I left New York City to newspaper headlines about the third domestic-violence murder-suicide there in a week, and returned home to Maine with news about yet another one here.

This domestic violence, we see. After one of these epic tragedies, there are tears and candles, and then for most of us it is on to the news in Washington or Hollywood until the next woman in our state is stabbed, strangled or shot to death by her boyfriend or husband and the neighbors are quoted about what a nice guy he was.

But if we truly open our eyes, the way mine were opened three years ago with the very public arrest of my husband on domestic-violence charges, you will see it everywhere and all the time.

This is some of what I saw on my just-ended trip to Europe:

My seatmate out of Portland, after recognizing me from my project “Finding Our Voices: Breaking the Silence of Domestic Abuse,” revealed that her first husband got away with beating her in Rwanda because “that is our culture.” In Rome, an angry man pushed up against a panicked young salesclerk in the doorway of an elegant boutique. “It’s OK, it’s my boyfriend!” she called out as I stepped toward them. I met a friend for dinner in London, and the first hour and a half was about her enviable life. Then she leaned across the table and whispered, tears springing to her eyes: “My husband has rages.”

And the stranger beside me on the flight back to Maine, when I told her about what I am working on these days, revealed that the fallout of her sister’s 10-year abusive marriage includes two of the children dying by suicide.

Statistics lie with domestic violence: No one knows how many women are being terrorized behind closed doors because this is a crime that is not reported. Domestic abuse is far uglier and scarier than anyone who has not experienced it can imagine, and it is far more prevalent than anyone not working in the domestic-abuse prevention and response field realizes.

I was married for 29 years before there was an arrest. Of the 20 domestic-abuse survivors in “Finding Our Voices” who speak out about their journeys to hell and back, only twice did the criminal abuse come to the attention of police, and only once did the abuser go to jail – and that was not for the black eyes he gave her, but for molesting her daughter.

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When people tell me, “No one I know has gone through domestic abuse,” I answer: “The only person you know that about is yourself.” My educated guess to every person reading this is that someone close to your heart has been in a scary intimate-partner relationship, or is in one now.

And we also close our eyes to our own situations. If you think something is wrong with him, there is. If you think it will get better, it won’t. If you have even a doubt and/or if he ever makes you afraid, call your local domestic-abuse resource agency and the angel advocates, maintaining strict confidentiality, will help you see it for what it is.

There is so much to do: Increase funding to the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, because most of the women in my project could not have broken away without them. Prosecute domestic-violence cases instead of dismissing them. Mandate education about the evil insidiousness and master manipulation of domestic abusers for all officials who come into contact with victims. And encourage community conversation about this, so people will stop wondering about victims or asking them, as my divorce lawyer in Biddeford did at our first meeting, “Why did you stay?”

But to begin to end the femicide, there is a crucial first step, and here it is: Open your eyes.

 


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