I personally have never experienced domestic violence. And I thought none of my family, friends, or anyone I knew had experienced it as well. However, over the years, as I became more familiar with the problem of domestic violence, my perspective broadened and I learned a lot.
Intimate partner violence occurs in every ethnic, religious, economic, social, and educational, group
Early in the history of Handmade Especially for You, our knitting club met every Wednesday evening in a local yarn shop. One memorable evening, the scene was glorious. Bright sunshine streamed in through the windows. Many dedicated women were at the large oval table, knitting away, making comfort scarves for abused women who had sought the protection of a shelter. “How lucky we are,” I said aloud to the convened group. “We haven’t experienced domestic violence.”
One of the women replied, “My daughter just graduated from Rainbow Services (Rainbow was the first shelter to which we donated comfort scarves). And she took her scarf with her.” Quiet descended on our normally talkative group. The woman went on to explain that Rainbow was her daughter’s third shelter, and she hoped, her last. (Since then, I learned that on average it takes a women seven tries, that means seven escapes to seven shelters, before she is successful leaving her abuser.)
We all sympathized with the mother of the woman who just finished the program at Rainbow, still a little surprised that she lived in our neighborhood, was one of us. Yes, intimate partner abuse did occur in our community. For real.
On another occasion, I was speaking at a meeting of a local women’s club. I thought I had spoken so often about the usual statistics surrounding domestic violence that on this occasion I would focus on abuse among rich and educated women, like the the women in my audience. I didn’t want to insult them, but just raise the possibility that domestic violence occurred in our community. When I was done speaking, two women came up to me separately to share their experiences. They didn’t raise their hands and tell about their abuse out loud, to the entire group. Both whispered individually to me what had happened to them. Abuse ended for one when her husband died. The other divorced her husband after 29 years. Long times to to keep such a secret. No wonder we thought domestic violence doesn’t occur in our income and education bracket. But it does. For real.
Eventually, I came to know that domestic violence really does occur in our neighborhood, but I thought at least the women were educated enough and wealthy enough so they had alternatives, that they could get out. But. Recently, two of Handmade’s most dedicated participants arrived at one of our work sessions full of news. The night before, the partner of their dear next door neighbor was so angry that he threw their friend against a wall and broke her back. What a terrible event. Police came. The ambulance arrived. They were up half the night trying to make sense of what happened. We listened, shocked at the intensity of the story, forgetting abuse happens in every neighborhood, next door and across the street from everyone, in secret, behind closed doors.
By this time, I had learned quite a bit about domestic violence and what it does to communities. “What should she do?” they asked. “First, you have to get a restraining order,” I answered. That took some time. “Breaking someone’s back constitutes great bodily injury. He’ll go to jail!” And, yes, an assistant DA took over the case, charging him at first with great bodily injury and insisting he immediately start a course in anger management. Now a few months have gone by. This same assistant DA seems to want to get rid of the case, reduce his own caseload and get on to something more major. He recommends reducing the felony to a misdemeanor and relaxing the restraining order. He says continuing the anger management class for a year will be enough “punishment.”
But what about our victim? If the restraining order is relaxed, if the felony is reduced to a misdemeanor, the abuser will return to their shared home and she will be forced to leave. Where will she go? Maybe to one of our shelters if she can find a place? (There are 2,000 beds available in Los Angeles, yet the LAPD answers 15,000 calls each year). Maybe she’ll have to move in with a friend or relative. Maybe she’ll become homeless (at least 50% of homeless women in Los Angeles are homeless due to domestic violence). Not a happy outlook for her. This is real. Our victim is not a statistic.
One in Four Women Will Experience Domestic Violence in Her Lifetime
KCET, our local PBS station, awarded Handmade its Local Heroes award for March, 2014. A crew came to see our operation and interview us. It was very exciting and we all felt very honored. The cameraman focused on each of the 8 volunteers present, each doing a different Handmade job, measuring, making kits, wrapping scarves, packing boxes. Val Zavala, the interviewer, quizzed us all about our jobs and about what participating in Handmade meant to us. We all participated enthusiastically. Finally, Val asked if any of the group present was an abuse survivor. I started to answer “No,” in my usual thought process that abuse didn’t occur among people I knew, when two volunteers raised their hands. Wow. One experienced it early in her life, when she was first married. She said she thought it was “normal,” that that’s “just how married life was.” She soon divorced her partner, went to college, became and electrical engineer, married and had a wonderful, supportive family. The second woman had a much more difficult time. She had a very controlling husband and a baby. She planned and planned her escape until she made it. She never married again but had an interesting life full of exciting travel as a tour guide. She is very close with her daughter, now a mother herself. Both survived abuse early in life through education. Both volunteer for many causes, not only Handmade, and do a lot of good in the community. But think about it. Eight woman participated in the filming and interviewing about Handmade. Two had been abused. Two of Eight, or One in Four. The Statistic is Real!
Handmade wants to support women who have been abused (abuse survivors) who have sought the protection of a shelter. We support them by knitting/crocheting comfort scarves and shipping the comfort scarves to the shelters. We have been doing this since the end of 2008. Over this period, I have heard many stories, participated in many positive events, celebrated many wonderful occasions. This essay is an introduction, an introduction to the problems of intimate partner violence and a small suggestion of what we can do to the help the survivors. I have many more “stories” to share, many reports about Handmade’s good work, and many testimonials from shelters about what receiving a comfort scarf means to the recipient. My motto of life is “Keep that movie rolling.” I will follow it by writing several more essays, covering the broad spectrum of Handmade’s work, experiences, and history.