Often, I think, the moment to engage in social justice catches us unaware and throws us into a moment of choice. One of those moments came to me as a phone call. The woman on the phone was a member of my parish. I was a young clergyman. She wanted to come and talk to me. I encouraged her to meet me at my office. She told me story after story of her husband’s physical and emotional abuse of her and their three year-old child. She had been enduring all of this until she found out that she was pregnant, the result of a night in which he in a drunken stupor raped her. At that time, in that State, a husband could not be charged with rape of his wife. When she let him know that she was pregnant, he demanded an abortion. She did not want the abortion.
She sat in my office, weeping. How could I help her?
I know that very many of us encounter friends, family, colleagues and sometimes even strangers in the grocery store who are experiencing domestic abuse. The victims of domestic abuse, whether physical, emotional or sexual abuse are not surviving (or if they are, it is barely) or thriving in their lives. When we take a step of courage to stand with and for those who are abused, we set into motion what MIGHT (because it might not, and that is important to know) be the path out of abuse for them.
I helped her and her three year old to a shelter. A month later she returned to him. Two years later, he was in prison. Their story did not end well. Five years later, there was a moment in a grocery store where a mother was screaming at her child. “Hey, stop! Stop! Take a breath! You don’t have to scream at him!” I couldn’t believe it was coming out of my mouth. The woman called me a few select terms and moved her buggy and child away. A year later, I walked into my daughter’s after school care to see a parent beating her child which stopped when she saw me. I went immediately to the principal: “Who is going to call the Department of Human Services, you or I?” She called. I was interviewed. The family received intervention services.
Each instance empowered me to engage the next. Each instance left me in an adrenaline rush and in sheer terror: can I really confront others about how they treat their family members? I still shudder at the thought of another such occasion. But this is the threshold that social justice brings us to when it comes to domestic violence. When we see; when we know; when we hear, the door opens for us to act–on behalf of those who suffer.
Social justice is about compassion. Because we know what suffering means.
Are you aware of domestic violence and wondering what to do?