Choosing to See

We live with blinders on.

It may be self-preservation, or hope-preservation but we don’t want to know or admit how absolutely wrong our fellow human beings can treat each other.

Few of us purposefully choose to see the horrors inside our own communities and neighborhoods. Fewer of us intentionally put ourselves in a position to do something about it.

I am no different. I choose blindness. I choose not to dwell on the abuse and neglect suffered by people across our globe. I choose hope, focusing on the ways we heal one another and ourselves.

front-anim1When I took a new position with a counseling agency in Roanoke, I knew the blinders would have to occasionally come off. I am in fundraising and marketing, so I don’t work the “front lines.” I am in awe of those who do. My job is to appeal to others who understand how investing in services for those who suffer means increasing the health and well-being of the entire community.

Within the first eight months of working there, I’ve repeatedly realized how blind I am.

I attended a grant workshop in which a social worker of 25 years told us how she consoled a shaking, crying mother of a three-year-old girl. The mother had put cigarettes out on the child’s skin, but was visibly and genuinely distraught when social workers came to take the child away.

I listened to counselors in my own office speak in fear of a client’s ex-husband, who was soon to be released from jail. They decided to refer the woman to a local domestic violence shelter, hoping she would choose not to return home, knowing she likely would, fearing he would kill her.

Earlier this month, I helped organize a fundraising event for my agency’s Batterer’s Intervention program. It’s the most difficult of our services to raise money for, because we treat the offenders, the ones who abuse the women and children in their lives.

They say a woman will return to an abusive home between seven and twenty times before escaping, either through assistance of professionals or family members or through the morgue. Our program contends that ending the cycle of violence must include healing for the persons who use violence in intimate partner relationships. The likelihood of today’s offender being yesterday’s victim—either raised in an abusive home or exposed to violence as a means to an end—is extremely high. The group therapy approach for men (and women) who abuse has proven to be successful at helping them identify and change their behavior.

They learn new tools, other than violence, to express love. They develop new patterns, other than control, to follow in relationships.

There will always be another victim. The professionals and volunteers who have chosen to see, by spending their lives educating and treating those who suffer intimate partner violence, know how brutal the cycle can be. They choose everyday to watch the baffling choices of someone opting to stay, to love another who hurts them.

The resources for escaping and healing from domestic violence situations are critical to our communities, and in Roanoke we are fortunate to have many of the best.

During the event to raise money for our domestic violence program, we invited the community to watch a screening of the HBO documentary “Private Violence.” I would tell you not to watch it. It is brutal. The last thing it did was evoke empathy for the offender.

But it did, for a small window of time, force me to stare brutality in the face and ask myself, “what am I doing about it?”

This column was first featured in the most recent edition of Front Porch Fredericksburg Magazine. The fundraising event was planned and hosted by a 2015 Leadership Roanoke Valley team. It benefited the Batterer’s Intervention program of Family Service of Roanoke Valley.

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