I had so many reasons to feel grateful this morning ~ signs that change is on its way ~ hopeful notes to share in these last days of Domestic Violence Awareness Month 2015. I want to share them.
But first, I need to post this photo of the young mother who was murdered in nearby Eugene, two days ago. I hear the silence where her laughter used to be. I hear her son’s sobs as he reaches for her, watches for her, wakes without her. I imagine his sadness as he faces Halloween, the other children so happy with their treats and costumes, and then Thanksgiving, and Hanukka/Christmas and a New Year without her. I hear the cries of all those who are oppressed by coercive power, who live in fear for their lives, who fear they will not be able to protect their children or that their children will be left motherless. Athena Slavin. May her memory be a blessing.
Rick Santos, Executive Director of IMA World Health was here in Portland from Washington D.C. He is understandably proud of IMA’s “We Will Speak Out” campaign, designed to encourage people of faith to step into the difficult, rewarding, urgent work of ending the epidemic of sexual and gender-based violence. The campaign began in Congo at Panzi Hospital. Soon, IMA realized that we needn’t look further than our own communities to find suffering caused every day by intimate violence. Remember Athena.
Rick shared with us, members of SAIV’s Community Partnership in Portland, the newly published Harvard Divinity School study about domestic violence and pastors’ silence on the topic. (Link here) As our group of faith leaders shared together, we learned that one woman in our group, a Parish Nurse in a Lutheran congregation, had found a new focus for her life as a result of hearing Rick speak at our “Broken Silence” forum last Fall. She is working with two other congregations who use their training from Faith Trust Institute and materials from Speak Out Sunday to address DV in their churches at least once each year.
Yesterday, Carolyn Lu, Minister of Wholeness at Rolling Hills Community Church, wrote to let me know that in her sermon this coming Sunday, November 1st, “How to Thrive in a Difficult Marriage” she will be highlighting the difference between “difficult” and “abusive” and will be offering her congregation community resources for abuse victims. (You can hear Carolyn’s sermon, streamed live at 9:00 and 11:00 PST or via audio file archived at the website after November 1st.) The pastoral staff at Rolling Hills have been using materials about DV prepared by Christianity Today so as to increase their effectiveness in ministering to victims of abuse.
I attended a meeting of the Family Court Enhancement Project in Portland where I learned that DV training will soon be offered in some form to an ever-wider group of court staff and professionals involved in decisions regarding child custody. It’s going to get better, I find myself humming. This is happening: the light is starting to shine in the dark corners where abuse happens.
Her death came as no surprise to those who knew the killer best: his ex-wife, his other ex-girlfriends, including the one whom he had nearly killed, twice. The excellent coverage (extensive, intelligent, trauma-informed) in the Register-Guard (October 29, 2015) makes this much abundantly clear. Anyone and everyone should and could have seen this coming. In other words, this was a preventable death. How will her son deal with the added anger this reality will inspire in him as a young man? “My mother’s death was preventable!” The man who killed her should never have been roaming free. Athena’s son ran screaming from their home, crying for help, when his mother’s murderer first attacked her. Is it even human to speak of a child moving forward from such trauma and tragedy?
In her book Scared Sick: the Role of Childhood Trauma in Adult Disease, Portland therapist Robin Karr-Morse explains trauma as “frozen fear.” We don’t simply move past our childhood trauma or our experiences of domestic violence. They create disease in individuals and in our collective psyche. “We are a traumatized society,” says Karr-Morse. Are we collectively frozen in our fear? Could this explain our paralysis, our willful blindness, our silence and our inability to take the simple steps that would eradicate preventable intimate violence?
On Sunday, October 25th, Dr. Ron Clark and his wife Lori, ministers at Agape Church of Christ in Portland, Oregon held an “Abuse Awareness Worship” service at which child abuse survivors Ashley Kelly and Lemuel Harris allowed us to walk alongside them, back through that valley of death that had been their childhood experience. At Agape, fear does not reign, abuse is not a taboo topic, and everyone is welcome to come and to say, “Yes, I too am broken ~ in some way ~ and I am here seeking healing, meaning, and new life.”
Ashley’s moving reflection, “Seeing the world through the eyes of an abused child” and Lemuel’s story are a gift. They shine a light on what is a daily reality for countless children and on the unspoken, burdensome secrets carried by many into adulthood. It is a privilege and an honor to be entrusted with a survivor’s story. Every survivor who faces down the demons of shame and mis-placed guilt, who shows herself stronger than her assailant by “speaking out” is a portrait in immeasurable courage. By sharing his story, the survivor offers us the opportunity to repent of our silence/complicity and to join them in saying “No More!” By sharing their stories, survivors inspire others to do the same. 1 in 4 girls, 1 in 6 boys – victim of childhood sexual abuse. 1 in 3 women in the world victim of some form of coercive control or assault. Why should there be shame in talking about it?
Ron and Lori have been engaged in education and prevention work around domestic violence for decades. They offer DV training to clergy and support groups for victims. Ron teaches a pastoral counseling class at George Fox Evangelical Seminary where the emphasis is the theology of domestic violence and how to minister to victims. At Agape, there are twelve Domestic Violence Awareness months in every year, year in, year out. As people of deep faith, Ron & Lori and the members of Agape continue to pray and to dream of a broken world transformed by Love. Singing joyful songs of praise with them last Sunday, I could feel that dream as a real, lived possibility ~ where the Light is so great that no darkness can put it out.
Meaning what? That people are just “sick and tired” of hearing all this talk about sexual assault and family violence? I’m sorry ~ but such an attitude is unacceptable, irresponsible and immoral. We have only just begun within the past five to ten years to really talk about campus rape, the shadow lives of celebrities like Bill Cosby and Jimmy Saville, assaults in the military, child sex abuse in locker rooms and confessionals, the fact that “stranger danger” is nothing compared to the 80% of child rapes where the perpetrator is a trusted member of the family or a family friend. Imposed silence is one of the chief weapons of perpetrators of intimate violence. If we want to end the epidemic of sexual and gender based violence then we must listen with compassion to survivors, encourage them to report their victimization to the proper authorities, help them find resources for healing and for justice, and be willing to speak out loudly with them to say, “Enough! No more!” We must call out the foolishness of claims that intimate violence isn’t a gendered affair. And shame on those who would shut down the conversation claiming it’s been “done to death” while the women continue to die and the children are still violated in the homes of their relatives or by other adults to whom they look for love and guidance.
~ Rhonda Case serves as Portland Liaison for SAIV ~ She worked this year with Randy Ellison, author of Boys Don’t Tell, as Co-Coordinator of We Will Speak Out! in Oregon. She is working currently on a project to share the music and poetry of her late son, Louis Case Debruge, a victim of childhood abuse, who ended his own life on December 4, 2014. Free As The Sun: Lou’s Songs of Life (CD & Book) will be published in December if the Kickstarter Campaign for the project is reaches 100% of its Goal by November 17, 2015. Learn more: www.freeasthesun.com & may his memory be a blessing.