I’d been on other response calls, to car accidents and climbing accidents, death notifications and train derailments, but on my first victim advocate DV call, I was especially nervous. No, nervous isn’t the right word. It sounds odd, but I was excited. I was so just anxious to help. I was so ready to be the big, bold feminist, encouraging a sister in need, inspiring her to see the strength in herself and make a fresh start. I was ready to help her pack her bags, and we were going to do it while singing a Gloria Gaynor song. But when I walked in and actually sat with her, listened to her, held her hand, heard her story, saw her home, saw her face, I lost my nerve. No, maybe I just lost my idealism. I certainly lost my daydream. I still believed no woman deserved to be treated like that, and desperately wanted her to leave, to come home with me, or go anywhere else, but after a few hours of listening and observing and really being present with her and her reality, I could finally see that her situation was unique. I could see her story was unique. I could see her experience was her own and didn’t fit anywhere in my lady-power Gloria Gaynor, Thelma and Louise, no-need-to-stand-by-your-horrible-man plan.
Over the years, and many, many, too many more of these conversations, I learned that while there are patterns and statistics and trends, each victim’s experience is unique. Each victim’s situation is her own. We can want things to be different, we can provide education and alternative living environments, we can offer financial assistance and day care services, we can provide abuser prevention and intervention programs, we can advocate for changes in policies and laws, and we can fire every public figure violent offender that we can catch on camera, but we cannot tell these women how to live their lives. We can love them and support them and lift them up. We can offer education and job training and therapy. But each woman’s experience is her own. We cannot rob her of that. We cannot demand she leave. We cannot know the complications or implications. We can’t know the specific danger she faces. We cannot judge her for staying.
So tonight I go to bed praying for the women who are still staying. Praying for their safety and praying for their own unique situations. Praying that they will make the choice that is right for them when the time is right for them. Praying that they will know they are loved by a good and glorious God whatever they chose. Praying that God will remind them that they are created in God’s image and that makes them strong and beautiful and holy. Praying that the rest of us will encourage them, love them and support them, but also respect them no matter what they choose. And tonight I will still wonder and pray for that woman in that house all those years ago, who didn’t leave that night. Who didn’t leave the next time I was called to her home. But who I hope did leave eventually, when she was safe and ready. Who I respect no matter what she chose. And I will pray for all who feel a similar, but totally unique pain.
Lord, in your mercy.
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