Saturday, March 22, 2008

Bread & Roses


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By Jennifer Lynne Ziemann


“Vera understands that sadistic violence not only shatters but actually unmakes the world of the survivors.” I read this line in a book review written for Dissent magazine by Susie Linfield titled “The Bleeding Wound: Zimbabwe’s Slow Suicide.” The Vera she refers to is Yvonne Vera and the book The Stone Virgins.


During the night and day after reading it, I kept returning to the magazine to this page and this sentence, “…sadistic violence not only shatters but actually unmakes the world of the survivors.” I’ll go one step further : it not only unmakes the world of the survivor, it unmakes the survivor.


Sadistic violence is the gaining of pleasure by causing physical, sexual or mental pain to other people. It is cruelty that exists outside the bounds of humanity and is what happens when a person or persons believe that there are no rules left to contain them. When war rages on long enough, it happens. It’s happening in Zimbabwe, Darfur, and the Congo. It happened in Vietnam and it has happened in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sadistic violence happens after natural disasters occur when organized response fails or never existed, such as with Hurricane Katrina. Reports of violence and rape against women soared in New Orleans and the surrounding areas when victims were forced to share emergency shelters with abusive partners like the chilling story of Charmaine Neville, famed jazz singer, being raped while trying to flee to safety.
But there is another place that this happens far too often on a daily basis. It is what kept overwhelming me every time I read that sentence. That other place is home.
Over 95 percent of victims of domestic violence are women. An intimate partner abuses a woman every nine seconds and domestic violence is the number one cause of injury to women. It destroys the victim until they are no longer able to recognize themselves. They are held captive in the abuse. And that is exactly what the abusers are, captors, just as surely as a kidnapper or a jailer at Gitmo who tortures people are captors. These abusers, these men if we can even call them that, systematically unmake the world of the victim and in turn unmake the victim.
This is especially heartrending for me. I am a survivor of domestic violence. I am one of the unmade.
During my first marriage there were very few resources available to me. I did not know about shelters or counseling and I didn’t even realize that my abuser was grievously in the wrong. He kept me isolated, destroying all the safe avenues I relied on from work to friends to family. Breaking me down with threats to my life, my family and worse of all threats to our children.
My world had been reduced to a three-bedroom house and the few places he would allow me to go, chaperoned or he would keep one of the children with him to assure my return.
In the beginning, when I called the police, he was never arrested. He was told to take a drive and cool down. It was not until seven years later after the Violence Against Women Act was created and police officers finally began to get training that he was arrested for breaking my nose (merely a misdemeanor charge). After final investigation of my case by a district attorney who understood domestic violence, he was eventually charged with aggravated assault, a felony plus misdemeanor charges that sent him to prison for seven years.
During the time my abuser held me prisoner I was raped, beaten, and tortured. I did not recognize myself. I had faded away into what he said I was. He said I was ugly, worthless, and that I looked like a warthog. Unable to rely on police protection I resorted to hiding weapons all over the house, knowing that they could possibly be all I had between him and my life. A knife taped to the back of the dresser, a metal pole secreted under the couch. Quite literally all I ever was or hoped to be was nearly destroyed and I was in a fight for what was left. I was being unmade. My children were devastated. We were not supposed to think or feel on our own but experience every feeling he had. His happiness was supposed to be ours, and oh how we dreaded his rage, that too more intimately than anything else did belonged to us.
In December 2007, Congress passed the fiscal year 2008 budget. This budget included a $35 million dollar cut to the Victims of Crime Act, a $2.1 million cut from the Legal Assistance to Victims program and it applies a 1.74 percent rescission to Labor Health and Human Services funding that created a devastating $2.2 million cut to the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act.
Data accrued from the National Network to End Domestic Violence has shown that in one 24 hour period this year domestic violence programs served over 53,000 adults and children. In this 24 hour period 7,700 victims of domestic violence were turned away. 61 percent of these victims were in need of emergency shelter or transitional housing.
How many victims had no choice but to return to their abuser because the Congress and the White House ignored their pleas?
At the beginning of February President Bush released his budget request for fiscal year 2009. This budget includes a $120 million dollar cut in the Violence Against Women Act. Bush’s budget eliminates the two billion-dollar balance in the non-taxpayer Victims of Crime Act Program. It will force small domestic violence support services to compete for grant money against the larger entities creating an uneven playing field for shelters that serve more rural areas. Grants are no longer guaranteed.
By approving these heinous cuts Congress and the White House are turning their heads to the screams of women and children being tortured. Without funding, resources are lost that help transition victim into survivor, domestic violence becomes once again the dirty little secret, and women will continue to be trapped like I was for so many years before the Violence Against Women Act came in to existence. “W” is kicking women back into the kitchen and I use “kicking” in the most abusive sense because just as surely as an abuser strikes their victim, Bush is doing the same to women and children.
We must demand that our Congress stops approving these cuts. To those women who are victims of abuse know this: Sister, your world is being unmade, simply unmade if you stay. You are beautiful and you do not deserve to be abused. For help call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) 1-800-787-3224. They can direct you to local resources in your area. What is waiting for you out there is…you.

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