Thursday, October 7, 2010

Violence against women-Part 2

One crisp spring evening more than 40 years ago, dinner was interrupted. The little girl stood side by side her four brothers. They stood facing their thirty-something years old mother who was silently weeping. A drunken, enraged man ordered the five childen outside. He insisted each of them cut a green branch from the tree. He told them to peel the bark off and bring the green "switches" inside. The little girl was cold, tired and hungry, but she did what she was told. There were consequences for not doing what she was told to do. She did not know exactly what was going to happen next, but she knew it was going to be very bad. It always was. The enraged man told the children to take their "switch" and do one of the following three things:
  • Strike their mother across the back ten times.
  • Strike one of the other children ten times.
  • Choose to get whipped with the switch ten times.
The oldest went first. He told the man to hit him. The little girl was next and she made the same choice. As each child completed their turn, all five made the same choice. All five were whipped across the back with their "switch" ten times.

The mother kept weeping.

The little girl thought to herself, "Now we are done. He is finished being mad at us."

But the man was not done. He was not satisfied with the result. So he took one of the switches and for the next ten minutes he proceeded to beat the mother with the switch.

Now, the little girl wept. The little girl did not understand why her stepfather always hit her mommie. The little girl did not understand why the man did not love her.

I was that little girl.

God knows why my stepfather chose to punish all of us that night, or any other night. I remember that before this particular scene happened, my mother merely had dropped a plate while serving dinner. My stepfather beat my family hundreds of times. None of those times did the beatings make any particular sense to me.

It is not surprising, then, that I have spent the bulk of my adult life working to wipe out domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault. I spent years learning about the cycle of violence, power and control issues, the increased incidence of domestic violence with alcohol abuse, and the personal toll on families that domestic violence creates.

My mother did not have access to laws that could protect her. This was an era before "domestic violence". This was the era when these things were a "private family matter." Now there are laws to protect people like my mother.

Out of necessity, my mother had to bury this issue. She buried it so deep that when she found out that I was running for public office, it never occurred to her that domestic violence would become the crux of my legislative agenda. When I got elected to the State Assembly in 2000, the legislature did not have a particular focus on domestic violence. During my first year in office, I created the Assembly Select Committee on Domestic Violence. I was fortunate to Chair that committee for all six years I served as a legislator. My proudest moment came when Governor Gray Davis signed my very first piece of legislation, AB 469. That is the moment that the little girl got to do something meaningful, not only in honor of her mother, but for all women in California. Once again the little girl wept.

To be continued...

Until next time, please watch this poignant video clip that puts faces to the issue.


Chez Marta said...

Rebecca, the first portrait of the battered women looks so much like my little daughter (save the visible signs of abuse), this video scared me to death. We have to fight domestic violence, verbal abuse, the constant put-down of our daughters. We have to fight by all means, and at all times. It was a great achievement that you drafted and carried legislation to combat this sad phenomenon.

The worst part, as you pointed out, is the silence. Women should speak up, for themselves and for each other. If we hear the unforgettable sounds of domestic violence, we have to call the police on the perp! We have to teach our daughters that they are precious, and nobody is entitled to hit them, hurt them, yell at them, or abuse them. As mothers, this is the least we could do.

Yazzyjazzy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Yazzyjazzy said...

Rebecca, that was such a powerful blog post. My heart goes out to that little girl, but am so proud that she grew up to be brave, confident, intelligent and passionate about making a difference. You are really a special person. To face that grave injustice, and then turn around and instead of being angry at the world, try to change it, is really amazing. The women of California are thankful to you!

N.P. said...

Rebecca, thank you for sharing this story with us. It takes so much courage to not only share this story but to also take the initiative to fight such domestic abuse. I can't imagine growing up in such an environment, but more so, I can't imagine having the strength to move past it and do something with all that pain.

Domestic abuse and abuse in general is not something to take lightly. As your blog post stated as did Marta's comment, silence of such instances is inevitable because the fear is all consuming. The sad matter is that the law cannot go into people's houses or bedrooms, and the only thing we as society can do is ensure that once these women break the silence, that we are there with open arms to ensure they receive the justice they so rightly deserve.

Bijorn Turock said...

That video was very disturbing and eye opening. I really had no idea how prevalent domestic violence was. Maybe it has to do with the fact that the news spends more time highlighting what a particular celebrity wore to some awards ceremony, rather than creating awareness on this topic. Or maybe, as you mentioned, it has to do with the silence. I agree with Marta here, we need to push for women to speak up and speak out against the violence they endure. No woman should be a victim of a physical or verbal abuse.

Your work on legislation that combats these terrifying acts are commendable and a step in the right direction for our society. After getting the exposed to this issue from reading your post, I really hope that I can contribute in bringing more awareness about this problem through my actions.

Kate said...

I'll be honest- I initially skimmed past your post because I felt it would be just too upsetting, which, I suppose, is part of the silencing problem you talk about.

However, after your comments in class today, I decided to (wo)man up and read it and I'm glad I did. It's depressing to realize how recently the law began to take domestic violence seriously, and how much work there still is to be done. Checking to see if someone who's just committed a violent crime has a gun seems like such a basic thing, so it's appalling to me that it took until 2001 to get it mandated.

I was very disturbed by the three "choices" your stepfather gave you. It actually reminded me of the treatment of child soldiers, who are often forced to attack their friends and family as a means of cutting off their ties to their home and forcing them to stay with the militia. I think this similarity really illustrates why dismissing domestic violence as a "private matter" is so ridiculous and arbitrary. The patterns of so-called "private" and "public" violence are very similar, if not identical, and the two reinforce each other.

To echo others, kudos to you for fighting to protect other girls and women from what you went through.