By Megan Widman, Social Action Program Director
Last night I was behind a woman in line at the grocery store who was buying infant formula and a multi-pack of pregnancy tests. At first, I thought, “Wow, she has a lot going on.” Almost immediately after that, my mind went to domestic violence and reproductive coercion – in which batterers keep their partners pregnant almost continually (through birth control sabotage, rape) as means of control. Then I did the self-talk thing I do when I’m not working and told myself, “Megan, not everything is domestic violence.”
Then I saw the bruises. As she reached to put something on the conveyor belt, her blouse rode up a bit and I could see the four bruises on her arm – in the exact shape, size and pattern as fingertips. I have seen this pattern before on survivors I have worked with.
I quickly shuffled through my bag looking for my business cards. Luckily, I had some. Without giving it much thought because I didn’t have any time to waste, I tapped her on the shoulder and handed her a card, and said “Just in case you ever need help…” She smiled in polite confusion and reached out to take the card, then looked down at it and frowned. She did put it in her purse, though.
Domestic violence is everywhere you look – if you know what to look for. With one in three American women experiencing domestic violence at some point in their life, it is statistically impossible that you do not know someone who was affected. The reason why domestic violence thrives is because we have a culture of silence. People don’t talk about it, don’t ask about it. We are leery of bothering someone, of being nosy, or being wrong. As a result, victims are left feeling ashamed and scared. Our silence is collusion. It tells the batterer that he will get away with what he is doing, and, even worse, that it is acceptable.
I could be totally wrong about this woman – and I hope I am. She could be absolutely excited about the prospect of having another baby. Those bruises could be the result of a medical condition. But if I am right, the cost of not saying anything at all is too great.