Friday, June 6, 2014

#Don'tBeAfraid of #YesAllWomen

You may have seen the recent commotion on twitter regarding the #yesallwomen hashtag (read about how #yesallwomen got started). As I was preparing to write some thoughts about it, I asked myself the question, "Why does this matter to me?" This is what I came up with.

Why Do I Care?

First, it did not take long for my heart to break. If you have read some of them, your heart was probably heavy too. So much pain. For some women this is the first time they have broken their silence. They have found a safe place to speak about it.

Second, I am not a stranger to the stories. Domestic violence was a frequent occurrence in my home when I was growing up. In my young adult years I personally faced the horror of physical violence and sexual assault. In addition, I know several women who are currently in counseling. They are struggling with issues stemming from past abuse. And, I have counseled with countless women who suffered from domestic violence, incest and rape.

An abused woman's life is changed forever. And not just theirs, but those around them including family, friends, spouse, children, employers and co-workers. We are foolish to believe only victims of abuse suffer. Everyone is impacted as a result. Read more on the impact of domestic and sexual violence: Domestic Violence: The Secret Killer That Costs $8.3 Billion Annually and The Costs and Consequences of Sexual Violence.

What Can We Do?

1. Listen
Listen with your heart - resist the temptation to judge. Resist the temptation to call someone out for being too sensitive, overly dramatic or having a victim mentality. Be slow to defend yourself. This is not about you. There is trash talk from those who would hijack this movement for their own personal gain - I say eat the meat and spit out the bones. Listen to the real heart-cries from women who know pain and fear all too well. As for the rest, spit it out.

2. Engage
Engage others around you. Ask questions of your friends, sisters, mothers, girlfriends, wives, co-workers, neighbors. Can they relate? If so, how? What can we learn? What can we do? In the last two days I've met with two close friends and asked the question, "Have you suffered abuse?" One woman replied "No, but my mother has." The other woman has a long history of rape and abuse. It's not an easy question to ask, it's a sensitive subject. However, it can be an opportunity for a woman to have a voice and to feel safe enough to discuss the trauma.

3. Say
Say "I'm sorry." Not for anything you have done. Just a sincere "I'm sorry" for the pain another person feels.

4. Don't 
Don't ignore the numbers. In the last fifteen minutes while I was writing, 761 new #yesallwomen tweets were posted. This is not a fad. It represents hundreds of thousands of women.

6. What
What can you do? Speak, write, pray, organize, counsel, discuss. If you write or blog, consider how you can lend your voice. Include these women in your prayers. Seek to understand how to help a friend or family member who is struggling with issues of abuse. Discuss it among friends, co-workers and neighbors. How can your neighborhood or workplace address safety concerns? How can you provide help for victims? How can you create a safe place for women to talk about their fears? What are some ways you can help the process? Below are several articles asking questions and lending their voices.

You Have Our Attention #YesAllWomen. Please Teach Us How to Be Better.
Beyond #YesAllWomen: Caring for Victims of Misogynistic Abuse
YesAllWomen, Misogyny, Caring for the Abused

One more thought here - where are the Christian voices? Huffington Post featured an article on their religion channel. Some of the posts listed above are from Christians. How does the church respond to #YesAllWomen? by Melinda Cousins asks a valid question and notes that "For Christians, it is easy to think these things happen to women “out there,” but not to the women in your church." Some are blogging about it, but other than that, the Christian community has been largely silent. I am speaking primarily about Christian leaders, churches and ministries. There are actually Christian voices out there discouraging support of the movement. Sadly, they are using the Bible to silence women.

7. Be
Be fearless. If you have a story to tell, tell it. I know, it is easier said than done. We need to hear you. Even though the world has told you to shut up, don't. Speak up. We're listening. Author and journalist Tara Moss speaks out in this moving, brave and encouraging interview.

8. Know
Know that just because you support #yesallwomen it does not necessarily mean you have been a victim. Empathizing with victims and demonstrating compassion and support for our sisters is a voice crying out, "Yes, we believe you, we support you and we are so sorry."

9. Understand
Understand that not all men are offenders nor have all women been victims. Neither of these are reasons to minimize or marginalize the truth that overwhelming numbers of women have been abused.
Understand that #yesallwomen is not an offensive aimed at men, it is a reality lived by women. Avoid the temptation to dismiss the pain by making it about something else. Read Violence Against Women Is A Men’s Issue.

10. Admit
Admit that if you are a man, it is hard for you to understand the fear associated with so many of these stories. You don't have to fully understand in order to be sincerely compassionate.

A Gospel Approach

It is surprising that oftentimes the world is more reactive and responsive than the church - to all sorts of issues. I understand and agree that the church has one message - preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, so I am not advocating "issue" messages from the pulpit. However, there is more the church can do.

Author Brennan Manning writes; “How I treat a brother or sister from day to day, how I react to the sin-scarred wino on the street, how I respond to interruptions from people I dislike, how I deal with normal people in their normal confusion on a normal day may be a better indication of my reverence for life than the antiabortion sticker on the bumper of my car.” As Manning rightly observes, bumper stickers demonstrate a position but they cannot extend love.

The gospel gives us answers in the midst of so many questions. Author and priest Justin Holcomb and his wife Lindsey have written two excellent books. Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault  "helps to explain how the grace of God can heal the broken and restore the disgraced." Is It My Fault?: Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence "addresses the abysmal issue of domestic violence with the powerful and transforming biblical message of grace and redemption." Author Elyse Fitzpatrick wrote the foreword urging Christians to; "Read this book. Give it to your pastors and staff and encourage them to send a strong message to the men and women in their congregation: Abuse and violence needs to be reported and will be taken seriously by the church. Women will not be blamed, shamed ostracized, or excommunicated for reporting; they will be protected."

Visit Justin Holcomb's blog to find additional resources on sexual assault and domestic violence.

If you are a victim of abuse and need immediate help with how to leave a threatening environment or how to stay safe once you've left, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800.799.SAFE(7233). Here is additional help for getting and staying safe.
Finally, if you have a story to tell, feel free to tell it here. I'm listening. There is nothing worse than feeling like you don't have a voice. The truth is you do have a voice. You matter. Not because I say so, but because God said so. 

The worth of a human soul can be estimated only by the light reflected from the cross of Calvary. 
- Ellen White

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