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Sue Julian and Tonia Thomas: Politicizing women's lives?

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Hardly a day goes by where atrocities committed against women avoid making headlines in newspapers across the country, yet Congress struggled to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. Are women's lives so politicized, minimized and dispensable that congressional representatives could not support legislation that provides measures of safety, accountability, and prevention?

Even when there is "nearly $1.5 billion set aside in various reserve funds, surplus funds, and re-appropriation accounts," West Virginia budget proposals include cuts to domestic violence programs.

Last year, domestic violence programs provided services to over 18,000 people. Conversations in lunchrooms, on street corners, in neighborhoods all ask when will the violence stop? How many women, children, and innocent bystanders will it take to jolt us, rally the troops, and say "No more"? We are tired of being injured, harmed, treated with cruelty, undermined in our living, humiliated in relationships, terrorized in our homes, harassed in the workplace, controlled in our actions, and threatened with retaliation, even death, if we dare share the secret that our lives are violated, abused, destroyed, and manipulated by the very persons who profess to love us.

Do you know how many of us live for years as hostages in our own homes? Do you have any idea of the personal cost of "sleeping with the enemy" year after year? What will you tell us, how will you help us overcome the physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological impact of intimidation, coercion, and threats in our lives? We hear the question rise in your thoughts and whispered: "Why don't you just leave?"

We don't leave because there is often a catch-22 in that decision. Many of us know that leaving, as well as staying, is risky. Our lives and the lives of our children are at stake. Batterers are quite capable of carrying out their threats; we know it and so do you. In 2012 right here in the great State of West Virginia, 27 deaths were directly related to domestic violence. These deaths included suicides of eight perpetrators who took their own lives after killing other family members.

When we do leave, abusive and controlling partners harass and stalk us. They use threats to modify child support, distort custodial responsibility as a way of keeping us in close geographic proximity, and they spare no opportunity to relentlessly sabotage our parenting authority.

For many, leaving moves us deeper into poverty and fills our waking hours trying to make ends meet for our children and ourselves. Leaving most often thrusts us into an abyss of the unknown. Leaving does not always make us safer; sometimes leaving increases our vulnerability as ongoing targets of harassment and threats.

After years of absorbing unspeakable pain, healing through injuries, denying emotional trauma, and living in isolation devoid of care, some of us fight back. And when we do, you surely take notice and often frame our actions as disgruntled, hysterical women.

How can you really help? Listen to our story. Get underneath the surface. Grapple with the complexity. Avoid snapshot versions of a life lived under the control of another person. Put the violence into context. Pass laws that support the prevention of domestic violence. Fund community based domestic violence services where hope and options to live free from violence are offered to us and to our children.

Julian and Thomas are team coordinators of the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence.


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