Managing Editor’s Note: This week, I’m pleased to feature a post written by our fabulous intern, Anita Ballesteros. As you’ll read here, Anita is passionate about creating awareness of the prevalence of domestic/intimate partner violence. She points how it is much more likely for a victim who is a white woman to be covered by the press, and how all women–and men–regardless of race, class, status, or religion have a right to be seen and heard. They all have stories. And Anita is brave enough here to share some of her own.
The Cost of Silence on Domestic Violence
by Anita Ballesteros
Last week, a young woman, 20 years old, a classmate of my son’s from kindergarten through graduation, was murdered. In the sleepy bedroom community that we live in, such news is always shocking. There is a bubble of safety, or the illusion of it, that surrounds us here. She was killed — no, not killed, violently slaughtered – by her boyfriend, in a wealthy, predominantly white suburb close to Boston.
The media reports stated she was found with over 20 stab wounds, 13 of them in the back, dressed only in boxer shorts, covered in blood, blood all over the kitchen, the floors, the steering wheel of the car that her boyfriend then drove to a restaurant to stab his mother. This lovely young lady was wedged, bloodied, dead, in a corner behind the front door to their apartment. The family has asked for privacy, and so I give no names. I cannot strike the image from my mind. It was almost certainly not the first time he’d hurt her. I imagine her trying to get away. I see the murder scene whenever I close my eyes, visualizing the details that the newspaper articles don’t fill in. She is me, she is you, she is every woman, she is my son’s classmate, beautiful little girl.
They, the media, say the killer is mentally ill and had substance abuse issues. When tragedy strikes we yearn to understand. Why? How? Whose fault is this?
I am filled with sadness and filled with anger. Statistics show that one in three women who are murdered are the victims of an intimate partner. Intimate partner violence makes up fifteen percent of all violent crimes against women. The perpetrators are husbands, boyfriends, ex-husbands, ex-boyfriends. These and more facts can be found on the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence webpage.
My son tells me he can’t wrap his head around what happened to her. It’s truly shattering to try to imagine. And yet this is something that happens every single day to an average of twenty people per minute. The majority are young women between eighteen and twenty-four. Crimes against humanity.
I, like one-third of women, lived through a hurtful relationship that has taken years of therapy to process. It was a great love at the beginning, filled with fun and adventure and much laughter. We married and had two kids, bought a house in the suburbs. I obtained my PhD. Over the years, though, his frustration with life’s demands led to outbursts of anger that increased over time. Rarely was it ever physical, but it became terrifying, and I felt I needed to fix it, for us, for our children. As my anxiety from our interactions escalated and became severe, I began to fear that it would become worse, become violent, even though he never made any such threats. I loved him, and I was simply too afraid to leave.
It took years of counseling and some moments of utmost clarity, including the shock of the loss of my beloved father, to see that this relationship was causing us all emotional wreckage. With the support of friends, I found the courage to end it, get support, provide for myself. We’re on good terms now, both of us happier. Our kids have thrived. And yet, still, I look back and I didn’t see it coming. I cannot even imagine what some women, and men, live through, when physical violence is present. It’s unbearably confusing when someone who loves you, and who you love and trust, hurts you. Love is an action, something you learn later, if you’re lucky, when it’s over.
As a society, we like to blame mental illness, stigmatizing those who struggle with mental health issues, who would not remotely contemplate hurting another person, who would be far more likely to hurt themselves. But one in three women! One in four men! The statistics for severe violence, the kind that lands a person in a hospital, lying about their injuries, likely to end up victim of a domestic homicide, are equally horrifying: one in four women, one in seven men. It continues to be all too often a “private” problem. We don’t like to think it could be us who might be the next victims.
Mental illness does not equate domestic violence. Those who abuse are everywhere. They walk among us, doctors, lawyers, senators, teachers, baristas, train conductors, artists, musicians, actors, ministers. It transcends race, transcends socioeconomics, transcends gender, although women are the most likely to be victims. Like rape, domestic violence is about control and power. Domestic violence is shrouded in silence and shame, and the perpetrators are certain they can get away with it.
I am sad, and I am angry. My heart grieves for this family and for their daughter. What she went through, I cannot imagine. I am outraged that this past year or so has seen threats of a reduction to federal funding for necessary programs and assistance for those who are victims of domestic abuse despite the growing and desperate need (visit https://nnedv.org/content/funding-appropriations/ for details). A reduction in programs for women’s health, women’s safety.
This murder has a personal connection for me and my son. I have been outspoken against domestic violence for years. For a short period in my town, I joined a small group of parents to provide ideas for parent seminars at the middle school and high school. I suggested and urged for a seminar on dating violence and the idea was shot down as “too dark”. I asked the middle school to reconsider having the “Healthy Relationships” curriculum in sixth grade instead of eighth, before students were regularly dating. Too often, more often than we all care to imagine, the examples set at home set the stage for relationship behavior in the future.
Yet I cannot deny that the reason this is newsworthy is because it happened in a very white, well-to-do suburb to a young white woman from a lovely family. Because it happens every day. Women are battered, bones broken, teeth shattered, bruises covered, eyes averted, silence held. When this happens in an inner-city neighborhood, the world shrugs and looks away. The media attention might merit at best a small blurb buried deep in the paper unless something distinguishes it from the “norm.” I am angry that there is a “norm.” What kind of society are we that we still fail to see that all deserve to be safe in their own homes?
The young woman’s obituary was published in the local papers. The Boston Globe covered the story. The family is fighting for privacy from the media in their severe grief. My compassion for them is limitless. I hope someday they find peace and healing. I cannot imagine their pain.
All the other women who’ve been killed so far this year by domestic partners deserve the same despair, the same outrage, the same chance to be seen. The horror of their circumstances merits a societal outcry that transcends race, gender, socioeconomic factors, neighborhoods. Too many lives are at stake.
Thank you to clala1220 for the image.
Anita Ballesteros is originally from New York, a daughter of a Spanish-American father and Jewish mother, and grew up overseas in Europe. Currently she is a third-semester student in the MFA program in Creative Writing at Lesley University, where she is focusing on Fiction, but she enjoys writing poetry and non-fiction as well. Anita is the proud mother of a daughter and a son, both in their twenties, and lives west of Boston, where she is learning how to empty-nest with her two cats, who are excellent writing companions.