Scream Into the Silence

Your very silence shows you agree.

~ Euripides (484 BC – 406 BC)

The voice on the other end of the phone was frantic with worry, not the norm for my mother-in-law. She’d learned that my sister-in-law was being pushed around by her live-in boyfriend, the father of her kid, off porches, into doorways. Unkind hands had been lifted.

My father-in-law loaded the shotgun.

And they waited. Waited for the call to come and get their little girl, to save her from the bastard who’d cowardly gone a step, or three, too far.

We lived several states away, and yet the emotions of hatred and disgust and nauseous disquietude were just as fresh on our end. We wanted her out. Now. For my part, being a reactionary kind of person, one who hates to see others in pain, I wanted the cops called. Charges filed. No second or third strike. The thought of her face stinging, the bruises on her arms, the tears pooling then spilling down the cheeks I’d lovingly pinched since she was four, drove me sick.

Days passed and the call never came. He’d settled down. Apologized. They’d worked it out and she felt safe again. That was several years ago and there have been no further instances that we know about. We’ve crossed paths at reunions and whatnot and he seems mellow. Nice. A slacker, but a sincere one.

Can I be honest for a minute?

I can’t help but see him as anything other than a sleeping monster. I don’t like talking to him, for I remember that night all those years ago. I allow it to taint his aura. He may be forgiven, but not by me. Not yet. He doesn’t owe me anything. It’s not my problem, and perhaps I do humanity a disservice by not recognizing the changes. By not taking K’s word for it when she says he’s getting better. That he’s a good father. It’s a road slick with haunted memories, overshadowed by a tunnel of trees rooted in violence, and I loathe travelling it. I don’t want to be his friend. I don’t want to be his role model. In light of all my blathering on about forgiving others, being tolerant, living compassionately, and granting the benefit of the doubt, I realize and readily admit that perhaps in this instance I am naught but a self-blinded hypocrite. While some things are worth the pain of the healing process, I’m not ready to go there with him.

I am fortunate that this has been my only close and personal brush up against the madness of domestic violence. Yet, because of this, as a family we have taken baby steps toward making a difference in the lives of the abused. We lived downtown for many years and it became a holiday tradition to deliver cookies and unused toys to Charis House, our local shelter for homeless women and children. We never saw their faces, but we like to think they lit up knowing people cared. And it frightens me to think of how many faces I do see every day that, underneath the shimmer, have been damaged by domestic violence and sexual assault.

And then there’s Maggie. She’s been a Tweaker since Day One and I’ve come to love and respect her so much since those first comments. More than a mere dipping of the toes, she’s jumped into the murky waters of abuse and given the victims a voice . . .

Violence UnSilenced.

And now, the site is up for an award. The BlogLuxe Most Inspiring Blog Award. Awards don’t mean shit, right? Perhaps. But the exposure, the word-of-mouth, the reTweets and Facebook shares and whatnot that come with these types of things is second-to-none.

It’s not easy reading about getting hit. Punched so hard that teeth break out. Raped by once-trusted lovers or complete and vile strangers. Battered emotions and scarred physiques. But deep inside their words is a modicum of healing. The process can begin. Continue. Culminate. By leaving comments, bowing our digital heads in a moment of kindness, we empower victims to continue their journeys. I feel unworthy most days, reading these stories from the comfort of my easy chair with my loving spouse and gorgeous children within earshot. Not a hint of violence in sight. I rest at night knowing that each victim has been heard. Given a chance to share the load of their pain. And I bear their stories upon my humbled heart.

Visit Maggie’s site. You’ll be moved. And then go vote . . .

1. Go to http://www.socialluxelounge.com/blogluxe/.
2. Click on the tab that says “Most Inspiring Blog.” (It’s the light blue tab.)
3. Search for “Violence UnSilenced.” (I know it can be kind of a pain to have to search, but remember that it’s worth it!)
4. Click “VOTE!” and type in your name and email address in the box that appears.
5. After you’ve entered your information, click the button that says “Vote!”

Remember that you can vote up to once a day until July 6th! It only takes a few seconds of your time each day, so keep voting and show your support for “Violence UnSilenced!” If you’re on Facebook, you can also show your support by signing up to be a part of the Violence UnSilenced group.

Silence has its advantages. With silence comes contemplation. Pensiveness. Too often, however, silence becomes a sign of apathy. Speak up, dear Tweaker. Let the victims know we are on their side and wish for them only the peace that comes with healing . . .

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34 thoughts on “Scream Into the Silence

  1. I’ve been in the same situation you describe and have acted, and continue to act, the very same way. I don’t know … I like to believe everything can be forgiven at one point or another. It seems I often live between those points.

    Off to vote.

  2. That’s about as powerful and profound a post as I’ve ever read on the subject. No way I could have said it better. Beautiful, just beautiful.

    And for your readers with as bad a case of CRS as mine, I have a mailing list for people who want a daily reminder to go and vote. They can subscribe (or unsubscribe) any time between now and when the voting closes by emailing me at jbengel [at] brandenburg3 [dot] com. The mailing list is BCC’ed to preserve the privacy of the recipients (as well as it’s possible to do it anyway) and there’s plenty of room left on it. And if I happen to run up against the limit my mail service will allow, I got NO problem creating a second list.

    Thanks for this post and for your generous support of Violence UnSilenced and the writers who share their stories there. You’re right, the award in and of itself means nothing. But the faces and eyes that VU gets in front of because of it — win or lose — is irreplaceable.

  3. Brian, this is so powerful. I share your hesitation to pretend that what happened in the past doesn’t matter now, because it so often does. You’re right to be wary because some things aren’t meant to be forgiven, the way I see it. And I hope that your brother-in-law proves himself to be worthy of the trust your sister has placed in him.

    I’ll keep voting for VU. Thanks for reminding everyone.

  4. Bless you for hawking the site! I would love nothing better than to hear the recounting of the tale whereby Maggie comes home from BlogHer with HARDWARE!

    (Not that it would mean as much to her as all of the wonderfully heartfelt interactions at the site, but it would go a long way to promoting a site that does so much to combat such a heinous issue.)

    • I haven’t seen physical abuse, but I’ve watched mental abuse, and have experienced it myself. Happy to report, after I realized what was happening, and then confronted my husband, the abuse began to change. I watch my children and their partners, and when I “see / hear” the mental abuse occurring from either partner, I speak up immediately! I know the next step will be physical. I thank God that my relationship never became physical abuse. Thirty years of marriage, and still “working” on our relationship! Don’t ever be fooled that “love” isn’t work; love is all about “work”: the key word is two way communication.

  5. My first marriage was one of abuse. I won’t go into what type of abuse I endured, but I WILL say that I am grateful to be out of it. Thanks for bringing the site to my attention. I didn’t know of its existence.

  6. Someone once told me that forgiveness is for you…not the other person neccessarily…and that forgiveness has nothing to do with forgetting, many times you must remain aware so that you don’t get back to the same place

    • I agree. Writing this post yesterday gave me my first real opportunity to hash out how I felt about that incident so many years ago. Most writing comes hard, but that paragraph just rolled from somewhere deep inside.

      Looking at it again, and after some lengthy discussion with my wife, I have come to the same sort of conclusion. For my own sake, and that of my wonderful SIL as well, perhaps a different attitude is in order . . .

      But forgetting. That’s the rub . . .

  7. A very beautifully written piece about ugliness. I loved, “a road slick with haunted memories”.

    Your response to your brother in law reminds me of an old maxim by Benjamin Franklin; “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it”.

  8. I’m so happy that I don’t have a story to share with Maggie. I feel very blessed to have not found myself or anyone I really love in that situation. Your post was beautiful, and I would imagine it is very hard to still have the person in the family.

  9. Forgiveness has everything to do with forgetting. Because if someone changes they no longer are the person they were, they have changed. To remember who they were does a disservice to who they have become. I always am amazed at how we fail to recognize that in the lives of the abused it takes two to dance the dance. How do we expect our children to learn if the couples dont own their own part. Thats not saying that some shouldnt face a harsher consequence, its just admiting that its not just one person who owns it all.

    • One may forgive, but how does one forget? Especially something like that. My SIL may forgive him, but will she ever be able to forget that night? Will I? Will any of the people who share their stories on VU ever be able to forget the abuses they endured? You are correct if your implying that I should be able to forgive at this point in light of all that has transpired. I’m all for forgiveness, and if granting forgiveness, whether sought or offered, makes for a situation where people can move forward in their relationship, then forgive away. They obviously have. But forget? Should they?

      And I also agree that it takes two for abuse to happen, one to hit, and one to fall down. Argue. Yell. Scream and throw shit. But the moment a person is struck in violence, the moment a penis is inserted forcibly, against one’s will, that takes one. And only one. Actions are what count, not whether someone brought the action upon themselves.

      Am I wrong here . . .

  10. @titfortat: I appreciate the idea that some people can change, and that at some point you have to forgive those people for who they once were and what they once did. I have actually heard of a few former abusers who now counsel current abusers. I don’t know much about this, but since so many abusers were formerly abused themselves I have to believe that the cycle can and must be broken at any given point and that change is possible.

    The thing I disagree with is that it takes two to tango in terms of abuse. Yes, it takes two to tango in an argument, in a disagreement, in virtually any of life’s situations; however, when one person holds the balance of the power and he/she crosses the line into physical violence or even an emotional abuse of that power, the onus must fall on that person. I can disagree with my husband, argue with him until I’m blue in the face, but if I ever cross the line into abuse then I (and only I) am culpable.

  11. I was hesitant to say what I did but I felt it important. Trust me, I know violence, unfortunately I know it all too well. The thing is, in relation to the male/female dynamic it is rarely instant. It usually takes a period of time. I believe if we taught our children better, that process would almost be impossible. Because if our daughters read the signs earlier it wouldnt have the time to develop. It would be extinquished before it had time to become a raging inferno. Also, how do our boys grow to be abusers, they are observant. They watch the dance, they learn the moves and then they dance that dance. Its easy to demonize them by the time they become the “monster”, I just wonder what happened to the boy they were. If it is true we are supposed to remember them as abusers, then why is it we dont remember them as our “baby boys”?

    • I couldn’t agree more that children learn to do what is displayed before their innocent eyes. NO one here will deny that. Maggie hinted at this in her comment as well.

      Yes, teach them well. Model loving problem-solving methods. Explain to them how that, yes, mommy and daddy get mad at one another on occasion, but NO, we never hurt each other, physically or emotionally. We talk things through. We may get loud, for both of us have strong opinions about things that deserve to be heard and considered. But we NEVER hit each other. These things are good, and if more parents followed these techniques, took the time to listen and compromise when possible, then we’d have gone far toward raising kids who won’t become abusers.

      But the sad thing is that boys, and girls, become abusers. They raise their fists and lash out. And doing that, even when provoked by words or covert actions, is simply unacceptable. When charges are filed, it will be against the one to struck out. At that point, it’s up to the court to decide if that person was coerced in some manner.

      I am sorry you have experienced or witnessed abuse in whatever form. And I appreciate your willingness to discuss these things here.

      (For those of you late to the game, the responses to my friend TitforTat have been respectful and civil. I’d like to keep it that way . . . )

  12. By the way, male to male violence is a thousand times more common. I believe our task is how to make our children less violent and more communicative and loving. Genderizing it does nothing for either of the sexes.

  13. I agree that genderizing it does nothing for either of the sexes. We have had three men contribute stories at VU since it launched in February, and I hope to have many more. I think our society perhaps makes it even harder for men to speak out than it does for women, and that is saying a lot. I appreciate your thoughts.

  14. I’ll steer clear of the idea of forgiveness/atonement/making amends because … well, I didn’t come to incite a riot. Let’s leave it at this. Every day, every moment we are faced with a choice: Do the right thing — the good thing, or do the wrong thing — the bad thing. And those decisions, while sometimes related, don’t “offset each other”. The bad act is just as bad no matter how many mitzvahs you do. Fortunately, the converse is also true.

    But what I really came to suggest was that perhaps the question of whether or not it “takes two” might make a good question for the Wednesday Q&A? Because one of the underpinnings of an abusive situation — as I understand it at least — is that the victim often blames her/himself. “If I’d just had dinner ready on time” or “If I hadn’t worn that tight sweater to the Christmas party” or “If I could just figure out how to not make her so mad all the time” or a hundred other “what if’s”. So maybe that’s a good question for Carrie to address. Because if it’s coming up here, it’s surely coming up in people’s minds — whether they’re regular readers of VU or not. And it’s an important point of discussion. Important enough to at least bring a professional opinion into it.

    Any thoughts?

    • What is this Wednesday Q&A of which you speak? And who is Carrie? I live in Indiana, remember, so I’m up to my eyeballs in corn most of the time . . .

      In other words, I’m game!

      • One of the things that Maggie’s been very clear on since VU launched is that sh’es not a counselor, social worker, therapist or any kind of “expert”. The people who contribute speak from their own experiences, writers and commenters alike.

        But she found a trained professional to take questions and respond to them on Wednesdays in between the survivor stories on Monday and Thursday. That would be Carrie. I don’t have her CV in front of me, but the thumbnail bio on her posts at VU reads as follows:

        Carrie K. is a trained advocate who has worked with survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault, as well as their families and friends. Her background includes hotline advocacy, community education, and awareness and prevention programming around issues of domestic violence. She currently works for a domestic violence intervention and prevention program in Wisconsin. She blogs at rageisgood.blogspot.com.

        Anyway, since this is a common perception, it might be a good idea to get her feedback on it. I’m inclined to agree that in order to have a pattern of abuse all that’s required is one to do the hitting and one to do the getting hit. But I’m certainly no expert in the field either, I’d like to hear Carrie’s take on the question for my own edification if nothing else.

  15. @tysdaddy The Wednesday Q&A is a brand new feature over at VU. I enlisted the help of a professional in the domestic violence field to answer questions that VU readers submit. I’ll direct her to this thread, maybe she can offer some insight. I agree with Mojo that there are probably other people wondering about the same things titfortat brought up.

  16. I was going to weigh in here, but I think I might incite a riot ;p

    I will say, instead that I am a firm believer in not blaming the victim and I do not at all believe in abuse that it takes two.

  17. My name is Keith Smith. I was abducted, beaten and raped by a stranger. It wasn’t a neighbor, a coach, a relative, a family friend or teacher. It was a recidivist pedophile predator who spent time in prison for previous sex crimes; an animal hunting for victims in the quiet suburbs of Lincoln, Rhode Island.

    I was able to identify the guy and the car he was driving. He was arrested and indicted but never went to trial. His trial never took place because he was brutally beaten to death in Providence before his court date. 34 years later, no one has ever been charged with the crime.

    In the time between the night of my assault and the night he was murdered, I lived in fear. I was afraid he was still around town. Afraid he was looking for me. Afraid he would track me down and kill me. The fear didn’t go away when he was murdered. Although he was no longer a threat, the simple life and innocence of a 14-year-old boy was gone forever. Carefree childhood thoughts replaced with the unrelenting realization that my world wasn’t a safe place. My peace shattered by a horrific criminal act of sexual violence.

    Over the past 34 years, I’ve been haunted by horrible, recurring memories of what he did to me. He visits me in my sleep. There have been dreams–nightmares actually–dozens of them, sweat inducing, yelling-in-my-sleep nightmares filled with images and emotions as real as they were when it actually happened. It doesn’t get easier over time. Long dead, he still visits me, silently sneaking up from out of nowhere when I least expect it. From the grave, he sits by my side on the couch every time the evening news reports a child abduction or sex crime. I don’t watch America’s Most Wanted or Law and Order SVU, because the stories are a catalyst, triggering long suppressed emotions, feelings, memories, fear and horror. Real life horror stories rip painful suppressed memories out from where they hide, from that recessed place in my brain that stores dark, dangerous, horrible memories. It happened when William Bonin confessed to abducting, raping and murdering 14 boys in California; when Jesse Timmendequas raped and murdered Megan Kanka in New Jersey; when Ben Ownby, missing for four days, and Shawn Hornbeck, missing for four years, were recovered in Missouri.

    Despite what happened that night and the constant reminders that continue to haunt me years later, I wouldn’t change what happened. The animal that attacked me was a serial predator, a violent pedophile trolling my neighborhood in Lincoln, Rhode Island looking for young boys. He beat me, raped me, and I stayed alive. I lived to see him arrested, indicted and murdered. It might not have turned out this way if he had grabbed one of my friends or another kid from my neighborhood. Perhaps he’d still be alive. Perhaps there would be dozens of more victims and perhaps he would have progressed to the point of silencing his victims by murdering them.

    Out of fear, shame and guilt, I’ve been silent for over three decades, not sharing with anyone the story of what happened to me. No more. The silence has to end. What happened to me wasn’t my fault. The fear, the shame, the guilt have to go. It’s time to stop keeping this secret from the people closest to me, people I care about, people I love, my long-time friends and my family. It’s time to speak out to raise public awareness of male sexual assault, to let other survivors know that they’re not alone and to help survivors of rape and violent crime understand that the emotion, fear and memories that may still haunt them are not uncommon to those of us who have shared a similar experience.

    My novel, Men in My Town, was inspired by these actual events. Men in My Town is available now at http://www.Amazon.com

    For those who suffer in silence, I hope my story brings some comfort, strength, peace and hope.

    For additional information, please visit the Men in My Town blog at http://www.meninmytown.wordpress.com

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