before we can heal, we need to recognize the pot is on the stove, and we have our hand on the burner. This is all of our problem. What will you do?