This July, Compass Center for Women and Families celebrates its first birthday, which makes now the perfect time to talk about the great work Compass Center is doing in our community. It’s also the perfect time to talk about why we need Compass Center in the first place: because domestic violence happens in our community every day.
I am acutely aware of domestic violence’s effect on our community. After all, domestic violence has drastically altered the course of my life. I have been blessed enough never to have suffered emotional, physical or verbal violence at the hands of a man I’ve loved, but my mother – Martha – wasn’t as lucky. She married a man who promised to honor and cherish her, but instead he threatened her, he beat her and, ultimately, he took her life. She was only 42 years old. I was nine.
I can’t pretend to know all the intimate details surrounding my mother’s relationship with my stepfather or her death. I was too young then to understand what was happening in my family, and I was certainly too young to grasp the concept of domestic violence. But 17 years have passed since her death, and in those 17 years, I’ve been able to explore what domestic violence is and why it happens.
Today, I’m inviting you to join me in that exploration and to start a community conversation about domestic violence at Martha’s Day, a celebration of my mother’s 59th birthday and a fundraiser for Compass Center for Women and Families, 6-9 p.m., Monday, July 8 at Vimala’s Curry Blossom Café (431 W. Franklin Street, Ste. 16, Chapel Hill).
When you join in Martha’s Day, you’ll enjoy live music by the Mahalo Jazz 3 and delicious food from Vimala’s kitchen, and you’ll be encouraged to make in-person donations to Compass Center, an amazing organization that helps individuals and families prevent and end domestic violence and become self-sufficient. Compass Center provides domestic violence crisis services, career and financial education, assistance with legal resources, and adolescent empowerment programs. Your donations at Martha’s Day will make a huge difference in the lives of people in our community touched by domestic violence:
– $25 covers the cost of one session of coping skills education for a child who has lived with domestic violence
– $50 offsets the cost of helping a client get a domestic violence protective order
– $100 provides one night of emergency shelter and food for a victim of domestic violence
– $250 helps to cover the cost of training one volunteer in Compass Center’s 45-hour training program
At Martha’s Day, you’ll also have the chance to purchase $5 raffle tickets for an iPad Mini, courtesy of DSI Comedy. Your raffle tickets also double as a free ticket to a summer show at DSI.
So, why is Martha’s Day important? Why is it important to come together as a community to address domestic violence? At the most basic level, awareness-raising for domestic violence is important because domestic violence is a serious problem. According to the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence, there have been 19 domestic violence-related homicides in North Carolina since January 2013. There were 63 homicides in our state in 2012. Why, when people are losing their lives, are we not engaging in more community dialogue on domestic violence?
On another level, awareness-raising is important because domestic violence is not just a “woman’s” problem or a “family” problem. It is a societal problem. Domestic violence doesn’t hurt its victims in a vacuum. Those victims are our friends; they are our family. They are our teachers, our co-workers, our employers. Domestic violence – and violence in general – has such a ripple effect; it touches so many people in so many different ways, and because we tend to avoid talking about it, we’re often unaware of how our community is shaped by violence. And that’s why these awareness-raising events and efforts are vital: it’s up to us as a community to start having difficult conversations and to start fixing a problem that ultimately touches all of us.
Finally, we need to raise awareness about domestic violence because there are still so many misconceptions about domestic and intimate partner violence. We have certainly come a long way in how we’ve approached and dealt with domestic violence, but we haven’t come far enough. The most obnoxious and infuriating thing I face when talking to others about domestic violence is “victim blaming.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a variation of, “Well, she should have left him.” People who utter those words usually have no idea what they are saying, but to those folks, I offer a reality check. Often for abused women, leaving the abuser is far, far more dangerous than staying with the abuser.
My mother’s experience is the perfect example. She left my stepfather. She ended the violent relationship. She even involved the authorities. She filed for a restraining order, but the issuing judge denied her that restraining order. Why? Because, he said, “she started it.”
And so, even though my mother took every appropriate step to keep herself safe, she lived out the final months of her life in fear. From what I’ve gathered, she told others that she was scared that my stepfather would kill her.
And she was right, but she couldn’t have done anything more than what she did to protect herself. On November 1, 1995, my stepfather waited until my mother went out to run errands, and he broke into her house. He cut her phone lines, and he waited for her in the kitchen. When she got home, he shot her twice – once in the neck, once in the spine. She did not die immediately. She lay on her kitchen floor, conscious. Not only did she live her final months in fear, but I’m sure her final moments were agonizing. And that thought alone is sickening.
I write all of this to explain that preventing domestic violence-related murders is about so much more than shrugging it off with a “she should have left” mentality. Not only does that mentality put the responsibility of ending the violence on the abused, but it also assumes that our current system for dealing with domestic violence works. And that assumption is just plain wrong.
When I think about my mom’s death, I feel hopeless. I feel like we’ll never make real strides toward ending domestic violence because the system is so messed up on so many levels. But I don’t want to end on that note because I know it’s not true. I know we can make a difference. I know the road to change will be long, hard and heartbreaking, but I do have hope that a change is going to come. And you can be a part of that change.
First, I’d encourage you to educate yourself about domestic violence. Compass Center has many resources on its website to help you understand and become a better advocate against domestic violence, including suggestions for ways to support friends and family, (click here), who may be experiencing abuse. Become an advocate. Write letters to the editor and to congress in support of making strong domestic violence legislation a priority in our community. Create a safe space for loved ones to come to you if they are suffering from domestic or intimate partner violence. Volunteer with organizations that are already doing good work in our community.
Second, if you are in a place to donate money, donate! Join us at Martha’s Day to make in-person donations to Compass Center, or, if you can’t make the event, visit www.compassctr.org, and donate online. Please write “Martha’s Day” in the “In Honor” section of the online donation form.