Your son, brother or maybe he’s your friend, violently twisted my arm to add my voice with those of countless others who are advocating for Elimination of Violence against Women on 25th November, marking the start of 16 Days of No Violence against Women and Children.
I had resolved not to write anything about this subject, having assured myself that a lot has been said and done and we have all heard the message loud and clear. Perhaps I had been pacified by the sophisticated and peaceful ambience of living in New York City, especially during the holiday season. I had figured there is no place for violence against women here, at least not in a brutal sense that is common elsewhere.
With this empire or rather a naïve state of mind, I took advantage of the liberties and freedoms to walk through the city in the evening after Thanksgiving Day, admiring the midtown holiday decorations. All was going well as I joined fellow tourists capturing the magic with my camera, when I witnessed a young man in late teens or early twenties firing a hot slap on his teenage girlfriend right in front of my eyes. And yes, right underneath the inspiring lights Alicia Keys sings about.
I froze in my steps, traumatized. I knew right then what Christ must have felt in His body when in the midst of crowds He stopped and asked who had touched him, because He felt power draining out of him. Power drained out of me too when I saw this young man speaking with the violence of his fists against your daughter, sister or friend. Her face quickly swelled from the angry assault, leaving behind a traceable making of a blue eye and a shattered soul.
As angry as I was at the young man, what spooked me out the most was how “professionally” – calm and collected the young woman handled this violent episode. Instead of running away, screaming, asking for help, she reached into her bag and took out a vanity mirror and examined her eye and tried to save face. A face that told a story that it had survived one too many violent displays of affection. There would be tons of colorful make up to hide her bruised face but I don’t know what its going to take to mend the fragmented pieces of her self-esteem and dignity.
I wanted someone to stop the madness but people just kept going, caught up in their own Black Friday shopping frenzy. Suddenly I became aware of the recurrent theme used for the 16 Days of No Violence: “Don’t Look Away”. In my shock, I took this phrase literally. I stood there helplessly as the young man muttered apologies and cusses in the same breath, aware that in the sea of moving crowds, I had stopped and was looking. Saying nothing, doing nothing, but if looks could kill, he knew he had been killed execution style. Well, at least shamed.
In turn, he had also violently blown away my denial and false belief that in developed countries sufficient progress and awareness has being made as far as gender-based violence is concerned. Now I can’t do like an ostrich and bury my head in the sand, or get caught up in the dizzying city lights anymore. As soon as we turn our eyes away, scenes like this punch us back into reality, reminding us there is still a lot to be done because clearly violence does not have national, race or class borders. It takes captives wherever it can.
I’m not going to get into the academics of what causes violence and abuse or the dynamics of the victim – perpetrator relationships. All I know is that the same or worse episode is unfolding not far from where you are resting or talking a walk today. What are you going to do? Looking Away is NOT an Option because at a close look it could be someone dear to you that is throwing or receiving violent blows. Both are victims.
Looking away makes us victims too.
It starts with us taking a closer look at our daughter or friend’s face or having new conversations with our brothers, friends and sons.