Domestic Violence: War at Home
- by Barbara Kelley, OP
Reprinted with the permission of The Catholic Times,
The Diocese of Lansing Newspaper
(posted September 27, 2006)

These days, we are surrounded by war, violence, and hatred. What first comes to mind, of course, is our recent marking of the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. We are faced not only with the reminder of that grim, terrible day, but also with the knowledge that the group that led to the killing of 3,000 people on that day still hate all Americans and see killing as many of us as possible as their own gateway to heaven. We are engaged in a “war on terror”; a bitter and escalating war in Iraq and other areas of the Middle East ; and in violence on our city streets. All of these, to one degree or another, strike fear in our hearts.

Fear of an attack by an outsider, by someone we don’t even know, is hard enough, but at a certain level it’s remote. We fear terrorists, but at the same time we know that the odds are against our being killed by them. What must it be like to face fear, day in, day out, in an intimate setting, in a place that should be our refuge – our home? But all too many women in the United States face this private, often unseen war in their homes: a war of physical, emotional and spiritual survival in the face of attacks, not by an unknown enemy, but by a man who should be their friend and lover: their husband.

On its web site, the American College of Emergency Physicians states that 2 million to 4 million women are battered every year – and of that number, 2,000 are killed annually. They cite domestic violence as “the single largest cause of injury to women” ages 15 to 44. Domestic violence afflicts women of all ages, races, ethnic and economic backgrounds, religions, and lifestyles. The single greatest risk factor, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), is to be female. And domestic violence comes in a variety of forms, including physical force, manipulation, threats, rape, deprivation of physical and economic resources, neglect, rages, verbal assault, shame, and isolation from family and friends. Sadly, domestic violence is also a vicious cycle. Sons who see their fathers inflict it on their mothers often see this intense form of domination as the normal way for husbands to treat their wives. Daughters who live in a home with domestic violence are more likely to be victims in their own marriages.

Beyond the fear and degradation, perhaps the saddest aspect of domestic violence is its betrayal of the dreams and rights of women to be part of a marriage that fosters love and respect. The Catholic Church recognizes marriage as a sacrament, a total union of a man and woman which reflects the unity of Jesus Christ with His Church. “The unity of marriage, distinctly recognized by our Lord, is made clear in the equal personal dignity which must be accorded to man and wife in mutual and unreserved affection” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1654). All women who enter into marriage have the right to this dignity, respect, and affection, yet so many instead face degradation and violence at the hands of the man who should love them as Jesus loves the Church.

October, declared as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, will be a good time to become better educated in this national nightmare. Wherever you live, women around you suffer from various forms of abuse at the hands of the men they love. Take this time to become better informed and involved in this basic issue of human rights. If you know of anyone suffering from domestic violence and don’t know how to help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or log on to www.ndvh.org. Other good sources of information can be found at the web site of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, www.ncadv.org.