Several years ago I was at my doctor’s office for an annual physical. You know what that’s like – it starts with a ton of questions. What prescriptions are you on? How often do you exercise? But then she hit me with a question I didn’t really expect: “Do you feel safe at home?”
I do feel safe at home. And I realize that I am lucky to be able to say that. I told the nurse, “yes, I do. But I’m glad you ask that.” I guess that was a little too enthusiastic for her so she then asked me several follow up questions to make sure that wasn’t my way of telling her that I actually don’t feel safe at home. While slightly embarrassing, because I REALLY DO FEEL SAFE AT HOME I SWEAR, I loved that she took the time to prompt me further. Because what if I didn’t feel safe at home, and this was my opportunity to tell someone?
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. From the National Network to End Domestic Violence:
“Domestic violence thrives when we are silent; but if we take a stand and work together, we can end domestic violence. Throughout the month of October, help NNEDV to raise awareness about domestic violence and join in our efforts to end violence.”
In the spirit of speaking up and stopping the silence of domestic violence, I want to share a story about my experience with domestic violence as a child. Thankfully, I am not the victim. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have spoken up.
I grew up in a picturesque little town where nothing bad ever happens. As a teenager, I would sometimes babysit for a family down the street. I didn’t love babysitting these kids, but they went to bed early and then I could watch whatever I wanted on TV.
One particular night, when I was probably 14 or 15, after the time I was expecting the parents to come home has passed, they called to let me know they were staying out a little later. Not ideal, but whatever. An hour passed, and then another, and I started to get really anxious – I remember watching Bring it On three times that night. It was late, I was tired, and I just wanted to go home.
They lived up on a hill and I could see the quiet street from their front window. I kept looking out to see if their car was coming down the road. Finally, I saw it. But instead of making the turn and driving up the hill towards the driveway, it stopped. I feel like I remember what happened next very clearly.
The car stops. The street is very dark, except for the headlights. He gets out of the car and walks around to the front so I can see him clearly. He’s upset. She gets out of the passenger seat and tries to calm him down. He hits her. I feel like I shouldn’t be watching anymore and I don’t want them to see me. I see them fight a little more and then get back in the car. They drive up and park and he comes in the house.
I was young and naive, but I knew he was drunk. He greeted and thanked me like nothing has happened. He told me his wife was waiting in the car to drive me home. I was scared to get in the car, I didn’t want to look at her. I could tell she had been crying but was trying to play it off. The drive was less than a quarter mile, but it felt like forever. I don’t remember if I had the urge to ask her if she was ok. I do remember that I didn’t tell my parents. In fact, I don’t think I told anyone for years.
My parents still live there, and I don’t know when this family moved out, but they did. I have no idea where they are or what happened to them. I probably would not have made a difference in their lives if I would have spoken up about what I saw that night.
But I do know that I felt like it was something I shouldn’t talk about. And that is the problem with domestic violence. Silence feeds it.
We are ashamed or scared to speak up, even if we aren’t the victim. To end domestic violence, we have to stop the silence.