As part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we are featuring blog posts by women writers on the topic.
“Just as the body goes into shock after a physical trauma,
so does the human psyche go into shock after the impact of a major loss.”
As a domestic violence advocate, I find myself changed by the stories. Trauma is like that. So I sometimes find the term “domestic violence” a little too sterile to describe the unrelenting horror that women and children endure every day.
As someone who has worked on the front-lines, it is galling to observe societal apathy to domestic violence. After all, it is not as if we do not know the extent of the problem and its consequences. Certainly, the World Health Organization has documented both the prevalence and the health burden of domestic violence worldwide (see, for example Garcia-Moreno et. al 2005). Earlier this year, TRAP, The Real Art of Protest, used FBI statistics to compare the casualties of the war on terror to the number of women killed by intimate partners (see link below).
However, I would hazard a guess that international military spending far exceeds the financial resources expended on preventing and battling domestic violence. Furthermore, whilst there are commonly understood idioms for expressing our outrage at terrorism or drug trafficking, for example (i.e. “the war on terror,” “the war on drugs”), there is no comparable language to articulate the atrocities of domestic violence. There is no war on domestic violence. Instead, we have campaigns.
When I set out to write Crazy Bitch: A Portrait of Domestic Violence?, I reflected on why this was so. Perhaps, in a society immunised to domestic violence, the WHO statistics are just numbers… Perhaps, these numbers lack the vivid imagery associated with other social justice issues. Perhaps the bruised eye of an individual woman (now iconic in conveying the terrorism that occurs behind closed doors) lacks the resonance of other images associated with terrorism.
Perhaps, my experiences of “domestic violence” are different to the everyday. For me, those two words evoke memories that fall outside common human experience.
Indeed, the words “domestic violence” remind me of rummaging for clothes in my wardrobe in the aftermath of a desperate two a.m. call from a woman standing in freezing cold temperatures on the street in her pajamas. She had been locked out of her house by her partner and needed somewhere to sleep. I cannot hear the words “domestic violence” without remembering all those women I have worked with, just as I have internalized the memory of each hoarse syllable I listened to, as one of my clients sat with me for an hour. Listening to her trying to make sense of why her abusive partner had been released from police custody after violently assaulting her, I bit back tears and struggled to maintain professional composure. He had killed himself and their two children a few hours after being released from custody.
In writing Crazy Bitch, I set out to immerse the reader in some of these memories. I do not apologize for the fact that my writing is shocking and sometimes difficult to read. If I wanted to write a best-seller, I guess I could have glorified the violence a little more… I chose to use the perpetrator as my main protagonist to highlight his lack of remorse, his belief in his inalienable right to abuse his partner because such beliefs do enable the violence to keep on happening. Whilst it would be reassuring to think of this protagonist’s sexism and need for power and control as unique, they are not. They conspire with many patriarchal norms to facilitate the violence that women and children experience every day. More significantly, in my novel, I have documented sixteen predictable real-life domestic homicides that occurred during the course of the events my characters describe. My point is not all that subtle. Domestic violence kills. So when are we going to start believing it?
Visit Danielle on Smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/152618.
Casualties of DV versus casualties of war: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=380558235327228&set=a.304799816236404.63367.200068713376182&type=1&theater
Garcia-Moreno, C, Jansen, H., Ellsberg, M., Heise, L. and Watts, C. (2005), WHO Multi-country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence Against Women, WHO: Geneva, Switzerland. http://www.who.int/gender/violence/who_multicountry_study/en/
About the Author (Author Profile)
I have been writing fiction since I was six and found an affinity with writing about social justice issues in my teens. Crazy Bitch is my first novel. Because life intervened… My work and studies in social work and domestic violence and mothering two sons absorbed me.
But this issue inspired me! Domestic violence affects one in three women. The murders documented in fictionalised newspaper accounts in my novel actually occurred. The cost of domestic violence to the nation’s economy has been estimated at between $8 billion and 13 billion annually.
In my work as a domestic violence court advocate I saw, first-hand, how a system that ostensibly proclaims that domestic violence is an abuse of human rights also excuses perpetrators of violence. Our culture perpetuates myths that make it hard for women to leave. We still live in a sexist society that helps domestic violence thrive.
So, I decided to crawl into a perpetrator’s head. Each time Pete utters an excuse for abusing his partner, I drew on excuses I had heard in the real world… excuses that had been accepted. The point is to demystify what is going on when a man tells a woman he loves her and then calls her a ‘bitch’ or assaults her physically, sexually and/or emotionally. If we can understand the deliberateness and stop making excuses, then we can perhaps move towards being a society that really does say no to violence against women.
The result is not for the faint-hearted. I called my first draft, ‘Not a light read’, because it’s hard work to read about the brutality one in three women experience every day. But it must be much tougher to live it (or die because of it, as too many women and children do) and that obliges us, as a community, to support those women, experiencing domestic violence to make sense of their experiences and move on. I hope this novel will help victims and crusaders alike.