Through the Eyes of Fire: A Father's Note to His Son on Violence Against Women
I couldn't sleep. When I closed my eyes my head spun. When opened, everything I looked at pulsed. The walls grew and stretched, then shrunk back down only to grow and stretch again. I wasn't feeling well, and when I got sick, I hallucinated. For a long time, I thought perhaps, the things I saw, were nothing more than elaborate nightmares. But my mother, to this day talks about the strange things I would do or say while ill. She once described an episode I had, in which I ran to her bedroom horrified. I can still picture the little green men in cowboy boots. They had chased me to her room, and surrounded her bed. I was 8 years old.
The night I saw fire wasn't long after that. The night I saw fire, I had come down with a temperature, and had been lying, frightened, in bed, when the fighting started. My mom and dad fought a lot. I can't remember a time they didn't fight. I'm sure there was a time. A time when she was all my dad could think about. I'd like to think they would talk deep into the night. Maybe about the family they would have, or the one they already did. Maybe she would fall asleep in his arms, and he would allow his arm to go numb, so as not to wake her. I would like to think my sister and I were the result of their love for each other, and I suppose that is likely. Still, all I can do is imagine, because what I remember is the shouting and hitting. The drinking and cussing.
It scared me. That night the yelling was louder. My fathers voice echoed. It was deeper than usual, almost evil. I had left my door open, and I could hear my mother yelling from a room to the left of my door, down the hallway. My father from the right, probably the living room. I thought about getting up and closing the door, but when I looked at the door knob it appeared to grow and throb, and it only got worse as they got louder. I tried covering my head, but as soon as I blocked out the moonlight seeping in through openings in my curtains, my head started spinning again. The yelling was getting worse, but the spinning was making me sick to my stomach, so I pulled the covers off my head, and looked toward the door.
There were balls of fire, first from right to left. Then, as my mother yelled back, balls of fire from the left to right. As if they were tossing them back and forth at each other. The fireballs grew, as did their voices. The sounds got closer, the flames higher. It looked as if they were no longer in different rooms. It almost seemed as if they were right outside the door. just out of sight. The fire balls grew and intensified until two of them crashed in an explosion of light in the hallway in front of my bedroom door. Then nothing. The room was still expanding and retracting, only much slower. It had gone quiet. I fell asleep.
Too many times, as a child, i saw my mother face that abuse. Too many times I felt helpless, and too many times it would end only to begin again hours later. If I felt helpless, how did my mother feel? My mother, faced my father, and stood strong in front of me and my sister. The only time I can remember her crying, was when my grandfather died. Never when she fought with my dad.
Now, when I read that "1 in every 3 women in the United States has been a victim of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime," and that 1 in every 4 boys will commit that assault, I think about you and your brother. The thought that the odds that either of you will be guilty of sexual assault in your lifetime frightens me. Not really because of the consequences you would face (although I do fear that), but because of the pain you could cause.
I am proud of the fact you will never see what I saw. I am thrilled, that you are growing up in an environment where that is not normal, or acceptable. But, for that reason, I fear you will not learn the lesson that I did. The best I can do is tell you what happened to me, and hope I do so in a way that you will learn from my experiences.
The first step in solving any problem must be to recognize there is actually a problem. Considering violence against women affects so many people, its remarkable that so little progress is being made. Colleges have become less safe for women, large percentages of domestic violence goes unreported and women are raped or murdered at alarming rates.
An article in Mic.com from July 12, 2012 reported, "according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence domestic violence is one of the most chronically under-reported crimes. Only 25% of all physical assaults, 20% of all rapes, and 50% of all stalking perpetrated against females by their partners are reported to the police. For the small number of cases that do get reported, on average,a woman will be assaulted by her partner or ex-partner thirty five times before reporting it to the police."
In October of 2014, The Huffington Post reported "The number of American troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and 2012 was 6,488. The number of American women who were murdered by current or ex male partners during that time was 11,766. That’s nearly double the amount of casualties lost during war." The article states that 3 women per day, in the United States, are "murdered...by a current or former male partner."
The Huffington Post also reported 4,774,000 "women in the U.S... experience physical violence by an intimate partner every year." 1 in 4 women will experience some sort of "severe violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes." Almost 45% of women are in an abusive relationship. And over 10 million children see or experience domestic violence each year. That makes them twice as likely to abuse their partner or children in the future.
According to an article in the University of Chicago Press, "Witnessing violence between one’s parents or caretakers is the strongest risk factor of transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next."
So where does that leave us?
The Letter continued...
Your mother is my life. she is my best friend, my partner, my girl. How do you think I would feel or react if someone insulted, mistreated or hurt her?
I'd like to think I would not allow it, and I hope I have proven to you that I would never insult, mistreat or hurt her. Because I would never allow anyone else to disrespect or hurt your mother, understand It will never be okay for you to disrespect or hurt her.
The Punishment, too often, does not suit the Crime
March 2015; 20 year-old Stanford swimmer Brock Turner was found guilty on three counts of sexual assault, for raping a women while she was unconscious behind a dumpster. Two male students witnessed the assault and chased him down. While he was found guilty and faced up to 14 years in prison, he was only sentenced to six months, then released after completing only three months. The Judge said a "longer sentence would have a severe impact on Turner."
In court, the victim read a letter addressed to Turner. In the letter she creates a vivid picture of that night and those that followed. The letter painfully depicts the lasting impact this experience had on her, and the contempt created by the weak sentence imposed by the judge. You can read the full letter in an article by Katie J.M. Baker, posted June 3, 2016 on Buzzfeed news at https://www.buzzfeed.com/katiejmbaker.
I attempted to read the letter to my wife, and although I got through it, it took several tries and more than a few breaks to pull myself together. I then had my 16 year old son read it. Its a pretty long letter so I watched for any sign of emotion or reaction, and once he was done we discussed the letter, and I realized, the only way we are going to be able to fight this epidemic of violence on women is through communication. Not with the girls who for decades, maybe even centuries, have been warned of the dangers posed by the opposite sex. But with our young boys.
Its up to you
In many cases you will be taller, bigger and stronger than her. She might be your friend, girlfriend or even wife. She might be none of these. What she will be, is someone's friend, sister, daughter or even mother. To someone, she is as important as your mother is to me, or to you.
The pain is lasting. Never would I wish that pain on you, just as I expect you would Never want to feel that pain, or inflict it on her. Never is it OK to raise your hand against a woman. Never is it OK to force yourself on her. Never is it OK to shame or insult her. For the damage done by words can be longer lasting. Never is it OK to kiss, touch or feel her without her permission.
I want to believe I have set an example. I would like to believe you have had me to learn from. I would like to believe you have the confidence to be the example.
I would never allow anyone, including you or me, to hurt or insult your mother. Why then would it ever be OK to hurt or insult anyone else? A little hint...It wouldn't.
Lead by Example
Statistics show that boys that grow up in an abusive household are twice as likely to repeat that behavior as an adult. So I understand why, as I was growing up, it was assumed I would become the worst of what my father was. He was the example I was given. And because of that example, I know I am nowhere near qualified to lecture anyone on how to raise their son. Or as in my case, sons. This is, simply, how I hope to raise respectable men who can hopefully set the example for someone else, even if its only their sons or grandsons...so we can defeat violence against women one boy at a time.
National Coalition against Domestic Violence, http://ncadv.org
Buzzfeed News, Here is the Powerful Letter the Stanford Victim Read to Her Attacker, by Katie J.M. Baker, www.buzzfeed.com
Time Magazine, Nation.time.com, What's wrong with the Violence Against Women Act, By Kate Pickert, February 27, 2013
US Department of Justice, www.justice.gov/o vw/domestic-violence
Huffington Post, October 23, 2014, 30 Shocking Domestic Statistics that Remind us its an Epidemic, By Alana Vagianos
The Clark County Prosecuting Attorney, www.clarkprosecuter.org
MIC Network Inc, Mic.com July 12, 2012